The last time I boarded a ship was in Don’t Sink, which saw me conquer the seas as a swashbuckling pirate, instilling fear into everyone across the lands and destroying anyone in my path. And while it’s time to get behind the wheel once more, I’ll be up in the clouds using an airship instead in order to experience what Merchant of the Skies has to offer. There’s no violence here though, just a chance to become the greatest merchandise trader in the sky. So, will Merchant of the Skies on Xbox One be an absolute bargain, or are you in for a raw deal?
Quite frankly, it’s somewhere in between. But that’s mainly due to a couple of aspects in which it’s lacking and small technical hiccups, rather than any major issues. Otherwise, there’s an enjoyable and relaxing game here.
In Merchant of the Skies, you’ll play the role of a budding airship captain who wants to fly high and make a fortune from the islands in the sky. The campaign mode is at the heart of the experience, with your Uncle Boe sending you on your way to begin building a legacy. In order to truly succeed in creating an empire though, a series of fetch quests must be completed and a keen eye for bargains is essential. After all, you’re starting at the bottom rung with a basic ship and only a small amount of local currency.
There are two main sides to the gameplay: on-land and voyaging across the sky. When stopping off at an island, a number of different options could arise depending on whether it’s a thriving place with shops, a guild and a recharge station, or a lonely isle prime for reaping resources. Taking on guild tasks and resource requests from shipwrights is a no-brainer as no time constraints are placed onto the activities. The developers Coldwild Games deserve kudos for this, because it enables you to go about your business with few worries and shift your focus over to making moolah by scouring shops.
Trading at the shops is incredibly addictive, especially if you find that a particular place is severely under-pricing their stock. Snapping up such gems – sometimes actual gems – and selling to neighbouring islands is strangely fulfilling, with every coin earned being reinvested in your next scheme. Wheeling and dealing becomes second nature in no time, but in the same breath, you’ll also end up doing it a lot; to the point where it feels a tad grindy and the average prices of apples, iron, tea leaves and more are ingrained in your mind. Sometimes a little trip across the world is needed to seek out new opportunities.
Focusing on the voyages, and there’s an overworld map to explore as you venture between islands. Given that the map is obscured, every movement is a leap of faith as it slowly gets uncovered with each adventurous trip. This isn’t ideal when the early ships consume fuel rapidly, leading to a lot of pit-stops which break up the flow. Once a beast of an airship is in your grasp however, long excursions are no problem and this allows a more attentive approach to the other management aspects.
You see, the ship requires a decent amount of crewmates to travel efficiently and should you come across islands bearing untapped resources, those places can be bought. As such, hiring more than enough crew members is important so some can stay and run the goings on there. It’s quite cool that a whole setup is buildable in order to farm resources, but when you own a few islands and new resources are thrown into the mix, progress becomes mildly overwhelming.
And that’s basically the trading life in a nutshell – acquire, sell, refuel, repeat – until the main missions are accomplished. A selection of strange islands and encounters do add a little extra fun, with a neat Mastermind mini-game involving an octopus and some gods giving out upgrades being the highlights. You could always try one of the other game modes, which have alternate end-game objectives, but given that these will likely be achieved in the campaign, it seems pointless. Hence, the sandbox style mode is the only other real option, allowing a choice of map size and starting cash.
Undoubtedly, being the ultimate trader feels rewarding, but it’s a career that’s not without a couple of problems. For starters, the tutorial doesn’t do a great job of guiding you through the tricky early phases, nor does it help later on when rarer resources are necessary. From a technical point of view, Merchant of the Skies often struggles transitioning between the overworld and the 2D side-scrolling islands, which is bizarre for something that revolves around pixel art graphics – no matter how charming they are, it should hardly cause an issue for the power of an Xbox One X.
Merchant of the Skies does what it does pretty well, however it doesn’t quite do enough for the experience to be classed as a great game. Acquiring resources on the cheap and selling them for a profit is a simple, yet addictive, gameplay mechanic that will draw you in. Sure it gets a tad more complex – and difficult – as you grow, with additional management elements coming into play, but there’s not much else in its locker. The only pertinent negatives are that it could explain certain features better and the illusion it portrays of possessing multiple game modes, which is disappointing.
On the whole, if you’re after a fairly chilled out trading sim, Merchant of the Skies on Xbox One is worth a punt – just don’t expect it to be more than that.