Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is the next stealth-strategy game from Desperados III developer Mimimi Games, offering up a magic-infused pirate adventure. We spoke with the game’s head of design to learn more.
Mimimi Games has been working hard to bring the stealth-strategy genre to console since its founding in 2008, which has seen fantastic games like Shadow Tactics: Blades of the Shogun and Desperados III come to Xbox in recent years — we discussed the mistakes that “killed the genre” last week. Now Mimimi is back with another stealth-strategy game for us to lose ourselves in, Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew, and it’s using the power of magical elements to push the genre to new heights. We spoke with Mimimi Games’ head of design Moritz Wagner about the beautiful-looking game coming to Xbox Series X|S later this year.
The Golden Age of Piracy reimagined in Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew
Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew takes us to the Caribbean during the height of piracy, where many fictional stories have found incredible success. In Mimimi Games’ version, pirates have magical abilities and the power of undeath, the Spanish Inquisition is no longer Spanish, and a particular ship happens to be sentient. But as any good pirate adventure requires, Shadow Gambit revolves around the glorious tint of treasure and the adventure that comes with locating it.
“It’s an alternate history of the Golden Age of Piracy,” Wagner told TrueAchievements. “Where somebody realised there was magic.” The magic can be found all over the world, but this particular story focuses on the Caribbean — let’s face it, undead pirates are cool! Once the Spanish Inquisition caught wind of the magic being used, it sent a force to eradicate it, seeing the use of magic as heresy, but upon arriving the Inquisition came upon the undead forces, which led to a long-running war. When we enter the game, we find the Inquisition controlling the Caribbean is no longer affiliated with Spain, operating as its own faction that follows its own divine purpose for a deity known as the Burning Maiden. “At some point, one of their nuns, which is a god figure for the current Inquisition, finds a fire they don’t realise is magic; it is magic, but they perceive it as divine because they couldn’t fight magic with magic — they’re a little hypocritical,” Wagner said. “As it is with new power, the people don’t trust her, and they burn her at the stake as a heretic, but she doesn’t die.” Due to burning the nun in her own fire, a huge explosion kills everyone in attendance, leaving the survivors believing that she is indeed some kind of deity. “She’s been burning for hundreds of years by now, and she’s this sort of weird god-figure that doesn’t communicate anymore,” Wagner said.
In Shadow Gambit we captain a sentient magical ship called the Red Marley, assembling a crew of undead pirates in search of a mysterious treasure left by the legendary Captain Mordechai — like a big treasure hunt. “You’re looking for a specific treasure that is very powerful and mystical, but the Inquisition is as well, so you’re basically racing them for the treasure,” Wagner said.
Shadow Gambit is a change in direction for Mimimi Games
If you’ve played Mimimi Games’ other titles, you’ll be aware that up until now, the stories the stories and themes that have been used have been grounded in reality, so a pirate adventure like this is quite the change of pace. “We have the same kind of stealth-focused tactics approach in real-time still,” Wagner said. “The really big kicker, of course, is that we now have magical abilities and a completely new setting for the characters.” Shadow Gambit doesn’t offer a linear succession of missions either, as Mimimi wants to give you more choice in what you do when exploring the Caribbean — “That was a big focus for us, but in the end, you have a team of specialists, very cool characters that have to perform missions on very densely enemy-populated areas.”
“It’s always hard. How far can you push it without breaking what made it great in the beginning?”
Shadow Gambit is certainly a prominent change in direction from the developer, which had its “I wish we could do more of that” moment when creating Desperados III’s Isabelle, a magic-using character — “But you can’t do that in stealth and normal types of important historical settings if it’s not sci-fi,” Wagner explained. “In the end, you just throw a bottle, you throw a stone, you throw a knife; it’s very limiting.” Initially, both sci-fi and fantasy pitches were made before the team settled on the pirate-themed adventure found in Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew and the introduction of a world filled with magic has offered a breadth of possibilities for the team when developing new gameplay opportunities and characters.
Shadow Gambit will include eight playable characters when it launches, each offering different abilities and approaches to combat and traversal. Mimimi has revealed just three of them so far: Afia Manicato the Navigator, Gaëlle le Bris the Master Cannoness, and John Hughes Mercury the Shipwright. Each of them looks to be unique, and thanks to the game’s fantasy setting, Mimimi has been able to have a lot more flexibility when creating characters that can fit the narrative of the game but offer an experience players haven’t seen in the developer’s previous games. “Sometimes it’s also a very mechanical thing,” Wagner said. “Like, it would be cool to have a skill that allows movement of enemies in a certain way because it’s something we haven’t done before — we have this table and were like, ‘okay, we have never combined these things,’ and we never could find narrative ways that actually worked in the world that would make sense. So, it works both ways in that regard and allows us to do a lot of crazy stuff.”
You’ll be able to take multiple characters on each mission with you, which as Wagner explained to us, gives you a host of options to tackle the game in the way that you want. “The characters are ridiculously powerful compared to our old games, which is very fun I think, and combining them becomes even more crazy,” Wagner said. “I keep finding new things when I play the game — I mean, we’ve been going for years now and every now and then when I’m playing, I’ll try something new to combine and then it works! There’s a lot of that, especially, and this doesn’t have much to do with the magic per se, but because we have the three-character selection. So, you can combine them in any way in any mission you want to experiment with their synergies.”
After experimenting with firearms in Desperados III, the team had originally considered using guns in the early stages of the game’s development as they wanted to “push it a little further,” tossing around ideas that involved enemies dropping ammo and the like. “How big did we want the combat to be? Should it be like a Dishonoured game where you can basically do both stealth and combat to the same level or anywhere in between?” Wagner said. “We tried to roll with that a lot, and then at some point, we basically removed all the combat stuff that we put in because it was too complex.”
Ultimately it was the world’s use of magic and the characters’ abilities that sold Wagner and the team on Shadow Gambit’s approach to combat, which offered simplicity, but an exaggerated array of possibilities compared to the developer’s previous two games. Afia can teleport away from enemies — or to them if you’ve already tripped the alarm and are then battling it out with the Inquisition — and Mr Mercury can go underground to pop up somewhere else, offering you plenty of opportunities to take advantage of any situation, combat or otherwise.
Shadow Gambit will offer an easier entry point for players new to the genre
While the new abilities and characters offered by the use of magic in Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew is cool, there is one new addition that is crucial to the new gameplay experience, the revival system. Due to the Red Marley’s magical powers, you and your crew can revive after dying on a mission… sort of. Dying separates a character’s soul from their body because they’re undead, and they wind up back on the ship. Due to having three characters with you on any given mission, having one or two die doesn’t warrant a full restart like in previous games, as the surviving member can carry their mate’s body back to the ship.
“A big part of the magic aspect helped us integrate something that many people are against, which was save-scumming; they enjoy the effects of it, but it just doesn’t feel right for them, and I can understand that because it’s a game-breaking activity,” Wagner explained when talking about the revive system. “Now there is a reason, it’s the Marley doing the thing, there’s an animation for it, and I hope it does a lot for new people as well, who are getting into the game and being able to accept that type of play style and not feeling bad for save-scumming because now they’re using a feature of the game.”
The new systems allow Shadow Gambit to offer players new to the genre a slightly easier time compared to the more difficult mechanics found in traditional stealth-strategy games. More powerful characters and the ability to continue playing a mission after dying helps lower the difficulty a considerable amount, but Wagner was quick to let us know that it can still be a good challenge for seasoned players. Shadow Gambit will offer multiple difficulty levels, with the higher ones feeling “extremely punishing” like traditional stealth-strategy games, but the base difficulty is easier by intention to allow more players to get involved.
“Even people who didn’t enjoy our old games as much had a lot of fun with this one because of the characters and the sandboxy-ness. We have this pattern of people being like, ‘man, I played this character, and I really don’t like them much.’ And then someone else will say, ‘oh, wait, that’s my favourite character; I really love that you have to do this and that,’ and then the first player will come back the next month, and they’re like, ‘so this is now my favourite character,’ because they learned how it works,” Wagner said. “I’m very much looking forward to, hopefully, seeing the same discussions from people being like ‘no, this character sucks’ or ‘this one is the best one.’ Also, personality-wise, seeing which characters people latch onto because they’re very different and different people will like different characters.”
Shadow Gambit: The Cursed Crew doesn’t currently have a release date, but it’s expected to launch on Xbox Series X|S later this year.
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