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Pirates of the Burning Sea -- Captain's Blog: Roaming the Realm

Posted by Narrator Monday January 28 2008 at 10:29PM
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I pulled into the French town of Grenville, a heavily-trafficked port near the southern tip of the Floridian peninsula. A multitude of French societies treat Grenville as an unofficial base of operations, while even more French players -- naval officers, free traders, and privateers alike -- establish their main economic office somewhere inside the city limits. These are not player-built offices in the MMO world, per se -- these exist only as an icon within a player’s inventory menu. But these offices are the cornerstone to the always-dynamic player-driven economy.

Grenville situates itself within eye-squinting range of Spanish-dominated Cuba, and is perched just as close to the Bahamas which sits swarming with pirates and Englishmen. To the French, they’re all one in the same; and vice versa.

I’ve ranked up to level 16 since I first arrived in the New World, all bright-eyed and full of wonder up in Charlesfort (in modern-day South Carolina). The single-player missions in my original homeport took me up a comfy and storied path to level 11, never leaving the relative comfort of Florida’s east coast. Those lower-level missions -- of which about 75% are copy-n-pasted to all of the nations -- are eloquently-written vignettes that should be nominated for some sort of MMO short-fiction prize.

The missions in my early teens, however, began to sputter and lose their debonair spirit. The linking stories shortened down to quick one-off deliveries, or out-and-in sorties to sink an established number of baddies. The level cap is at 50, though, so there’s plenty of room to reintroduce what Content Director Jess Lebow brought to the table in the first place. As the story creator and producer for the original Guild Wars and Eye of the North (not to mention the fact that Mr. Lebow has a handful of D&D novels fattening his resume), I have no doubts that there’s more in store for me as I cruise up to the game’s crow’s-nest levels.

The reasons behind what’ll keep Burning Sea around for a long time (longer than many might expect) are legion. But a significant contributor will be the Realm vs. Realm play. Power-leveling up to 50 isn’t designed to be a Korean-styled (or even WoW-styled) grind. Developer Flying Lab Software isn’t the architect of endless 40-man raids customized for that uber-loot drop. Flying Lab wants the players fighting over the map. And that becomes most interesting when everybody can conceivably attain level 50, stop worrying so much about the NPCs, and start broadsiding other players for real estate in the Caribbean.

As of this writing, on the Blackbeard server, Fort-de-France in the Lesser Antilles is under siege from the Brits. The island of Haiti (which is in the vicinity of famed pirate getaway, Tortuga) is getting ransacked fore and aft by the heavy pirate population. The Spanish are making a run for England’s Turtling Bay on the Yucatan, and have also sent Havana (in Cuba) into a ruckus, which is also disrupting a very important trade route along the Florida Keys.

When a port falls under contention -- enemies drop of “unrest supplies” to destabilize a port’s economy, renegade missions are undertaken to blockade a port, etc. -- then civil unrest begins to mount. Continuous enemy action makes a free-for-all PvP radius begin to widen its berth around the contended port. Until finally a 25 vs. 25-ship battle royal ensues, and the victor runs their flag up the pole. Notably, pirates cannot play for keeps. They pillage and plunder, but go on about their way after 36 hours. The Spanish, English, and French, however, do indeed play for keeps.

Flying Labs has hinted that nations suffering from low player populations will receive benefits to make up the imbalance. I have not found any details, though, and until then the outnumbered nations have to man-up on the playing field. There’s also (on the Blackbeard server) a non-aggression pact between Spain and France brought about by several of the server’s top Spanish and French leaders in order to stem attacks from the much higher British and pirate populations; but I’m sure there’s plenty of room for such non-binding contracts to fall apart at the seams. And if you ask our own Kolby Kappes (who’s flying Spanish colors on the Blackbeard server as well) sending some “frog-eating French” down to Davy Jones’ Locker still rates high on his gameplay objectives.

Suffice to say, I’m rather enjoying my new square-rigged ‘Hermes’ Packet-Boat, a 16-gun scout ship (plus 6 swivel cannons) that fares better than many ship designs at sailing with the wind, and though it was historically introduced as a swift, seaworthy mail carrier, I’m using that swift seaworthiness to rush up on an enemy, broadside them with some crew-depleting grapeshot, and board their sorry land-loving hindquarters before they know what’s happening.

See you in the sea lanes.