Playing around with a license as big as Pirates of the Caribbean has to be at least a little bit scary, right? There's a lot of history, from parks to movies to who knows what else, so you really have to do the thing justice... These thoughts weren't running through our head exactly, as we sat down to play Disney's new Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned game, but we left the demo with loads of respect for how confidently developer Propaganda is approaching this game. They have ambition that falls just short of world domination, and have created a game that appears to be wonderfully fun to play, regardless of any license. The fact that Armada of the Damned ties into established narrative from Pirates of the Caribbean just means that more fans of "Pirates" will have a quality game to play.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned contains a brand new story set before the movie, and Propaganda is working closely with creative talent and writers connected to the film to ensure that the game's story fits within the Pirates of the Caribbean continuum. What we played was a solid RPG-style of game, with some special touches. Armada of the Damned is all about choice, and the choice you'll constantly be making is between being a Legendary or Dreaded pirate. The implications of these choices tend to be far-reaching, even changing the dynamics of battle, where Legendary pirates sacrifice power to gain agility. Other ways in which choosing between these two orientations can change the game is that you will often find two pirates working toward the same goal by completing very different tasks. The rewards are different, and changes in orientation can open different quests during the game. In a conscious effort to avoid players feeling as if they're playing a system, the game lets you choose as you go through the game rather than feel as if you’re locked into one path from the very beginning.

The action gameplay felt solid, consisting of a combination of light and heavy attacks, both in hand-to-hand and with weapons. All the weapons are sword and pistol-based, but there are apparently lots to collect. When you aren't engaged in battles, you have the option to branch off and explore side quests. Dialogue also can branch, depending on choices you make. An interesting twist to the game is that the main character is burdened with a curse that he can cast on others, making this part of his combo/attack strategy. As one would expect in an RPG, every level you gain bumps up your base stats, making it possible to unlock new abilities. There are some massive quests contained in Armada of the Damned; the one we played in bits and pieces will be several hours long in the full game. A map opens up as you play, to allow exploration across a large swathe of the Caribbean. In a continuation of the focus on choise, some quests end with a choice that defines future actions in the game.

The focus on choice creates subtle changes in the game, such as how people react to you, regardless of whether you choose Legendary or Dreaded. If this doesn't scream "replay value" to you, consider that ships also have a great significance in the game. Propaganda wants you to care about your ship, to rebuild and upgrade it, while recruiting and managing your crew. Crew choices can make a big difference in your battles at sea, something Propaganda isn't yet ready to show off yet... We love the idea of ship-based combat, and can't wait to see how ship designs change and more depending on whether you lean toward the Legendary or Dreaded side. It's clear that Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned is going to be a massive experience, and we'll only have to wait a bit longer (2011) before we can play it.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned
Disney Interactive