by Cameron Aelryn Sorden
Pirates are to games as sprinkles are to ice cream. Let's face itit's just plain fun to be a pirate. You get to swagger around saying things like arrr and me hearties, drink rum, loot plunder, and sail the high seas. In Flying Lab Software's upcoming pirate-themed MMOG Pirates of the Burning Sea you get to live a nautical pirate-themed experience, and whether you're fighting them or you are them, the end result boils down to a great, piratey time. Ten Ton Hammer was given the opportunity at PAX 2007 to have a full hands-on with the tutorial to the game.
The booth was decked out in all kinds of pirate-themed stuff. Most people were too absorbed with the demo stations to care, which should tell you something about how much fun it is.
I was guided through the tutorial experience by Donna Danicia Prior, a Flying Lab representative. She booted up the machine and logged me in, deleting a few avatars so I could create my own personal seafaring scoundrel. The first thing I noticed was the huge range of options available to me. You can manipulate virtually everything about your character, even down to individual accessories and clothing pieces, and each of the four nationality choices (English, French, Spanish, or Pirate) have a unique visual look to their garb. When I asked about the robust system, Donna explained that it was a heavily modified version of the same system used by City of Heroes/City of Villainspretty exciting for people who really want to make a unique avatar!
After a bit of fiddling, I settled on a saucy, French, free-trader lass, generated a name, and hopped in. I found myself standing on the deck of a ship, next to a guy with a suspiciously familiar exclamation point above his head. Sure enough, he had a quest for me: Learn the controls! This portion of the game introduced me to movement, performing quests, and avatar combat. I so easily dispatched my foes here that I didn't really get a chance to understand the mechanics of avatar combat, but I was told that I had a Florentine fighting style (two-handed fighting) which gave me a defensive edge against my opponents. It was rather fun to race around the deck dispatching the weak pirates with my rapier and main gauche. After I had that mastered, I completed my quest and got to take the wheel of the ship.
I have to say, the sailing part of the game looks absolutely amazing. The water is jaw-droppingly beautiful and your ship rocks gently on the waves as you sail. You can tell a lot of time and effort went into designing a visually appealing world to sail around in, and the ships have very distinct looks to them. I was also told that players will be able to import their own designs for sails into the game at the time of release. Movement in this section gave me a little bit of trouble at first, because you don't actually move your boat. You turn your sales and let the wind move you. Fortunately, there's a handy ring around your boat that shows you which directions you should and shouldn't sail in if you want to catch the wind.
With three distinct styles and a whole host of skills, the dueling is really fun!
For my first ship-based task, I was assigned to hunt down a dastardly pirate-ship that had been sighted in the area. An indicator on my map pointed me toward my target and I started closing the distance. As I approached, I noticed a little firing cone displayed on my minimap. I had to do some maneuvering to get him within my range, but once in range I could press the space bar to fire my cannons. There's no standing and auto-attacking here. Combat is very interactive and I constantly had to be maneuvering and firing to keep my enemy within range of my cannons and dodge his shots. There are multiple different kinds of cannon shots that do damage to different parts of your enemy's ship, so the whole experience is very tactical. If you sail in close you can use your swivel cannons (a 360 degree close-range shot) as well as your main cannon, or try to board the enemy. My mission asked me to capture the ship, not sink it, so I sailed over to board it.
Once I had boarded, my avatar was standing on the deck accompanied by two of the men from my crew, and we were facing the opposing captain and their crew. What's cool about the deck combat is that your goal isn't really to battle the enemy crewit's to take out the captain. Your crew battles their crew around you while this is happening, so you really get the feeling that you're in the middle of a pitched battle. You have to be quick, though. Your crew comes onto the ship in waves, as Donna called them, and the bigger the ship you have the more waves you get. If you're on a little ship and you're attacking a bigger ship, don't take too longyou'll be overwhelmed when you run out of crew members! This applies to PvP as well, so you'll have to make the decision of whether you want a small, quick, maneuverable ship that has a smaller crew to aid you, or a larger lumbering behemoth that will give you lots of waves of help.
After I had defeated the captain and captured the ship, I returned to my mission giver and was rewarded for my amazing sea deeds with some experience and a pat on the back. That was all the time I had for my hands-on, so I had to leave the game with a wistful look in my eyes and a beta-key clutched tightly in my hand. I was told that the game is practically finished except for some polishing, so keep an eye out for open beta announcements soon on their main site at http://www.burningsea.com/ . This is one game I'll definitely be looking forward to!
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