For those who haven’t played Pirates of the Burning Sea, describing naval combat is a bit hard. My friends who have played Star Trek Online tell me it’s not unlike the ship combat in Cryptic’s recently released game. I liken it more to a deeper version of Sid Meier’s Pirates! sea combat. Your class selection will affect what skills you have at your disposal and they range from the offensive to the defensive as well as everything in between. One of my earlier selections for my small and sleek pirate ship was an increase to sailing speed at the cost of available crew (crew help increase the rate at which you reload cannons, etc.). I soon found out that simply engaging my enemy in an endless strafe would lead to my demise, especially when facing a larger and more beefy ship. Instead with my speed I should be trying to out-maneuver the enemy, taking out his sails and thinning his or her crew as I tried to stay out of reach of their guns. Then once I’d thinned their numbers and reduced their mobility enough, I would grapple with them and board the ship to finish the job. To do this you need to keep a close eye on your available ammunition, what type you use, and where the wind is blowing from.
Like I said, naval combat is a far more involved beast than swashbuckling. And while it’s a little slower and more methodically paced than combat in most games, it winds up being a strategist’s dream. I can’t see the naval combat becoming dull or uninteresting, especially in PVP situations. The downside for a newcomer would be simply that it is so different from what other MMOs have on offer. There’s a steep learning curve to everything in the game, naval combat included. That’s hardly a condemnation though, as the naval action is easily one of the best selling points of PotBS. It’s deep, engaging, and thoroughly enjoyable, even if it’s not for everyone.
One of the chief compliments I can give Pirates of the Burning sea is that Flying Lab has done a wonderful job creating a game that lets players’ every action hold consequence in the world as a whole. Almost everything you do in the game, even solo-questing, has at least a small factor in the game’s overall picture: the ongoing fight between the French, Spanish, English and Pirate nations. Every one of the game’s several dozen ports (aside from a few which remain as safe havens for each nation) is up for contention, meaning it can be conquered and controlled by any faction. Every player can take part in putting a port into contention (or repressing it) by simply fighting enemies in the port's vicinity, contributing supplies that are asked for in the port, or even just questing there.
Obviously, if the port is under the control of your nation and you see it’s nearing contention, it behooves your entire group of comrades to gather there and begin doing your part to diminish the unrest. Once a port has obtained enough unrest points, it converts into conquest mode. Once enough conquest points have been gained, the port will have a scheduled port battle to determine the new “owner.” What’s nice for players who may not be comfortable engaging in PvP (when a port is in a contested state, the area surrounding it becomes a PvP zone where players can be attacked by others), is that they can do quests and participate in the economy to offer their help. Though they’d still better be careful when sailing into contested waters. When in doubt, remember that the community in PotBS is rather helpful and your nation will often gladly band up and sail with you if you’re worried about getting ganged up on.
The economy is also one of the game’s crown jewels. Everything from sulfur and cannonballs to entire ships can be and is crafted by the community, and traded from port to port. There is no main auction house that shares all available goods. Rather it’s up to the player to decide where is best to hawk their wares, and more so where they may be needed by their fellow nationals. While you can’t log into PotBS expecting to avoid combat altogether, if you’re more of the market-minded individual who gets their jollies from buying and selling, this is one of those titles that’s hard to beat. It’s a very in-depth system though, and one could almost certainly write a series of articles on this aspect of the game alone. So for the purpose of this review I’ll simply say: “It’s really good.”
A lot has changed since Pirates of the Burning Sea launched back in 2008, and just as much has stayed the same. Naval combat is still a whole lot of fun, while swashbuckling is lackluster, and the open sea is still mostly a timesink. The ship battles still look marvelous while the avatars look blocky and move awkwardly. You can still lose ships when they’re sunk (just as in EVE), but now players are paid an “insurance” payment to help cover the cost of their loss. There is still a heavy focus on PvP, but the game has seen a tremendous amount of PvE content added as well. In short, while a lot has been added to the game, its strengths and weaknesses still remain fundamentally unaltered. It’s questing content can be a little tedious at times, but that’s a charge I can level at just about every MMO in existence these days. What it all boils down to is that Pirates of the Burning Sea is a flawed but engaging experience. It’s a haven for gamers in search of a robust and involved economic experience, and those with a passion for PVP. And if you like pirates? Well, that’s just a bonus.