I've been playing the Pirates of the Burning Sea
open beta for the last couple days. Now, I must say, it is pretty. The possibilities for making some OUTRAGEOUSLY GAY
pirates are many and manifest. My character, Percy Ramsbottom
on Rakham, illustrates.WORSTDRESSEDPIRATEEVER
Obviously, he is an officer in Her Majesty's Royal GAY
As advertised, the economy looks varied, interesting and entirely under player control. ENTIRELY! NPC vendors only buy at very low prices and sell absolute crap that only the most desperately thrashed pirate would consider. Players must supply EVERYTHING, and this leads to some interesting shortages...err...opportunity for profit. Players find plans, build structures in ports to gather and process raw materials and sell the results on the auction house. You can even make a living simply moving goods from one port to another. Some of the materials needed for ships are.... curious. Apparently cheese is a critical component of all ship building, a totally true historical fact that I never knew.
Speaking of absolutely true history, period wonks will enjoy that the designers paid particular detail in ensuring that the game feels fairly realistic... flashy characters like Ramsbottom notwithstanding. There's no magic, no flashy effects, no giant armored shoulderpads. Ships and items all scale in a very sedate manner. Your character cannot jump, so there's no bouncing idiots around town.
Alas, this also works against the game as a game. Leveling up is not impressive. It's sometimes difficult to figure out what's going on in a fight because of the lack of effects. Different ships don't look all that different and don't act all that different. And loot just isn't exciting. Oh goodie, level 13 and my rapier does 6-12 damage instead of 5-10 that the newb rapier does. Ho hum.
An MMO were you get to sail around in ships is fun and different. If you've ever played Sid Meyer's Pirates! (either the old or new one) then you've already got the idea (and if you haven't, do). Ship combat takes into account the basics of sailing... wind direction, tacking, sail management... all very simplified but still significant. Guns have firing arcs and you can load different sorts of shot, though it all boils down to shot (destroy armor/hull), grape (crew) or chain (sails) of varying degrees of quality. You can get special abilities like "decimate" which reduces their resistance to boarding or "destroy rudder" which wrecks their ability to turn if you get a shot in their VULNERABLE REAR. Ahem. One nice feature is that ships do mask each other's fire so in a furball allies can find themselves getting in each other's way. But ultimately I've found NPC combat boils down to 1) wreck their sails to slow them down 2) get in close and fire a few doses of grape to put down the crew 3) pull along side, grapple and board. Why bother taking all the time to sink a ship when you can just shoot their captain in the face?
This leads to the second major problem with the game, combat is bloody repetitive. Since ships look the same and basically act the same combat feels the same with few surprises. Get in close and board. Boarding actions are the EXACT same fight every time with slight variations in difficulty. Target the captain, kill him. Swashbuckling missions, where you fight on land with sword and pistol, are almost a video game characture. Groups of 3 or 4 eerly similar looking men stand around waiting for you to attack them. Another group 50 yards away sedately looks on. The very occasional and easily avoided patrol strolls through. Your mission goal lies along a very pretty yet ultimately straight rail. Sailing missions usually follow the pattern "destroy all enemy ships". Maybe there's the variation where you "patrol" towards a fixed point and easily spot the "unknown" ship which SURPRISE turns out to be an enemy. There's the usual mix of escort missions with the usual annoying problems keeping the ships you're protecting alive while having no ability to give them orders.
So that's all PVE, what about PVP? Well, I don't know because I never got in any. PVP is faction based like in WoW and there's four factions. Pirates vs British vs French vs Spanish. Players can flag themselves PVP. There's an intricate port attack system which looks interesting, but I honestly saw so few non-British players that I never got into a fight. Worse, there's no "dueling" system to allow players of a like faction to practice on each other. Disappointing.
Now it's a massively MULTIPLAYER game so what about the other players. Here's the third major flaw. Other games have found that having lots of players running around doing missions in an open world leads to griefing and contention for mission resources and respawn queues. The usual response has been to make important stuff in an instance, but you still have a lot of people running around in the world doing their thing. This is a nice opportunity for players to incidentally meet other players and help out. "Here, let me stab that slobbering, furry beast for you. Do you come here often?" Ahem. PotBS does away with all that. EVERY fight is instanced. Every single bloody one. Even fights that are supposed to be taking place in the town are instanced. Even some non-combat missions are instanced. While this guarantees you'll be uninterrupted by players while doing your thing, it also guarantees that you'll be uninterrupted by players while you're doing your thing. If I wanted to fight alone, why am I playing an MMO? This makes it difficult to actually meet anyone. I also have no idea what other players are doing. Is there a better way to fight? What other tactics are there? I don't know, I can't see them in action.
It doesn't help that there's no easy way to talk with the people around you, just a port wide chat. On the up side this means no Ironforge style yell-fests. On the down side everyone stands around being eerily quiet. You can't overhear a conversation and join in. There's little incidental social interaction. Fortunately, a few of my corp mates from EVE Online came over to play so I have some built in friends.
Let's say you do finally get into a group and go out fighting. Interestingly, combat scales to match your group which is nice. A level 10 can usefully play with a level 20. Also, since abilities scale very slowly, a level 20 doesn't slaughter level 10 enemies that badly anyway. Now, this is ship-to-ship combat and you've got a fleet. This means coordination. This means a line of battle, an epic wall of ships lining up for a broadside, a commander flying flags to transmit his orders, balls smashing into the targetted ship. Nope. There is *no* fleet coordination. No leader. No way to call for help, issue orders or suggest formations. There's not even a way to designate a primary target or even see who your friends are targeting. You just have to sort of watch. I suppose this is sort of realistic for the age, but even they could fly flags and use signal lamps and it doesn't make for a very fun game. The NPCs don't fight as a fleet either and often get in each other's way. Combat devolves into a furball every time. I'm sure a group of well coordinated players could work all this out, and we tried using Vent. But even with voice communications calling out primary targets was difficult as they're often all called the same thing. I'm disappointed the game doesn't encourage fleet tactics.Final analysisPros
: It's pretty. It's historically accurate, for a game. It's fairly unique. The economy looks loads of fun. It's relatively bug free.Cons
: Combat is repetitive and isolated. The social system is crippled. Loot and advancement is not exciting. Ships aren't differentiated enough.
Nice try at something different. It's a shame that they got all the unique aspects (player economy, ship-to-ship combat) right and the basics of an MMO (social interaction, varied PVE experience, exciting progressions, play-style differenciation) wrong. It feels like the basic MMO features were designed with the intention of countering known player interaction problems. Unfortunately their solution is player segregation which defeats the whole point of an MMO. On the up side this means that over time it should improve as they fix the basic flaws that have existing solutions. On the down side, it gets very boring very fast.
I'll play it through until the Open Beta closes on Sunday, it's worth that much, but I would not recommend purchasing just now. It has great potential, check back again in a year.