GDC Hands-On Preview: Pirates of the Burning Sea
At the Game Developers Conference, Jon Wood had the opportunity to sit down and play Pirates of the Burning Sea, the nautical MMORPG being made by Flying Lab Software.
At the Game Developer's Conference, I had the opportunity to sit down and take a quick look at Flying Lab's Pirates of the Burning Sea. Now, fortunately for us, this was our second look at this game in the last month, Staff Writer Hasani Davis having been to the Flying Lab booth at the recent New York Comic Con, but I thought that it was worth giving a second opinion.
If you're tired of the same old cookie-cutter MMOs hitting the market, Pirates of the Burning Sea has probably been on your personal watch-list. Not only are some of the game mechanics new, interesting and innovative, but the entire setting is about as far away from the fictional game worlds of the classic fantasy WoW or edgy sci-fi EVE Online. No, this game is what might be called a historically-based fiction. PotBS is set right here on good old planet earth. No choosing between Elf, Dwarf or Orc here, instead, your choices are more terrestrial, Spanish, English, French, or of course, Pirate.
Like many MMO players, the first thing that I look at in a game is character creation. For me, the detail that I can put into my characters is what makes or breaks a game. In a game where Human is the only possible race, it becomes a lot easier to end up with cookie-cutter characters that look too much like everyone else's. Fortunately, PotBS provides enough customization options that players should feel as though their characters are unique people as opposed to sea faring clones. For those of us who like to play the numbers game, there are 16 different areas of customization including coats, jewelry, eyewear, hats, hair, etc etc. And yes, in case you were wondering (I know someone was), you can play a pirate with a peg-leg.
Once you're reasonably certain that you've got the right look for your swashbuckling, rum-drinking, deck swabbing self, you can move on to the statistical substance of character-creation. The game currently holds a total of 350 skills. Each career in the game (Pirate, Privateer, Naval Officer, Merchant etc) has 50 skills, and by level 50 each player will have 25. On top of this, each of the game's combat styles: fencing, Florentine and dirty fighting, carries 50 different skills of its own. Obviously, with so many possible skill combinations, diversity is easy to find in PotBS.
Once I got into the game, I learned about combat. PotBS combat is similar to the combat in any MMO, but, like most of the new generation of MMOs, the combat has its own flare and style. There are four different kinds of attack that you can use in combat: preparatory attack, basic attack, finishing move and special move.
The preparatory attack is meant to force an opponent to come off of his or her guard. These attacks and feints aren't designed to hurt or damage your opponent as much as they are meant to throw them off balance to reduce their defensive capabilities.
The tried and true "swing" falls into this category of attack. Basic attacks focus on hitting and causing damage to your opponent throughout the fight. As you use these attacks, you are also building what the game calls "initiative points". These can be used to gain more of an edge later in combat.
This attack is meant to cause more damage quickly to finish off your opponents. In order to use your finishing moves though, you have to have built enough initiative points throughout the combat. Cleave is an example of one of the finishing move abilities.
Your special move is tied to your fighting style (fencing, Florentine or dirty fighting). The special move adds flavor to the combat in the game. When I created my character for example, I created a pirate who used the dirty fighting style. Some of the "dirty" attacks that were available to me were elbow, stomp (yup, you step on the other guy's foot), throw dirt, grenade and more.
Combat in PotBS isn't restricted to your avatar. After all, what would a game about pirates be like without any pirate ships?
Nautical combat is significantly different from avatar combat, giving the player control over an entire ship that has to be carefully guided through the water to shoot, dodge and fight. Because the game is set in the age of sail, wind direction plays an important factor in ship navigation and Flying Lab provides an easy-to-read graphic that tells you which directions will give you the most wind (and therefore the most speed) and which direction will stop your ship. During combat, the trick is to get the side of your ship facing your enemy so that you can fire your cannons, but then to get your ship turned away again to give your opponent the smallest possible target for his attack. Hitting the broad side of a ship is much easier than hitting a ship that is headed toward you.
For some, the historical, earthbound nature of the setting is unappealing. Fortunately, PotBS isn't trying to be an historical simulator and is instead interested in harnessing the lore of nautical legends for their game. In other words, there is a supernatural element to this game as well. What would a nautical game be, for example, without the ever-infamous Bermuda Triangle?
Within that area, the supernatural is afoot. Unexplained and unnatural things happen to those who venture forth into the dangers of this area. Like in the real life legends surrounding areas like the Bermuda Triangle, you're safe if you heed the warnings and don't venture forth into the haunted seas. Still, players who are looking for something different in their game play, something beyond the trappings of this world, are invited to seek out the game's exciting supernatural elements.
While my first experience at the helm of Pirates of the Burning Sea was a short one, it was long enough to learn that this game is fun and imaginative in a way that really does justice to its rather unique setting.