Pirates of the Burning Sea - Review  

Yarr? YARR!
by Anna Marie Neufeld

More than 80 Hours
+ Coherent main storyline
+ Good variety of missions
+ Can grind or do quests
- Unbalanced economical potential
- Skewed PVP mechanics
- Little to no end game
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum, prepare to be transformed from a yellow-bellied landlubber into a mighty fine sailor. Be ye bent towards country, or simply to plunder booty, the Caribbean be the place for ye. Pirates of the Burning Sea is a surprisingly historically accurate look at sailing in years past. With four different factions and four different classes, the game doesn't offer the same level of variety many other MMORPGs do. However, were that the only problem, Pirates would be a much better game. Though it has an excellent mission system, and a good story, these two high points fail to overcome the monotony of the experience as well as the other assorted flaws the game has.

   The battle system is broken up into two sections: Ship Combat and Swordfighting. Swordfighting occurs in one of two ways: on land during a mission or onboard a vessel when it is boarded. Players will have access to a variety of skills, depending on their fighting style. There are three currently in the game: Fencing, Florentine, and Dirty Fighting. A standard for Naval Officers, Fencing uses few multi-target moves and instead focuses on killing the enemy quickly before it kills the player. Freetraders focus instead on Florentine, which has the best defense of all the stances, but also deals the least amount of damage. Scurvy Pirates and Privateers will find that Dirty Fighting has the weakest defense, but has the best area effect attacks, stuns, and bleed effects to efficiently finish off any who dare to cross swords with these fellows. During combat, players must watch their three meters in order to survive. The first, obvious one being Health, which when dropped to 0 will incapacitate the player. In addition to this, players must carefully manage their Balance, which begins at 100 and drops as the player uses abilities and is hit from angles; the lower the Balance of an enemy, the easier they are to hit as well as vice versa. Last comes Initiative, charged up with some basic attacks then used to power special attacks which then drain initiative. The more initiative a character has, the more likely they will strike their opponent, so it is wise to balance moves.

   Ship combat occurs in missions, when pursued on the high seas by an NPC, or by PCs in PvP zones, and is pretty much what is expected: get within range of the opponent and fire. Different guns have different ranges and effects. Ammo falls into two loose categories, one of which damages sails and crew, the other which damages the ship itself. Players may opt to either board a ship and defeat the crew in Swordfighting, blast the ship until the opposing force abandons ship, or they may simply sink the vessel and be done with it. Capturing a vessel or forcing an abandon ship are the preferred methods, as players may loot the empty ship for cargo and marks which may be redeemed for unique prizes in the nation's capital. Players must maneuver into firing range as well as carefully watch their own ship's damage levels. Like swordfighting, the player will have a variety of abilities based upon their chosen profession. Naval Officers, for example, get an ability which allows them to repair mid-combat, while other classes must use reagents to do the same. Freetraders are allowed to ready actions before combat, such as a speed boost so they can run away faster and with greater ease from powerful foes.

Natural Naturally, French Prevail

   Players needn't worry at first about being sunk: the first ship they obtain is what is called a "Fallback" -- even if this ship is sunk with only one durability left, it will remain afloat. This also means when a normal ship is reduced to 0 durability that the player still has something to "fall back" on and is not permanently landlocked. There are several different types of ships a player may captain. The first is the warship, which is heavy on guns, low on cargo space and has questionable maneuverability. These ships can dish out and take a lot of damage; the best ships in this line are for Naval Officers only. The second type of ship is the merchant ship, which unsurprisingly is favoured by the freetrader class, whom the best ships of this line are reserved for. These ships tend to have high speeds, giant cargo spaces, but sacrifice guns and armour to do so. The final class of ships is a mix of the previous two, called scout. These ships have average cargo and average guns but can maneuver in ways the other ships can only dream of, and this aspect is likely why Privateers value them so heavily. Pirates have exclusive ships in each category, so they have the most choices.

   Players looking to turn a profit will be glad to find there's an extensive crafting system within the game. Each player is limited to just ten building lots per server across all of their characters, meaning no one player can be self-sufficient. In addition, little to nothing for the economy is provided by NPCs. All basic materials must be harnessed from the available port resources, which are then turned into basic manufacturing items, and these items are then used in a final product. A practical example of this is iron; a mine digs up the ore, and a forge turns it into iron bars. From there it can be used as the bars themselves for products such as crates of shot to arm ships with, or it can be further processed into the fittings for ships. It sounds convoluted and it is to some extent, but every player can find a product or a section of products to work with and make good money. However, this does mean the economy, purely player driven, is limited by the players: the best products are only available if a player somewhere in the nation opts to make them. This means there is a clear imbalance between the nations, as those with heavier populations will always out produce the smaller. This is exacerbated by the fact new players coming in will gravitate towards the stronger factions, leaving the smaller nations further and further behind. In addition, once a nation has been chosen on a server, no other nation may be played on that server; coincidentally, there are four servers, just enough for a player to have a character from each current faction.

   Once a player reaches the maximum level, there isn't much to do aside from PvP, but even before they reach that goal, they may run into an ugly issue. The problem with the current PvP system in Pirates is that there is no level restriction. That means if they have the opportunity, a level 50 (current max level) may attack a first level character if they wander into a PvP zone. While these zones are for the most part avoidable and are clearly marked on the map, there are some cities which may be provoked into a state of unrest, blocking large amounts of the map off to those who cannot yet hold their own versus another player (ie, anyone under 50). This often means a frustrating, significantly longer trek to avoid the PvP zones, generally through areas with high level, aggressive NPCs. For those that enjoy PvP and don't mind dying to the cause, this is really no problem, but for the PvE player this is going to be a serious detriment.

   The music is well-suited to the theme of the game, but isn't terribly memorable. Like many things in Pirates it does the job, but doesn't go out of its way to be fantastic. The visuals do stand out more however, and there is a fairly large amount of costume and appearance customization. The good news is, players can continue to customize their characters after creation - the bad news is, these "tailor shops" are only in select desirable ports and as such as often in unrest, thus for something as simple as changing a costume, players must enter these dangerous waters. Like any PC game, effects and graphical quality can be adjusted to suit the desire of the player based upon the power of their system.

   The difficulty of the game in regards to PvE is mostly easy; the quest log clearly delineates what level a quest is and whether it is solo only, can be completed with a group, or must be completed in a group. Pirates also allows the players to modify the difficulty of quests, something no other MMORPG has done successfully. As all quest encounters are instanced, a player can opt to change the difficulty, meaning higher level characters can finally play with their lower level friends without being bored, and without the lower level players being punished. While the default difficulty is level one, speaking to the Port Captain can raise the difficulty by up to four additional levels. When the difficulty is raised, more ships will appear, will be higher level, and often of mastercraft design (more guns, better speed). While no MMORPG has a particular "end" point, unless players are heavily into crafting, conquering and defending ports, or head to head battles on the high seas, players may find themselves bored by the time 100 hours roll by.

Ship Shape Ahoy! Ship Boarding

   The originality of the game is a mixed bag. The pirate theme itself is in full swing, no small part due to the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. While the combat system is reminiscent of some other MMORPGs, there's still a decent dose of originality. What really makes the game unique, and what many players miss grinding out on the ocean, is the stories involved with the missions. Some ports simply have individual missions which don't particularly tie together; some ports have complex, intertwining stories between the various NPCs within the towns. This is outside the main storyline (often called the RP story), which while very well written, is unevenly spread out across the levels. For example, finishing the first chapter takes until level 20; the first section of the second chapter can be done as soon as level 22, but to continue will require the player to be over level 30 (the quest won't even become available until then) with a recommended level of 32 or higher to actually perform the tasks inherent within the rest of the chapter. So, what begins as a very entrancing story ends up being somewhat of a drag as the player loses their pull into the story by poor pacing.

   The overarching problem with Pirates is that there isn't enough that sets it apart from other MMORPGs on the market. The interface is a perfect example of this. While the adage says "if it isn't broken, don't fix it" at the same time there really is nothing about the interface that even makes it feel different from World of Warcraft. One perk that the interface does offer is that all of its components can be individually moved to suit the player's preferences. It is nice to see this feature without having to resort to an outside program.

   Pirates is a game where the flaws simply cannot overcome the perks. While there's a lot of potential for the game, the majority has yet to be tapped. While Flying Labs has already begun to make improvements, some of the problems are inherent to the game and cannot be corrected. For players who don't mind racing to the maximum level to seek intense PvP battles, this game comes with a tentative recommendation. Anyone who prefers PvE content and does not enjoy the PvP aspect of MMORPGs, steer clear of these stormy seas.

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