While you're waiting for an update on Ubisoft's online pirate game Skull and Bones (opens in new tab), the internet is in quite the kerfuffle over a different pirate MMO, Atlas. The game launched in early access right before the Christmas holidays, promising grog-scented survival with over 40,000 simultaneous players.
Where can I get this Atlas game?
Atlas is available on PC (opens in new tab) through Steam's Early Access initiative, and it'll cost you $29.99 or £23. You'll need 100 GB available space on your hard drive, and a NVIDIA GTX 770 2GB/AMD Radeon HD 7870 2GB or better to run it.
The team hasn't yet confirmed if we'll see an Atlas PS4 version or Atlas Xbox One version.
What do you do in Atlas?
Atlas is a survival game with a fantasy pirate flavor. Dropped into a world inhabited by thousands of other players, you're tasked with conquering territory, building ships, hunting down that pirate favorite - buried treasure - recruiting a crew, and generally plundering your way around the world. All that adventuring is made much tougher thanks to the brutal survival mechanics of the game, including making sure your character is getting the right vitamins - I haven't even figured that out in real life - and traversing the huge world that's roughly 45,000 square kilometers in size.
As a new player, or Pathfinder, you arrive on the map with nothing - I spawned for my first play in the middle of the ocean - and you need to spend a fair amount of time punching trees and rocks to gather their resources when you start out. Don't expect to start out with a fancy galleon and a talking parrot, basically.
Developer Grapeshot Games is a sister team to Studio Wildcard - creator of Ark: Survival Evolved (opens in new tab) - leading some on Reddit (opens in new tab) to call it "Ark with a little bit of pirates."
Wait, talking parrot? Can I get those in Atlas?
Atlas has a world packed with animals, and taming them is a big part of surviving. They're not always friendly, the first creature I met was a very pissed off bee, but that will yield valuable resources that are crucial to surviving the game. Taming animals - like parrots - involves trapping them and feeding them to win their trust - but there haven't be any reports of chatty birds so far.
How do I get a ship in Atlas?
This is a survival game, so you don't get anything for free. You'll need to build it using skills you've learned, tools you've crafted, and resources you've gathered. Before you start thinking about building even a small ship you'll need to build a raft so you can explore. That entails finding a Shipyardsman to sell you a raft blueprint, but it will pay off. Once you've built the raft you can add a Campfire and Bed to it, which will mean you can save your position and respawn by the raft should you also have a run in with an angry bee.
Can I play Atlas with friends?
The game is an MMO and lets you create groups with friends, called a Company, so you can combine your skill sets and resources. You can also choose between playing on PVP and PVE servers, depending on how brave you're feeling. The developer has mentioned its hopes for the game's community to evolve in the same way that Eve Online's has, eventually forming its own infrastructure and even governments. I haven't even managed to craft any pants yet, so it may be awhile before I'll be holding any sort of pirate office.
As you start to build and command bigger ships you'll probably need to recruit AI crew members too, just to keep up with the simple tasks of maintaining your vessel and keeping everything ship shape. "A big part of the game is recruiting crew and keeping them paid and fed so you can actually drive these ships around," Studio Wildcard co-founder Jesse Rapczak told PC Gamer (opens in new tab). "And we've got a bunch of cool systems in the game for simplifying controls of your shipmates."
When will Atlas leave Early Access?
Don't hold your breath. The game only just launched and has been beset with issues like lag and crashes. "You could say that we were off to a stormy start," admitted the community lead for Grapeshot Games in a post on Steam.
"The initial influx of players wanting to set sail immediately was (predictably in hindsight) larger than we anticipated and our systems got crushed until we tuned the new technical systems to handle it."
Survival games usually spend some serious time in the Early Access wildlands before making it to a full release. As a rough guide, Studio Wildcard's Ark: Survival Evolved launched in Early Access in 2015 (opens in new tab), but didn't see a final release until August 2017.