Last week, we started a series of articles related to Pirate 101 that will ultimately lead up to a final review of the latest MMO in the KingsIsle stable of family-friendly titles. The first steps in the game were a bit rough from a gameplay standpoint but, at the same time, the potential for a great experience was patently obvious. In today’s installment, I’ll take a look at several key aspects that were on my “we’ll see” list from last week: Combat, ship-to-ship battle, questing and companions.
The Rough Spots – Week 2
As I mentioned last week, combat is centered on a grid system and is turn-based. While I have gotten used to it and have learned to be effective both for my own player character and with my companions, I still find that it’s a bit clunky when I’m fighting with other players. It’s not that it’s impossible: Far from it. What bothers me is the jumbled nature of the combatants and everyone’s companions. I suppose that, if I’m really fair about it, combat “in real life” would be much the same with everyone all over the place in a less linear fashion. That said, I still wistfully think of the Wizard 101 summoning circle and the ‘neatness’ of the look both as a fighter involved in the battle or as a spectator walking along the outer paths and observing the goings on. In the latter instance, Pirate 101 looks well, messy, particularly if you have names turned on. Then it’s nearly impossible to tell who’s who and what’s what and where’s where. I realize names can be toggled off and my advice to would-be players is to make sure to do that. Unless you’re playing with friends and need to know where they are, it’s not a necessary feature and only serves to keep things untidy.
The other aspect about combat that I find a bit problematic is that it can be quite complex, something that might be off-putting to younger players. My daughter, a Wizard 101 veteran, has watched me play during these past couple of weeks and has not expressed much desire to play because, as she put it, “It looks hard.” As said, she’s played Wizard 101 since its launch so she’s no shirk when it comes to this type of turn-based combat. But the sheer number of decisions that have to be made when fighting concerns her enough that, until tonight, she didn’t really want to try. I know… being a good mom, I should make her, right?
Questing is pretty standard fare in Pirate 101 as well. It’s not particularly innovative (but see below!) and is very similar to Wizard 101 from the standpoint that it mirrors the age-old adage “Kill 10 Rats”. Basically players are assigned specific tasks by quest givers and then head out into the game world to, for instance, bring home six ‘batacuda’ steaks or a certain number of ship planks. At times, the questing gets a bit tiresome if it takes fifteen battles to grab those six steaks but, again, that’s nothing new in the MMO space either.
Ship-to-ship combat can be difficult for new sailors in the game as it’s not horrendously well explained in the initial tutorial. In addition (and expected, to be fair), pirates are given… a raft to begin with. Yes, a raft. Try taking on corsairs in that, me hearties and you quickly learn how easy it is to be damaged. In some ways, it reminded me of ship-to-ship combat in Pirates of the Caribbean Online in that players should take on smaller, less-agile ships to begin with before moving on to larger and more formidable ships. Honestly, there is little skill involved in ship combat as the canons fire automatically and players really only have to concentrate on moving and using a finite set of skills available (repair being the most used).
Companions are fun though. Again, the tutorial is very quick and the explanation of how to utilize them and level them is a bit lacking. In fact, there are so many, even at the earliest stages of the game, that it’s easy to get lost. Speaking of getting lost, one nagging annoyance, to me at least, is the way that I find the things that I want. The UI is hidden at the top edge of the screen and mousing over it brings it down where I can choose backpack, ship, Crown Shop and Options. It’s kind of a pain though I am getting used to it.
The Shiny Parts – Week 2
All that said above, there are great and really fun things about each of the sections I’ve discussed already. Combat, for instance, is something that grows on you and you learn to be very strategic about the way and the how of attack. Not only do you have to consider which enemy your character will attack but also which enemies your (up to three) companions will attack AND what skills they will utilize when so doing. Really, strategy lovers would groove on this aspect. There’s a lot of depth to the combat system and it’s definitely something that an adult would find compellingly fun.
In addition, the combat is fun to watch. The pirates swing swords which clang together and fancy effects spring forth from shiny guns and more. There’s a lot to like about it from a visual and aural perspective. Luckily, player characters and companions are pretty resilient and can take on multiple enemies at the same time and stay alive through most of the battle. If a companion falls, it’s easy to head back to the nearest town and bring them back so they're fit and ready for the next fight.
Ship combat is something that, despite its simplicity and seeming lack of features, is a lot of fun. As I said, it really reminds me in a good way of Pirates of the Caribbean Online. There are large and small ships that can be easier or harder to attack depending on a player's own skills and comfort level. Canons fire automatically which is nice for younger kids so as not to have to worry about that while circling an enemy. Players can upgrade ships and ship parts to make their own vessels tougher as well. There are ship’s wheels to upgrade, figureheads to mount, sails of various types and sizes and much, much more. The flag that players design at the beginning is prominently shown on the sails in its large glory. It’s really cool to see your ship and the ships of others floating around the docks with all the awesomely designed logos on their sails. Truly, that’s been one of the most gratifying moments in the game.
Even though I crabbed a bit about questing in Pirate 101 above, it’s really not that bad. It’s standard MMO fare and I have to give KingsIsle props for doing it very well. The dialog is funny and entertaining and most are fully voiced by actors who do a really nice job with pirate-y accents. The rewards aren’t too shabby either with players earning XP and gold (of course) as well as outfits (what to wear!), ship components (YARR!), weapons (Stabby things and such) and more. While pure XP rewards are rather small and leveling is pretty slow, the rewards are worth it every time.
Companions are plentiful too. In my earliest stages of the game, I already have five and they range from a musket wielding fox to a fencing mouse to a saber-toting horse. These folks are tough too. They are good combatants which is a huge step forward for Pirate 101 from Wizard 101. In the latter, summoned companions were weak and lacked any player control. They often threw forehead slappingly stupid spells at enemies and died very easily. Not so companions in Pirate 101. They are worth keeping trained and ready to fight and have a wide array of skills at their disposal. As said above, players have a lot of choices to make when fighting when it comes to companions. Players choose who they will attack and what skills they will bring to bear in battle. It’s a micromanager’s dream, I tell you!
Still Waiting to See
Last week, I felt that combat was a “wait and see” deal for me and I’m still sort of in that camp. While it’s growing on me in very good ways, I still find it troubling from the visual perspective. Maybe that’s my ADHD showing but it’s something that gets to me a bit still. From what I understand, changes are incoming. KingsIsle has always shown itself to be very responsive to its players and Pirate 101 will be no exception, I’m sure. So that wraps up this week’s Review in Progress. Next week, we’ll present our full and final review of Pirate 101. What about you? Tell us what you think about Pirate 101 and the topics mentioned above in the comments.