"One of the biggest problems with MMOs is repetition, not specifically the grind of gaining levels or earning money. Actually, one of the most abrasive elements of repetition is addressed in the little snippet above. With all the World of Warcrafts and Everquests and Lineages and the legions of similar games who only mix up the gameplay slightly, it's nice to see a game where with only one screenshot, you can see a big difference. Nowhere will you see dwarves with huge glowing axes, or spell casters, or half naked elf women dancing for money in town square."
All is quiet in the aftermath of a great battle. Actually, the crystal waters and clear blue skies put the mind to a serene vacation destination, not the heart of a once raging engagement between dozens of warships. However the carcasses of many wrecked vessels tell their tale. Some are slowly slipping beneath the waves, their names already forgotten. Others bob like corkson the surface, abandoned by their crew and ready to be harvested.
Your own ship moves about the scene with tattered sails trailing in the wind. The crew moves about the battle-scarred deck, attempting to get the most out of the damaged vessel until it can be repaired. But for now there is plunder to be had, so it'll have to wait. Other ships move with you, your allies, and one by one, the floating hulks are stripped bare, and then the victorious fleet will flee the scene. Perhaps headed for the local pub to tell tales of their conquest.
One of the biggest problems with MMOs is repetition, not specifically the grind of gaining levels or earning money. Actually, one of the most abrasive elements of repetition is addressed in the little snippet above. With all the World of Warcrafts and Everquests and Lineages and the legions of similar games who only mix up the gameplay slightly, it's nice to see a game where with only one screenshot, you can see a big difference. Nowhere will you see dwarves with huge glowing axes, or spell casters, or half naked elf women dancing for money in town square.
The other elements of repetition...well, those are still around. You're going to be sinking enough ships that you could probably walk across them from one end of the Caribbean to the other without getting wet. But doing so is generally a joy, especially when you're in a group.
Combat is centered around the three ammo types. The first is used to sink the enemy ship, the second to destroy its sails, and the third to kill its crew while leaving the ship relatively unharmed. Deciding exactly what your goal is in combat is key to your strategy. Naval officers who specialize in transport missions and fleet support will find that blowing apart ships at range is a perfectly workable option. Enemies that can't get close to you have limited options, which has obvious advantages.
On the other hand, you get more loot from ships that aren't sunk than those that are, so it's entirely possible to make your fortune without ever sinking a ship. People inclined to do so, usually pirates, can pick apart their opponent's sails, and then attack the helpless crew from a blind spot before boarding the ship and making off with their loot. Boarding, therefore, becomes a very important part of ship combat.
Boarding does add some variation to the combat formula, and helps strengthen the range aspect of combat. Those who want to board ships will have to get in close, either by being in a small, fast ship, or by using shot that destroys the sails, opening them up to direct canon attack in the mean time. Unfortunately, boarding returns to the MMO combat roots of hotkey-based swordplay. It does spice things up by adding in the balance meter, which acts as a shield to protect the combatants' HP. Keeping your balance high while deplenishing that of your opponents is the key to victory. And boarding altercations tend to be much shorter than the actual ship combat segments, so it's not too bad, but it certainly isn't the game's strong point.
Aside from surprisingly deep combat, the biggest thing Pirates of the Burning Sea offers is nonlinear paths to advancement. Do you want to be a swashbuckler, an unstoppable force when the boarding begins? Do you want to specialize in fleet defense? Scouting? Trade? The crafting system is surprisingly deep, allowing a captain to own land bound production facilities of various types. Some produce sales, some mine ore for shot and canons, some cut wood for hulls. Some actually assemble a ship. In this way, players can form a sort of assembly line to the final ship. Alternatively, one could simply sell production goods. Add in trade and transport, and one could make a fortune without ever really dabbling in combat at all, provided they have an escort to protect them in more dangerous areas.
This leads to players offering contracts to other players, paying for protection, and fighting off pirates of their own volition, which adds an interesting element to the game that is outside of the control of computer NPCs.
All in all, Pirates of the Burning Sea is one of the best ship combat games out there. It takes elements from older similar games, and adds in a lot of player freedom to carve their niche in a constantly changing world. Everything takes on a life of its own when it's not just you against the computer, when you're protecting an actual person's goods against attacks that can really come at any time from any number of properly organized foes. It's that life that sets the game apart.
Freelance review by Josh Higley (January 26, 2008)
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