Besiege: The Splintered Sea Review: A petite ship for wide-ranging sailing


I cannot compare my experience of writing a review of The Splintered Sea, the first paid expansion for the wicked, clever physics puzzle creator Besiege, to that of a sailor writing a journal with deadly storms on the horizon. However, if we take it for granted that a review is only really valuable as an insight into the player’s experience: I didn’t feel particularly good this week. With that in mind: Splintered Sea is more Besiege, carefully applied to an already wide-ranging toolkit. More importantly, it currently brings me deep and much-needed moments of unadulterated, childlike, vaguely orcish joy.

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Besiege is, broadly speaking, a game about building siege engines, but it expands to include things like flying machines, agile vehicles, and anything else your imagination can imagine. There’s no limit to the power or monetary value of the parts, so the only real limitations are whether your device will fit in the starting cube and whether it actually works. Attaching ten cannons to the sails may seem like a great idea, but they’ll soon buckle and give way if they’re not properly braced. You’ll also want to make sure the weight of your device is evenly distributed, at least if you want to be able to move around anywhere.

To give some structure to the sandbox modes, Besiege is built around challenge maps. At first it might be something like “destroy 80% of everything on the screen” – everything on the screen is a mix of knights and buildings. Later, perhaps the knights will shoot flaming arrows, or perhaps the structures will be fortified to the point that you will need bulky weapons to deal with them. Splintered Sea adds 10 recent challenge maps and 8 recent water blocks. Of these, adjustable buoyancy barrels and rotating water screws are the most crucial because they determine immersion and steering.

In addition, it contains a lot of water, which can also be used in the sandbox level editor. Adding water may not seem like much, but it provides all the physics simulation necessary to make constructing ships that can navigate that water – both surface and deep – seem convoluted and profitable. I felt like a genius the first time I tuned the two spinning things to allow me to steer horizontally, but I realized that I would also need to effectively build a working submarine in the later levels. I can’t comment much on this because I stopped paying attention in science classes quite juvenile, but I will say that this water has moxa!

My conclusion from playing a portion of the base game and most of its expansion levels is this: I can’t believe I waited so long to play Besiege, although I partially blame the marketing for that. In compact: no one told me that this game is basically an Orc simulator. Here’s the damn device, which I simply named “spiceyboy1” because that’s how I spelled it:

Image source: Spiderling Studios/Rock Paper Shotgun

The key difference between the devices in Besiege and those built by the Orcs of Warhammer is that the ones here don’t simply work on pure faith – you’ll have to make sure everything works properly. I later made countless improvements to his spiked ship, most notably a series of braces to keep it from falling apart during a particularly violent rampage. Sometimes the game will give you a task that doesn’t require senseless destruction but considered movement, in which case I’d be forced to replace some of the murder decorations with more practical devices like grapplers or vacuum guns. Sometimes you need to destroy something quite high, in which case my preferred tactic was to create a column of extendable pistons extending with the cannon on top. You usually get at least one good shot before you go completely over the edge.

Preparing to face the armada of small boats in Besiege
Image source: Spiderling Studios/Rock Paper Shotgun

As for the visuals, I felt like writing something like “they didn’t have to do it so well!” This is probably not true as I understand how crucial it is to grab attention when someone is scrolling through Steam. Still, Besiege is truly eye-catching, in addition to its wonderful juxtapositions of complexity and silliness, practicality and chivalrous polish. Ambient music and bulky rain tell the story of a conflict that brings despair to earth. I see a mission called The Duke’s Plea, reminiscent of desperate negotiations to end this senseless bloodshed. I load up the game and it’s just me, my ridiculous death machine, and a group of knights, one of whom is holding a parchment in my footsteps. Was this your plan, Lord Duke? Piece of paper! Well, that won’t stop me, because I’ve only learned to read blueprints for war crimes paraphernalia

Splintered Sea itself is even prettier, with the gray fields of the base game replaced with full ocean scenes that stretch out in every direction. There are fish in the ocean that you can kill one at a time. Of course I didn’t do that. They just accidentally grabbed onto my spinny bits. Here I am, using a harpoon to steal some treasure. The fish just got in the way:

The largest submarine ever to haul a treasure chest with its harpoon gun in Besiege
Image source: Spiderling Studios/Rock Paper Shotgun

I will say that any set of levels in Besiege, especially the 10 levels in Splintered Sea, can usually be beaten quite quickly once you get the hang of the basics. So if you’re considering raising them, it’s worth asking yourself where you fall on the internal/external scale. In compact, will you enjoy building and experimenting in and of itself, or will you lose interest once you’ve overcome all the challenges? If it’s the latter, you can do it in a few brisk evenings, so it’s worth keeping that in mind.

You’ve probably already figured out that there’s no real story in Besiege, which is fine because that’s not what the game is trying to achieve. Still, beyond the petite bits of scenery gained through challenge layouts, I found that Besiege told me a story: it was a story about how certain things are so ingrained that the world has a very difficult time breaking them out of us. One of those things is playing with toys, but another is taking those toys apart to see how they work and then putting them back together.

I’m not sure I have any grand theory about how games should be written, but I think we should try less to convince doubters that “games are more than just toys” and more to celebrate the fact that toys can be amazing and extremely convoluted and valuable things. Besiege is a fantastic toy – that is, an amazing, incredibly convoluted and valuable thing – and Splintered Sea is more than that, but with boats and sharks. At one point also a giant squid. It’s great and I love it. Seven out of six point five thoroughly trembled from the wood.

This review is based on the test version of the game provided by the developer.

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