Sailing Era Is a Reminder That Bad Menus Can Sink a Game

Sailing Era bad menus ruin the seafaring ship adventure at GY Games bilibili

Sailing Era is an open-ended sailing game in which you can trade goods, fall in love, fight pirates on the open seas, and pursue one of four character-specific storylines. It buries all of this in menus.

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Sailing Era should be a game about the freedom of the sea. So you’d imagine the number-one priority would be removing the stuff that stops you from enjoying this core part of the game.

Menus are a fact of life in games, especially ones with stats and numbers to work with like Sailing Era. Ideally, you want the best balance between simple, usable menus and meaningful choices for the player. Early on, there are approximately zero choices to be made in most of Sailing Era’s menus. But boy, that didn’t stop them from making the menus complex.

A lot of the menu options it presents have no reason to not do them, and pressing the button is merely a formality.

If you want more than a skeleton crew aboard your ship, you’ll have to do that manually by entering the pier menu, clicking into the sail preparation menu, scrolling down to the “assign sailors” button, and choosing the crew size via a slider. There is technically a reason for this choice — smaller crews cost less money and supplies to maintain than large ones, and you can therefore sail for longer.

But Sailing Era sends mandatory battles your way that will quickly decimate even a fully crewed ship and leave you with almost no crew. If you forget to press this button and push that crew slider to max, you’ll lose the game.

But oh well, that’s just one button to remember to press. Surely they wouldn’t make the same mistake several times. Right?

Sailing Era bad menus ruin the seafaring ship adventure at GY Games bilibili

In the tavern, you can recruit crew. Getting into mandatory battles required by the story will destroy your crew, so recruiting is mandatory after every voyage. There’s also zero penalty for doing this, since you don’t have to pay recruited crew, only currently used crew. You should always do this. Recruiting takes a few button presses on its own, but fine. Just remember to do it before you try to assign sailors.

There’s also a harsh attrition penalty that’ll melt your starting crew in minutes if you run out of food. Fortunately, the game also puts refilling your food behind a menu option you might not remember to press! If you want to fill your food, which you’ll always need to do, better remember to seek out and press that button!

Now, if you hold the button, it simply fills every ship in your fleet as much as you can afford. So problem solved, right?

This doesn’t eliminate the core problem — there’s no reason to not do this. You simply can’t sail without food because your crew will quickly start dying. There’s no reason to tie this to a button press except to confirm that you definitely want to spend that money.

Sailing Era also has a morale system, whereby when your sailors’ morale lowers, they’ll start dying even more quickly once food is gone. Or something? This isn’t in the tutorial review section for some unknown reason, and I only half-remember.

Regardless, there’s another button you can press to make sure your sailors’ morale is full. This is a good thing and it costs 100 currency, which is almost nothing.

Sailing Era bad menus ruin the seafaring ship adventure at GY Games bilibili

Since this is a trading and questing game, you’ll also want to check the quests in the guild and pick some out, check the prices in the simple trading post and buy anything cheap, check the governor’s office for bounties, assign any new characters you have to their posts on the ship, check that your ship isn’t too damaged in the shipyard, and maybe grab a drink with the locals in exchange for some information.

All of this is far more defensible because most of it at least involves making choices. Sure, the trading system is very simple, there’s no reason to not check for bounties and take them since there’s no penalty for failure, drinking at the cafe is mostly tedious, and it’s easy to forget to check if your ship is damaged, but overall this is bog-standard bad menu stuff. Most games have some menus that aren’t that interesting, but you understand why they’re there.

What makes Sailing Era so exhausting is the sheer volume of it. You’ll quickly get into a routine of clicking 10-20 uninteresting menu buttons just to be ready to set sail, and then even more menus await you if you want to do any of the non-critical tasks.

All of this could be forgiven if the boring menus were infrequent and the gameplay were good. The gameplay is a matter of taste — I found it boring and overly simple, containing far too little depth and pleasure for the amount of simple and repetitive sailing and fighting — but the menuing is far too frequent.

Sailing Era bad menus ruin the seafaring ship adventure at GY Games bilibili

After 2-3 minutes of sailing in Abdullah’s starting ship, you’ll run out of food and need to find a port, or else lose sailors to attrition and be likely to lose any battle you take on.

The menus alone take about one or two minutes, and then you barely get to sail before you come back and do it all again.

At their core, most games do not derive their fun from menus. Games are either designed to be fun because of the gameplay outside the necessary evil of menus, or they’re designed to be fun because of the choices that the menus enable.

Sailing Era needed menus. You have stats for almost everything, and it would be impossible to manage your ship without them. But like a lot of games, Sailing Era doesn’t have enough interesting choices in the menus to justify their complexity. If the menus for basic tasks were simplified and sped up, the tedium might not have overwhelmed my experience with the game in a negative light.

So much of your experience of a game is about how it makes you feel. And Sailing Era’s menus made me cranky and bored.

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Author

Elise Avery
Elise Avery is a freelance video editor and writer who has written for The Escapist for the last year and a half. She has written for PCGamesN and regularly reviews games for The Escapist's YouTube channel. Her writing focuses on indie games and game design, as well as coverage of Nintendo titles.