Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned is a canceled action-adventure role-playing game that was developed by Propaganda Games for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC platforms and published by Disney Interactive. It was an open world game based on the Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise.
Set before events of the first movie, the game was to follow James Sterling, a pirate captain whose main mission was to travel across the Caribbean Sea to make a reputation for himself. Although little was unveiled about the story, it was intended to be independent from the films’ main arc and included new characters.
The game was first revealed before E3 2009 with an interview of Alex Peters, game director from Propaganda, thanks to IGN:
“Disney Interactive Studios and Propaganda Games are working on Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned, an action RPG set in a huge open world. The story takes place before the Pirates of the Caribbean movies with an original plot where players step into the shoes of a new pirate beset with all manner of nasty enemies. Moral choices, character building, and a supernatural world await. We’ve got the first details on the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC game, courtesy of Alex Peters, Game Director for Armada of the Damned.”
IGN: Can you tell us a little bit about the plot? Who do you play as and what is the overall goal of the game?
Alex Peters: “The story of Armada of the Damned takes place before the events of the Pirates of the Caribbean films, so we have a great opportunity to expand on the rich and diverse history and mythology that already exists in the universe. The character at the start of the game is a young pirate setting out on his maiden voyage with the goal of becoming the most respected — or feared — pirate captain in the Caribbean.”
IGN: Are you set to play as a specific character with a predetermined look or is there going to be a character creation system so that I can make my own unique pirate?
Alex Peters: “The current plan is that the character initially has a predetermined look, but throughout the game the choices the player makes during gameplay will change the character’s appearance. Some of these changes will be story-related and quite drastic and some will be much less serious, allowing the player to create a more unique character.”
IGN: Is the bulk of the game on sea or are there significant portions of exploration on land?
Alex Peters : “The exploration will be a mixture of both land and sea and it’s up to the player to choose how much time they spend in each.”
IGN: Since this is an open world, I’m assuming that exploration will be a big part of the game. What sorts of things can I do when veering away from the main quest?
Alex Peters: “We want to entice players to explore hidden coves, mysterious inlets and intriguing islands. The people of the Caribbean have their own stories and while their lives are certainly affected by the events that transpire in the main story, they often have more immediate or personal concerns. Since the player is cast in the role of a pirate, they may choose to involve themselves in situations that pique their interest or serve their own purposes.”
IGN: The film is set in a sort of pseudo-reality. But obviously during the time of pirates, the sea was a warzone for a variety of nations. How are those nationalities playing a role in this game and will you be free to pick you allegiances?
Alex Peters: “Throughout the course of the game, the player will interact with the nation powers who inhabited the Caribbean at that time and their loyalties will change based on the choices made over the course of the game.”
IGN: The press release says there are moral choices to be made. How extensive is this and how does the morality system work?
Alex Peters: “A major focus for this game is choice. Players will have to decide how they interact with non-player characters, what they decide to do and where they travel. Morality in the pirate lore is a bit of a gray area and our game will take advantage of the various choices the player will have to make.”
IGN: How important is your crew and what goes into assembling one to take your ship to sea?
Alex Peters: “A pirate captain is only as good as his ship’s crew. With that said, we will allow the player to personalize their crew. These choices will affect their character’s success or struggle.”
IGN: One of the key elements to any RPG is having a good dialogue system. How will this work in Pirate of the Caribbean? Are there multiple dialogue choices or is it more traditional?
Alex Peters: “We’re committed to making conversations in the game entertaining. We’ve created a script that takes advantage of an entirely new story set within the world of the Pirates of the Caribbean and wholeheartedly embraces the tone and humor players expect. RPGs are all about choices. Players that want to cut to the chase are able to do so, and those who wish to explore every angle can weave their way through the dialogue, pursuing areas that interest them.”
On the same period, Kotaku added:
“The game is an action RPG on an epic scale. Alex Peters name checks games like Oblivion, Dragon Age, and Fable, saying that Armada of the Damned definitely fell on that end of the scale, through not quite as action-oriented as Lionhead’s game. The game of course features a great deal of sea combat as well, allowing the player to sail from island to island, building their crew and taking on other ships in dynamic combat.”
The following year, the game was the subject of numerous previews by various media which had the opportunity to play the title, scheduled for February 1, 2011. For example, Gamesradar wrote:
“The combat and land exploration looks uncannily similar to Fable II. The swordfighting has been designed to be as accessible as possible, allowing you to mash at buttons, but also to create unique combos by adding flintlocks and magic attacks to the mix. The main story quest has an obvious path to follow, but there are also loads of side missions which introduce you to the likes of voodoo priestess Tia Dalma, long before she joined Jack Sparrow’s crew.
But what sets Armada of the Damned apart from other action RPGs is the ability to sail the high seas. There’s a huge area of the Caribbean to explore, and you directly control your ship the Nemesis, just like you would a boat in GTA. You’re free to travel almost anywhere in the world right from the beginning. We’ve seen the pirate city of Tortuga and it looks great. You’ll also be able to visit the merchant outpost Port Royal, and Alex Peters also hints that no Pirates game would be complete without supernatural locations like Fiddler’s Green and Davy Jones’ locker.
Captain Sterling certainly comes close to ending up there at the start of the adventure. On his maiden voyage to the Caribbean, the young pirate is sunk and all but drowned by the insane Spanish admiral Aldonado. However, he miraculously survives and vows to strike back. How you wreak your revenge is a matter of many important choices, and this will eventually decide the fate of Sterling’s soul.
Rather than going down the old route of making ‘good’ or ‘evil’ decisions, there are ‘Legendary’ or ‘Dreaded’ acts. Legendary acts involve stuff like swinging on a chandelier to escape a mob of guards while delivering one-liners and grinning through your sparkly gold teeth. Basically, anything that Jack Sparrow would do will also enhance your reputation as a pirate lord.
Dreaded acts are based on double-crossing, choosing not to help people and general acts of violence and cruelty that would make most people shiver their timbers. They’re also the kind of thing that could earn you a skeletal face like captain Barbossa.
Actions influence your character’s appearance as well as his fighting abilities. At his most ‘legendary’ Captain Sterling is decked out in gold finery and sports a dashing haircut. The most dreaded Captain Sterling is covered in barnacles, has a skeletal frame and uses the anchor that dragged him to his drowning place as a weapon.”
IGN, for it’s part, said:
“Although the game is set in the Pirates of the Caribbean universe, the events of the game transpire well before the first film and revolve around a new hero: Sterling. This young adventurer had dreams of fame and fortune — having been raised by a poor father — but Sterling is, surprisingly, killed on his first voyage through the Caribbean. Through the intervention of certain supernatural forces, Sterling is brought back to the world of the living and is given a second chance to fulfill his fate.
The idea of “choosing your fate” takes center stage in Armada of the Damned. Early on in the game, players will decide if they will play as a legendary hero, or a dreaded one, but the gameplay will remain flexible. In other words, players can still make the occasional “good” or “evil” decision, even if that decision opposes their original selection. But Sterling will ultimately end his journey as a legendary captain or a dreaded one.
This defining choice extends into several aspects of the game — it doesn’t just influence the story. Sterling’s appearance, personality, weapons, attacks, quests, and even the game’s endings are all affected by the player’s choice. The legendary Sterling is a showboating, handsome adventurer, while the dreaded Sterling is haunted, dark, and uses supernatural power to decimate those that stand before him.
The dynamic between these two paths was demonstrated perfectly in a set of two trailers, where Sterling narrates his experiences after he wakes up on a beach. In the first legendary trailer, Sterling’s voice grows richer over the course of the video, building up confidence and momentum until he announces himself as the legendary Captain Sterling. The second trailer starts the same way, but the moment that Sterling regains consciousness after his fatal accident, his voice sounds unsettled. Vengeful. You can slowly detect a haunting echo in his voice, which becomes more guttural and menacing over time.
Seeing trailers is good fun, but seeing the game in action is what it’s all about. The first part of my extended demo covered the land battle portion of Armada of the Damned, which looks a little bit like Fable. Sterling has a light and heavy attack, and he can string a series of four strikes together to form a basic combo. Timing the button presses accurately will cause Sterling to end the combo with a powerful bonus strike, which plays out in slow-motion (for the win). This adds a bit of a timing game to the combat, which is a welcome feature. Sterling can also grab his opponents and infect them with a curse, which is basically a weakening spell. This curse can then be transferred to all the other enemies in the area if Sterling performs a finishing move on a cursed opponent.
Of course, all of Sterling’s various attacks, special moves, and animations change depending on if the player selected the legendary path or the dreaded path. The special moves were of particular interest to me, as they play on the nature of Sterling (be it legendary or dreaded) and they look sweet in the process. Legendary Sterling can perform a technique, for example, where he tosses a jug of rum into the air and shoots it, causing flames to pour over the baddies underneath. On the other hand, the dreaded version of Sterling uses a giant anchor as a special weapon and can smash it down to the ground, causing ghostly waves to erupt from the earth.
To make this intriguing system even more appetizing, players will be able to upgrade these skills in a number of different ways, tweaking their version of Sterling to their liking. If players want to use a very specific set of skills, they are free to pour experience into just those techniques and maximize their efficiency.
The second section of the demonstration focused on sea combat. It is another fundamental element of Armada of the Damned. Players can view the action from a distant perspective (with the camera hanging a ways back from your ship) or from right behind Sterling’s shoulder as he mans the wheel.
When it comes to the actual combat, players can attack an opposing ship’s hull, sails, or crew. By balancing these three attack types together, players can sink a ship, disable its movement or weaken its crew to ease the process of boarding. This seemed like a great way to set up the battles, and with a Gears of War style reloading mechanic which rewards players with accurate timing, there’s going to be a lot of skill and strategy to employ when fighting on the high seas. Sterling will even be able to use special techniques while sailing — similar to the ones he uses on foot. During my demonstration, the dreaded Sterling summoned a massive tempest above the enemy ship and called forth a tremendous bolt of lightning that split the hull clear in half.
Sailing isn’t all about blood and steel, though. Players will be able to explore almost all of the Caribbean, filled with hidden caves, trade routes, bustling towns and more. According to the developers at Propaganda, Armada of the Damned could last up to 100 hours if players decide to tackle all the available side quests.
The final two sections of my tour of the game were shorter, but still just as interesting. I had a walkthrough of Tortuga, where the day/night cycle was shown off, and I also met with one of the developers behind Armada of the Damned’s sound design. Propaganda wants to make sure that the musical themes from the movies are treated tastefully and only used on occasion. There’s plenty of stirring original music to be found in Armada of the Damned, with special markers built into the system to allow the tracks to transition seamlessly from one section to another.”
Sadly, on October 2010, Disney Interactive took the decision to cancel Pirates of the Caribbean : Armada of the Damned, reducing the staff at Propaganda Games from two teams to only one. It was relayed by Kotaku:
“Disney’s upcoming action role-playing game Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned has been canned and that the studio behind the game are laying folks off today, Disney confirmed to Kotaku today.
“Disney Interactive Studios confirms the cancellation of the Pirates of the Caribbean: Armada of the Damned video game which was scheduled to be released in 2011,”Angela Emery, Disney Interactive Studios’ vice president of communication told Kotaku today. “As a result of this decision, Disney Interactive Studios completed a restructuring of Propaganda Games, affecting one of the studio’s two development teams. The studio is still in active production of TRON: Evolution, the video game, which will be released on December 7, 2010 with additional DLC (downloadable content) support following the game’s release.”
We’re told that Vancouver-based Propaganda Games, which is also working on Tron: Evolution, let as many as 100 people go this week, including most of the Pirates team and some of the Tron team. The remaining team members from Pirates were shifted over to help put finishing touches on Tron, we are told.
This latest news seems to back up rumors we’ve been hearing since early September about turmoil at Propaganda Games surrounding disagreements with upper management at Propaganda and their parent company.”
After the release of Tron : Evolution, Disney decided to shutdown permanently Propaganda Games in January 2011. Some musical scores initially written for the game were implemented in LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean. To this day, the license is still dormant after this huge debacle and we were only able to get some mobile phone games. Eventually, players who are fans of piracy can nevertheless still try to console themselves with Assassin’s Creed IV : Black Flag, which shares some game design ideas that should have been implemented in Pirates of the Caribbean : Armada of the Damned.