Anyone who has played Wizard 101 knows that the combat follows the route of a collectible card game. The game mechanics work very well and allow players to design a strategy in handling their deck and building their spell list. Pirate 101 takes a very different approach to combat by modeling it after a board game. Now, the board game combat isn’t new, just forgotten. Think of games like Stratego or Risk in some ways. Players who like real time strategy games will love the way combat is played out. Here is a rundown of how it works.
Just like in Wizard 101 you do have the option of entering combat or staying on the road and not fighting. Once you engage in a fight you are matched against a group of foes. Now in the beginning the group is small, but as you get into more complex levels of combat you will be fighting multiple NPCs with your crew and deciding on lots of moves to win the fight. Other players can jump into combat with you similar to the Wizard 101 model. Once engaged the fight begins.
Players will suddenly have a board appear before them with squares for movement, similar to a game board. You have your own icon as well as icons for your crew. We have only played early stages of the game so usually it was one crew member. You then can choose to move and use special abilities on the combat board. You have 30 seconds to make your choices (this is not set in stone just yet, we're reminded). We dubbed it the “Pirate Shot Clock.” You then give your players actions and choose if you want them to use a special skill. You can choose the Done button or wait until your clock runs out. Then the combat effects and animations go into effect. You will see the results of your choices and then the board opens up again to continue to the next turn. This simple system works very well. At first we thought 30 seconds was too long, but as the fighting grew more complex those 30 seconds flew by and some people thought they needed more time for choices.
As you go up in level you get more skills (like any RPG). We went over the classes in the game earlier but it is very important to balance your class with a crew that is different from your style. For example, as a Musketeer who uses guns in combat it is important to have a crew member who is good at melee fighting. If you play a Swashbuckler you will want a ranged style crew member with you. The important thing about using your crew in combat is that you can assign ranks to them. Your first rank crew member will always be joining you in combat so make sure they have the skills to match your short comings. Also, you can train your crew members up with different abilities. This is very important as the fights get much more dangerous so you want everyone in top form. Sometimes in combat you will be joined by a “allies” as well. The allies are not part of your crew and will act on their own in the fight.
Another important element in combat is having objectives. It is not just about beating your foes; it is about taking objectives and overcoming obstacles too. In the one boss fight the objective was to unlock three pillars in different parts of the room. So while you are fighting the troggie boss and his cronies, you also have to turn these pillars. Either you can do it or your members of your crew can as well. This aspect gives another level to the fighting in the game. There are also obstacles that are on the game board when you play which block you from getting to NPCs or objectives.
One other thing I should mention is that though these fights are turn-based and on a board, just like in W101, they are not instanced. If a friend sees you struggling from afar, they can run up and join in to help. Heck, you'll even be able to jump on another player's boat and help them, like Errol Flynn!
The combat in Pirate 101 is really a lot of fun, and will delight folks looking for something different in the MMO space. At first it took us a few tries to get used to it. Once it is understood, you will find that making key decisions and strategizing really can impact your battles. Just like in Wizard 101, players will need to think about their choices and work together to win. It is a system that is easy to learn and has a lot of depth to master.