The world of Bounty Bay Online is full of historical piracy, seafaring, and the general swashbuckling you'd expect in any pirate game. With such a popular theme all Suzhou Snail Electronic Co. had to do was create a decent story, fun mechanics, and progressive content. This isn't always an easy task in an MMO game ,but they made a valiant attempt, and in 2007 ended up producing something out of the ordinary. But was it enough to satiate the hunger of the average MMO player? We set a course for the high seas to find out for ourselves.
The first thing you have to understand is a misconception about the game. While it was created by an overseas developer, it was not a free to play game. Even now there is an option to either pay a small subscription fee (called the classic server) or free to play which has an item shop for you to check out. The classic server offers what we imagine in the form of traditional games by making players earn what they want versus purchasing it. The only downside I saw concerning the subscription is that it appeared to be flexible based on the current euro to dollar currency conversion. I'm not sure how much 10 euros comes out to, but that's the monthly fee.
The tutorial begins with a simple mission and sets the pace for the entire game. Make no mistake, while the free to play games you have played in the past might be simplistic, Bounty Bay is not. The learning curve doesn't approach the uphill climb experienced in EVE Online, but there are still a lot of things to learn before you can function in the game. Following the tutorial and poking around with different buttons will get you to a quest and a safe harbor, but only for the time being. A great danger awaits you at the end of your scenarios, one many people never saw coming.
That danger lies in PvP content that many clamor for but makes others cower in fear. When I say PvP, I don't mean the bare minimum like you'd find in a World of Warcraft battleground or even the more serious zone wars of Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning. Bounty Bay is all PvP, all the time, no exceptions. There are safe places you can park your ship, but you will have to leave the island eventually and could look like an easy target to someone just a bit more seasoned. Now I'll admit I'm not into open world PvP, I personally prefer the consensual realm vs. realm combat found in Warhammer Online. As a result I had trouble concentrating on anything but not sailing near anything that looked like a boat. This could turn the less hardcore audience off.
The good news however is that sailing and sea combat were not complicated. If you have played Sid Meier's Pirates! at some point in your life, you will pick it right up. If you have not, please turn in your geek card so you can have points taken away. Sailing was a matter of just point and click which moved your vessel from spot to spot, but combat required a little more. It took a bit to get used to, but I found it intuitive and easy once I'd done a little practice against another player character. I didn't personally get to experience land combat more than twice but from what I've read it's substantial and requires practice.
One of the biggest pluses I noticed in Bounty Bay was the level of content provided. Now of course I had to take into consideration the game has been out a year and a half, but I saw plenty of quests to complete, players to fight, islands to explore, and money to be made. What I did not see was the clear progression of the game world, but it may become extremely obvious as you move into the middle content. Notice I didn't say level, because Bounty Bay doesn't have any, it's all skill based meaning there is a vast number of advancement options for players to choice from.
So what are some of the other features available that I wasn't able to experience? Guilds have the ability to control cities and fight wars among themselves. They can even set up blockades and tolls restricting player movement. An extensive crafting system lets players become blacksmiths, ship builders, tailors and much more. A feature they mention frequently, that I could verify, was the historical accuracy of many of the ports and ships involved. Those who are fans of the period could sail around and visit ports such as Stockholm, London, and even Beijing which had dominant roles during the 14th, 15th, and 16th century.
Fortunately in my gaming session I was only obliterated three times by other players, so I would call it a success. What the future hold depends largely on how they expand their content, although the Colony add-on released in January seems to be successful with the community thus far. Overall, Bounty Bay Online admittedly did have some drawbacks but with the right perspective I saw some very innovative ideas. It might not appeal to the palette of every MMO game player, but if you love pirates, PvP, or both, it could be worth your time.
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