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There Be Pirates Out There, Matey!

William Murphy Posted:
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BILL'S FIRST THOUGHTS I'm one of the few MMORPG staffers who hasn't spent some time with Pirate101 in any form (beta, press show, or otherwise).  All I knew about the title before Monday's head start was that it was from KingsIsle (creators of Wizard101), that it featured flying pirate ships, turn-based combat, and collectible companions that are bound to bring out the obsessive compulsive in me.  To my surprise, if the adult core gamer can get past the cute veneer of the title, they're very likely to find a very satisfying gaming experience.  One that kept me glued to the screen for a good while on the first login, which is more than I can say for most MMOs these days. 

Like W101 before it, the game begins with players detailing their background and looks through an interactive tutorial.  You're an orphan (and can choose how you became one), and you were caught and imprisoned on the ship you're being rescued from for one of many crimes (which you also choose from).  Of course the "crimes" in P101 are more Robin Hood than John Gacy... this is an all-ages game after all.  Whatever you choose helps determine what sort of pirate you are and what skills you'll have in combat.  It's a nice way for novices of any age to be welcomed into the game, and the opening combat scene sets the stage for the conflict with the villainous Armada.

Once you defeat the first round of baddies, with your trust kung-fu pelican at your side (your first companion), you'll be taught how to pilot your airship.  Believe it or not, there's even combat here.  It's timed and turn-based, from what I can gather, though you'll still want to have your broadsides facing the enemy's ship.  You also have skills to repair your ship, magic spells to cause damage to the enemy, and more in this combat mode.  Sailing, naturally, is how you'll get to and from the game's many islands.  But once you impair an enemy vessel, you'll have to board them to finish them off.  Of course, you don't really kill anyone.  You just knock them out.  I liken it to old Errol Flynn movies, where the bad guys were bad, but pull your hair and spit in your eye bad... not Hitler Incarnate. 

Eventually on Columbus Day, though I was working from home, I had to pay attention to my dogs and take them for a walk. And before I knew it, my wife was home and gaming went out the window for the evening. But as I sat watching Mr. Popper's Penguins (don't ask), I found my thoughts drifting to piracy and the open skies.  I'm definitely interested in taking a further look to see what else KingsIsle has up their sleeves.  Unique does not begin to describe Pirate101, that's for sure.


For people who have played KingsIsle’s Wizard101, the latest game out of the Austin studio will be instantly familiar. Pirate101 is much like its predecessor and is, in fact, tied into Wizard101 by the Spiral, the collection of worlds through which players work through. The Pirate101 universe is considered on the outer fringes of the Spiral and it brings something new and different into the game.

The first thing I noticed getting into the game again is how fun character creation is. If every MMO injected as much humor into creating characters and taking those first baby steps into the game world, we’d all be pretty happy. Oh, don’t get me wrong. I get it. Some MMOs are “serious” but, still, it’s awfully fun to make characters in Pirate101, even more than in Wizard101. For instance, my character is an orphan whose parents were eaten by a giant squid and was subsequently raised by the dogs of Marleybone, a throwback to Wizard101. Really. Eaten by a squid. Now how cool is that?

Players also get to choose starting pirate clothing along with main and highlight colors. You get to choose a face, hair, hair/skin color, etc. Something totally unique to P101 is the creation of your character’s flag. KingsIsle has provided tons of backgrounds and icons to choose from and it’s very easy to give your pirate his or her own unique look.

There are totally new game play features in Pirate101 as well. As Bill mentioned, shipboard combat, aerial frigate battles complete with cannon fire and swinging from the yardarms to board an opponent’s ship.

Combat is totally different from W101 as well with a turn-based system for players to use in choosing which foe to attack. Gone is the Wizard101 ‘circle’ with four players facing off against an equal number of opponents. Now players and enemies are arrayed in a grid pattern and when choosing an enemy to attack, a directional arrow from the player to the enemy is displayed. Think turn based strategy games here.

In addition to ship combat and turn-based fighting is the inclusion of companions in Pirate101. Players are given their first companions after creating a character and, believe me, these guys are no slouches either. What’s fun is that players can collect all sorts of different companions to enhance or complement their own skills. Companions can be trained to learn more skills and become very effective fighters in their own right. Players can choose which opponent a companion will attack, which skill they are to use, etc.

Lastly, as with Wizard101, great effects are back in P101. Whether it’s a critical hit or a spell animation, some of the brightest and most beautiful images are presented to watchers.

I haven’t gotten very far yet but I am anxious to try out more. My 10-year-old is always looking over my shoulder wanting to try out Pirate101 as well but “I not be ready t’do such a thing, mateys. I be havin' too much fun as the Scourge of the Spiral! YARR!”


William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.