Monday, December 3, 2007

Pirates of the Burning Sea: Early Impressions

The NDA for Pirates of the Burning Sea has been dropped and people are talking. Tobold offers up a really great review of the game, as does Potshot. They seem to have similar opinions as to the quality of the game.

I didn't get to play much past the early levels, but I enjoyed it enough that I preordered the game. Its a no-brainer since I have the Station Access anyway. But its rather fun: in Pirates of the Burning Sea, you play the captain of a ship (as a pirate, captain of the navy, privateer, or a freetrader). Like most MMOs, you can collect missions from NPCs who stand around with exclamation points hovering over their heads. Missions usually take place inside instances, where you are tasked with destroying targets, or escorting friendly ships. Some missions let you run around as your avatar; these play like instances in other MMOs, such as City of Heroes, where the bad guys stand around and you have to explore to locate a number of items (NPCs or highlightable items that you can click on.)

Unfortunately, I don't care much for the avatar combat. At sea, you can defeat an enemy vessel by boarding it and defeating its captain. This gets very hectic and its hard to keep tabs on whats going on. And every combat seems to be the same: tab through the hordes of enemies to find the captain and defeat them. The enemy crew will surrender once their captain is defeated. Avatar missions aren't so bad since there's a little more variety to what you have to do.

Luckily, that's not the main part of the game. Much of the game takes place out on the open sea. Ship-based missions were fun and seemed to take more strategy. Its not your standard combat where you have a single health meter. Each side of the ship can accumulate damage, as can your masts. You can use weapons that try to weaken the enemy crew, focus on damaging the masts, or try to sink the ship. Its glorious fun, and there was enough variety to the ship-based missions for me.

I rolled characters on the British and Spanish sides and was dismayed to see that they had the same quests. But perhaps that changes at higher levels.

The economic side of the game is one I still need to get better acquainted with. From what I've seen so far, its very interesting. You have a limited number of plots on which you build structures that you have bought deeds for. Your structures accumulate "stored labor" in real time, which you spend like a currency, with money and prerequisite resources, to get what you want. This means crafting is more about figuring out what you want to build, and transporting the finished goods, then about repeatedly clicking buttons and watching progress meters (like it is in many other MMOs). That's a very good thing.

This game is more of a sandbox with a deep economy and PVP as the main factors that will drive interest. This is no World of Warcraft, and will likely remain a niche game. It also lacks a lot of the polish of other games. The UI seems rather clunky and the icons are way too small. But for those who want a little break from the standard run of the mill level-and-loot driven MMO gameplay in EverQuest and World of Warcraft, Pirates seems like it has plenty to offer.

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