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Carolyn Koh Posted:
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Pirates of the Burning Sea - Launch Day Previews

Both Carolyn Koh and Laura Genender took part in the Pirates of the Burning Sea beta. Now that the game has launched, they give us their impressions of the nautical game in this Launch Day Preview

Preview by Carolyn Koh

“Gimme a 500 word preview of PotBS!” said Jon “Stradden” Wood. “I want to run it Tuesday with one from Laura.” Um, yeah, sure! I’d love to. Now I’m scared. Will Laura, our hard-core gamer gal blow this old Auntie gamer out of the water? Probably. I enjoy different aspects of MMOGs sometimes. “You’re weird that way,” my guild mates tell me, “but we love you anyway.” As tradeskill components show up in my mailbox and completed items wend their way to theirs.

So… what is Pirates of the Burning Sea like? These are my impressions:

The World: It’s historical and mostly accurate. It’s Pirates! What’s there not to love for a history buff like me? I enjoyed the early wonder (and scariness) of sailing to the headquarters of the European nations – the motherland as it were.

Avatars: I love them in one aspect – the customization is really great and their clothing is fabulous. On another, some of the animation just annoys the heck out of me and doesn’t look as smooth and polished as it could be. I remind myself often that avatars are a late addition.

Avatar Combat: Don’t be looking at PotBS if you are looking for an avatar combat heavy MMOG. This was designed as Ship Combat from the get go (five years ago) with an avatar combat system added in about a couple years back. Most avatar combat is to be had on missions and if you choose to grapple and board a ship on the seas. Your skills are your attacks and actually having a choice of styles is rather fun.

Ship Combat (PvE as well as PvP): You are controlling your ship and can zoom in and out of the action. In one aspect, it’s not as immersive as it can be if you are actually manning the guns or your avatar is actually at the wheel. On the other, it’s nifty as heck to watch your crew go about their duties, climbing the rigging, loading the canons, etc. There’s a boarding tactic that everyone loves and hates. Say two or three ships go after a much larger, better armed one. One ship is the sacrifice. It grapples and boards the larger ship, forcing both players into boarding combat while the other two continues using their canon. The larger ship wins the avatar combat by dint of numbers but loses the encounter. This has been heavily tweaked by the Devs so that grappling is harder, and savvy Captains will keep their speed up. It’s a lot harder to successfully grapple and board a fast moving target but still… Grrrr! Hate!

The Role Play Arc: Cool as all get out. This is a branching, personal quest line that runs from level five through 50, in which you can gain allies, enemies and a love interest if you so choose – which is not limited by gender.

Instancing: There is a lot of it, and it is really very well done. For example, you enter from the general world into a structure like a tavern, accept a quest and exit into an instanced world as your quest continues.

Economy play:

Total love. You are controlling an empire, not putting items in a craft vessel and clicking “create.” It’s about resource management and playing the stock market. I’m a weenie when it comes to PvP and I totally enjoy being able to assist in PvP with trade. Yes, I’m a geek that way. I play Harvest Moon okay?

Okay, I’m running over my word limit. So, from this old Auntie gamer, Avatar Combat – meh. Ship Combat – cool. Economy play – geekgasm!

Preview by Laura Genender

Since I cheated and got to peek at Carolyn’s article while writing up my own, I’ll shamelessly steal her categories, too.

The World:I’ve never judged a game by its genre – whether it’s elves, spaceships, or elves on spaceships, it’s the gameplay and storyline that makes the MMO for me. That being said…PIRATES. Come on, PIRATES. It’s awesome!

I’m no Caribbean history buff, but I’ll agree with Carolyn that the game does a great job of remaining historically accurate. Unlike Carolyn, though, I didn’t have that feeling of fear or awe making my way around the ocean. Maybe it’s the lack of gravity/consequences in a game where death doesn’t even mean an XP loss – part of it is frustration with the limitations of “real world” mechanics. The instanced combat sailing areas feel head-bashingly slow to me.

Avatars:I hate to admit to playing dress-up with my character – I am supposed to be the hardcore gamer girl, after all – but call me guilty, I timed the client out at least three times while creating my pirate. Customization isn’t quite at City of Heroes/Villains level but it’s damn close; the variety of skirts, pants, puffy shirts, corsets, hats, bandannas, nose rings, boots, gloves, vests, coats, etc. is nothing short of amazing. The tailor shop (in-game character editor) allows endless changes with no charges or penalties; the only downside is you can’t save multiple outfits.

Avatar Combat:As diverse as the avatar editor is, the combat is a little dull and monotonous. There are only three different avatar combat discipline choices: Dirty Fighting, Florentine, and Fencing. In combat I haven’t seen much difference between the three, though I’ve only spent much time as a Dirty Fighter.

The combat system is kind of interesting in concept; while both characters (you and your enemy) have HP bars, you also have “balance” bars. When a character has high balance it’s more likely to block, parry, and dodge; certain skills and attacks will knock an opponent off-balance, making it easier to attack their HP directly.

There are about 10-12 skill trees that you can progress through per discipline, with 5 skills each (working out to 50-60 skills total). Dirty Fighters can progress in skillsets such as Powder Jockey (mostly crowd control skills) or Swordsmanship (improves your basic attacks). Sadly, to train the 2nd skill of a skillset you have to have the one before it; to train the 3rd skill you have to have the 2nd. For me to get Improved Flash Powder – a 4 second AE mez type skill – I have to have Flash Powder (single target mez) and Fine Powder (+accuracy to my pistol). I also probably want Off-Hand shot from the Firearms skillset, so I can use a pistol in the first place!

Ship Combat (PvE as well as PvP):Ship combat, as mentioned before, is SLOW! Luckily, the AI makes up for it. The PvE ships that I’ve fought against are damn smart; I just got done chasing a sloop around a rock for 10 minutes, while it took potshots and my sail and kept its damage side out of my line of sight. While avatar combat has proven somewhat easy (and buggy), ship skirmishes have kept me on my toes. If only I could put a motor on my sloop.

The skills for ship sailing are based on your nation – Pirates, Spanish, etc. all have different skillsets available at their trainer. The pirate skills were a total hoot – I had one skillset called Flogging with skills such as Flog Gunners (to make them load the cannons faster). Like the avatar skills, you have to train skill 1, 2, 3, 4 to get to the 5th in a line. Ship skills become even more frustrating since I’ve yet to find an entire line that feels useful. A lot of the skills give you disadvantages or damage that I just can’t afford in combat, or skills I have no desire to waste my points on.

The Role Play Arc:The storyarc in POTBS is great; my only complaint, here, is that it seems to be repeated for every nation. I played through the first few levels as a Spaniard and as a pirate, and my experiences were practically identical. I’d love to see some variation for the purpose of replayability.

Instancing:Most of the missions I’ve received are instanced, and they’ve done a great job of using the technology. One of my earlier missions was to speak with a wealthy man about a map piece I found; while talking to him in his mansion, though, the city was attacked! I ran outside into a burning wreck of the town, and fought my way though some pirates. I made my way into the bar and took out their captain, saving the bartender. I then ran to my ship and chased away their sea support. The mission ended with me reaching port again, where the entire town turned out to cheer my victory. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as an instance which spans 4 areas and 2 combat styles.

Economy Play:The most successful part of the economy system, in my opinion, is that I don’t HAVE to do it. It’s a completely player-operated, stand-alone game of its own, but it’s not mandatory to enjoy the game. I’m a total crafting newbie and I very rarely take the time to make a sandwich, let alone a ship; I’m glad that there’s an interesting crafting system out there but I’m even more satisfied with the easy to use auctioneer.

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Carolyn Koh

Carolyn Koh / Carolyn Koh has been writing for MMORPG.com since 2004 and about the MMO genre since 1999. These days she plays mobile RTS games more, but MMOs will always remain near and dear to her heart.