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Review: Merchant of the Skies

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Technically, it's a rigid airship

I’ve been a merchant of a lot of things. The Elite series allowed me to be a space trader, Euro Truck Simulator let me try my hand at terrestrial trade, and Wall Street Kid had me trading stocks directly. Now it’s time for Merchant of the Skies to marry the concept with another of my favorite fantasy passions: airships.

Merchant of the Skies Nintendo Switch review

Merchant of the Skies (PC, Switch [reviewed], Xbox One)
Developer: Coldwild Games
Publisher: AbsoDev
Released: April 17, 2020 (PC), July 30, 2020 (Switch, Xbox One)
MSRP: $14.99

Merchant of the Skies is a rather small production, admittedly. Rather than placing you on the deck of your ship to feel the wind in your hair, you instead view the map from above like a travel scene in an Indiana Jones film.

I say this as a way of managing expectations, because I think the most important thing to know about Merchant of the Skies is that it’s very menu based. It is all about the trade. There is no combat, no conflict, and no strife. You build your empire and try not to run out of money while paying your staff and gassing up your sky boat.

Which isn’t to say that’s all you do. The main story mode includes additional objectives of singing with carrots and watering a fish with a largely undefined end goal. It’s nothing special the narrative is rather dim but what else are you going to do while you’re accumulating your wealth?

What Merchant of the Skies really nails is the progression. You exist within a world that consists of floating islands; some of them containing towns, others merely covered in the game’s various resources. At first, your small ship struggles to cross the gaps between islands without running out of fuel. Island hopping can be a dangerous proposition when you find yourself in uncharted territory. Will the next island contain fuel essential to continuing your journey, or will it just be some trees?

Through completing quests that usually involve accumulating a certain number of resources and delivering them to the various island towns, you eventually gain enough wealth to buy a better ship. Continue on this route and eventually you’ll find yourself unable to satisfy the requests of the various trade guilds. They’ll go from asking for sand to the less common glass. You can’t just buy glass from stores, so the only option is to produce it yourself.

The game then almost organically shifts to a sort of resource-collecting tycoon game. Using what money you can get your hands on, you buy islands and start planting industry there. Starting from lumber, bricks, and sand and moving up to medicine, iron, and gems. Eventually you’re trading your own commodities and supplying towns from your own stock, rather than simply buying low and selling high.

From there, it’s up to you how to advance. However, after I bought the biggest ship, built up my industry, and uncovered the world, I found myself with little to do except tackle the main objectives and get rich with nothing left to invest in.

Which is where Merchant of the Skies becomes something of a letdown. The endgame is just kind of pale and you hit it rather fast and suddenly.

There’s very little for you to spend your money on aside from ways to make more money. You can’t, for example, invest in the towns. The best you can do is buy more islands, work on your mansion, and build automated trade routes.

There’s a lack of conflict entirely, and while that’s admirable in a sense, it means there’s little to stand in the way of your success. Not only are there no hostile airships, the only impact inclement weather has on you is slowing down your ship or speeding it up. There are no rivals to compete with for trade routes or territory. You don’t even need to maintain your ship’s parts; it’s completely indestructible. The result is a game that’s rather static and predictable.

Finishing the main plot unlocks sandbox mode, but the prospect, while appreciated, seems less than palatable. Through the course of the narrative, I had already built up an empire I don’t see much value in doing it again without the additional quests.

I also can't help but mention the limited soundtrack. From island to island, each time you land in port, you're hit with the exact same song. It's not a bad track, to be sure, but you'll be landing at a lot of ports in the game's 10-ish hour runtime, and that same tune will be hammered in mercilessly. There are different visual themes for each island, but that song always remains the same. It becomes maddening.

I largely enjoyed my time with Merchant of the Skies and played it back to front with few interruptions. However, I feel that the game lacks a hook that will keep it in my memory. It does what it sets out to do, but I came away from it without a story to relate. Despite being put in charge of my own trade empire, it felt like the choices I made were the only choices to make. That no matter what I did, I’d always follow the same path.

Merchant of the Skies is just disappointingly flat. It’s enjoyable enough to play through once. However, after you’ve accumulated your wealth, there’s little left to be done. Another layer of challenge would have done the game a world of good, but as it stands, it’s just a one-way trip.

[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]

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Merchant of the Skies reviewed by Adzuken

7

GOOD

Solid and definitely has an audience. There could be some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.
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Adzuken
AdzukenContributor   gamer profile

Adzuken Q. Rumpelfelt is a gadabout gaming hobbyist, avid tea enthusiast, and aspiring writer. She's been playing video games all her life and is a lover of both new and retro games. Obsessed ... more + disclosures


 


 


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