Pirates of the Burning Sea had a pre-order launch on January 7th, 9am PST. I happened to arrange my appointment with them that afternoon itself and chatted with Content Director Jess Lebow there in Vegas. He gave me a few interesting stats during our conversation when I asked how well the pre-launch was going.
Impressive stats, however I was more interested in the changes, the tweaking and tuning that they had been doing since open beta. Drew Clowery, the avatar combat designer was there as well and reported that it was coming along, looking much better than what we last saw during open beta.
“Too many good changes to describe with many more in the works from feedback obtained during open beta,” I was told. Chatting with current players showed a few of them that improved the new player experience. Some ships seem to have changed sizes or classes and the free 4th level ship, the Renard, that is obtained in the Economy tutorial is no longer a “total pig. Square-rigged, light armor, crappy main guns and slooooow.” But currently described as a hull that’s “friendly with the wind” although the armor and cannon are still on the light side when compared to the Bermuda, but it is the free ship.
Per Jess, the sound and music has also doubled with one third more voiceovers in the works. French and Spanish players will be pleased to know that the “wall of voices” in those islands and towns are now voiced in those languages as well. This will certainly help with immersion, although the nationalized new player tutorial has not made it into the game as yet.
New group skills for your allies have been added. Players boarding other ships with their crew will now be able to give different commands to them, rather than have them follow en-masse and wonder what they are up to. They can now be commanded to hold or to attack, defend you or attack specific targets.
For this preview, Flying Lab Software was showing off the role-play story arc that is available to players. This is started by one of the first handful of missions available to players and players can choose to forward it or not. The story-arc does branch depending on the choices the player makes and results in alliances, enemies and a love interest – which is not limited by gender. The choices you make in game will lead… where they lead!
Jess was particularly proud of their use of instancing in this story arc to create a more dynamic and personal experience for players. Players can view all quests within a five level difference and this is a 5th level quest, which you obtain from your “Career Mentor” who sends you to speak to “A Man of Wealth and Taste” to discover more about a treasure map you find. While consulting with this man, we heard cannon fire. We could investigate or we could run away. We chose to investigate. In leaving his house, we found the nice quiet town in flames, a pirate ship anchored just off shore and pillaging scallywags terrorizing the town folk. Again, we could have chosen to run away or rescue the town by defeating the bilge rats and capturing that prize just sitting in the water. After defeating the encounter, we reported to our man of wealth and taste, then re-entered a common area town populated by other players as well as NPCs. Now, that’s the beauty of instancing – when it is designed in tandem with the general world and used seamlessly with it.
There are three chapters to this role-play story arc – the beginning, the meeting of your patron who has seen your potential and taken an interest in you, and in the final chapter, you access an instanced town which is the showcase of all your achievements. Your friends, your lovers, your allies – they will all reside there – and the quests and story arc will run from levels 5 through 50. Some quests may involve NPCs who assist you or hinder you, it’s up to you to choose to make an enemy in order to strengthen your ties with an ally, and run a gamut of tasks to achieve the chosen goal. You will engage in avatar combat and ship combat, but don’t think that the quests are limited to just that. You may be sneaking a lover out for a moonlight tryst, breaking a prisoner out of jail, or tracking down treasure. You will be using all your skill, including your animated emotes, such as the rude emote to distract a guard or the flirt emote to attract a love interest.
Jess also described the many fun aspects of the game and their ongoing plans. One is the current zone updates. The British faction was the first worked on and the pirate town of Tortuga was the last completed. When they looked back at the first towns, they decided they had to make them as complex and fun as Tortuga. The next town in this revamp schedule is the French capital of Pointe-à-Pitre. With this revamp, 50 new missions will be added, and some fun missions will be included as well, such as the ability to participate in a play, solve a mystery and have the monkey throw fruit at a mime. The Spanish town of San Juan will be next, and then they turn their eyes back to Port Royale – although it is hard to imagine that Port Royale requires “improving” I’m sure that as time goes by, as in all things MMORPG, it will.
In game events planned currently are Junkanoo (New Year’s celebration), Halloween and Talk like a Pirate Day. Special consumable items can be obtained from quests available during the celebration, and I was treated to a show of confetti in the shape of cutlasses, skull and cross-bones and tri-corn hats, and the use of a fire-breathing kit which includes a fiery brand and a jug of high-proof rum.
Other future plans include Treasure Maps – which will be rare loot drops. Yes, they are actual “X marks the spot” type maps. You find your way to that “X” and an instanced mission opens up to you. Some may require you to bring some allies and these quests can be shared. Another type of Treasure Map will require actual navigation in the traditional form of “Go to X, take Y number of paces” or sail to an unmarked island to find another clue.
Yet more content planned for the future are the ship “dungeons” – high level raid content where you and your allies will take your highly armed ships into a zone where you may find an enemy ship bristling in cannon awaiting you. Jess also promised us customized bosses with “interesting” new skills.
As Jess showed off the player designed ship, the Oliphant, I was impressed once again about how good the ships look. They are well detailed and colorful. What looks even better is the crew. It’s not a ship that’s bare of life. You can see crew members moving about deck, climbing the rigging and at work.
It’s still two weeks to the official launch date and the team is hard at work. The player run “boarding party” are assisting newcomers to the game and world chat is full of bad pirate jokes. Apart from an early bug which required them to take down the mission server, the “Pre-boarding” has gone well and you can advance your character to a maximum level of 21 during this time. So, Arr Mateys! This game is in full sail.