Pirates of the Burning Seas Reviewed - A Pirate's Life For Me

Updated Mon, Dec 13, 2010 by Medawky


The universe has a funny way of reminding you that you aren’t as smart as you think you are sometimes. I have been known to rail on against the majority of gamers for their dislike and distrust of free-to-play games. I would deride them for dismissing these games as bad based on preconceived notions and prejudices. Well guess what? I too have been found guilty of doing exactly the thing I so ardently campaigned against. I could attempt to construct a defense for my overlooking of Pirates of the Burning Sea, but my case would be so flimsy it would make Orenthal’s lawyers blush. Yes, I made the fatal mistake of assuming – assuming that the game was an attempt to cash in The Pirates of the Caribbean phenomenon.

While there is a strong influence from the Disney ride and movies, Pirates of the Burning Sea is far from a cheap rip-off. An ambitious departure from the typical trappings of a fantasy game, PotBS can be a rewarding experience if you have the patience to wade through its somewhat deep learning curve.


Pirates of the Burning Sea is relatively tame by today’s standards, but the high seas can be a treacherous place full of bloody combat. As always, the MMOG disclaimer of gameplay experience changing over time is also applicable here. 


80GoodIt may seem cliché to call Pirates of the Burning Sea a niche game, but it truly is one. Set in the colonial era Caribbean, this multi-faceted title throws players into a world ripe for the picking and wide open for exploration – and exploitation. Players choose one of four factions; the empire minded British, the ruthless Spanish, the cunning French or the catch all faction of the privateers – the Pirates.

Play opens with a well designed tutorial that walks you through the major elements of gameplay and sets you up with your own ship to command. Even early on it becomes obvious that this isn’t the sort of game where one can simply grab a fistful of quests and rip out into the open world with little more than a hunch and a pointer on the mini-map to guide you – reading the quest dialogue and doing a bit of research is a must.


While the introduction quest line may afford you a basic familiarity with the game mechanics, it really does little to prepare you for the brutal open sea. Steep learning curve aside; there are some genuinely fun moments to be had as soon as you load in. Patient players will be rewarded with a unique experience that can be as fulfilling to both casual and hardcore gamer alike.

Character creation is fun and engaging; with thousands of possibilities available no two captains should ever look exactly the same – however the popularity of Captain Jack Sparrow seems to have spawned an endless supply of lookalikes. Customization also comes in what sort of combat style you chose to train up. Skill points are gained as you level and are spent in various talent trees along the way.


Combat comes in two distinct forms that sometimes overlap – ship to ship naval warfare and hand to hand avatar combat which is known here as Swashbuckling. Where the game excels at ship to ship engagement it struggles with melee. Perhaps its due to the more real time aspect of the sea battles and the awkward turn based nature of hand to hand, but the later feels a bit like an afterthought. Boarding enemy ships during naval combat is a major component and because of that one cannot escape the melee element, but don’t get me wrong – melee combat isn’t so bad that it’s a deal-breaker, it simply isn’t as robust and fulfilling as exploding your enemies starboard side with cannon fire.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect is just how interconnected each player becomes to their faction in the effort to exert control over the territories. Each element of the game, no matter how benign or how solo oriented, will at some point contribute to your factions greater goals – giving greater weight and meaning to almost everything you do. Pirates has every major gameplay element present from PvE quests and PvP battles to raid instances.


82GoodGraphically is where the game owes the most to the Disney franchise, not so much to Pirates of the Caribbean Online per se, but to its other major components. Avatars have the full array of hats, bangles, sashes and eye makeup to choose from to replicate the look of all the major characters. The world itself is populated by NPCs that would be just as easily at home inside the original ride in Anaheim as they are here. Pirates abscond with wenches, townsfolk tarry at sweeping their porches and drunks lie about in various states of consciousness while music is played and songs are heartily sung.


The graphics themselves are nothing bleeding edge or worthy of any special accolades, but they give the game a warm and authentic feel. They also aren’t terribly taxing on hardware so feel free to ratchet up the settings to achieve the best possible look.


90GreatWhere the graphics set you up for the hard sell of believing you are sailing about the 18th century Caribbean, the sound closes the deal. Ambient sounds of waves lapping at the shore, floorboards creaking, various birds calling out and the boisterous music of the locals help immerse you in the period. Voice work is also well done here with a mix of cliché and nostalgia that rarely feels forced (unlike your co-workers on National Speak like a Pirate Day)

Pirates of the Burning Sea will be sailing away from SOE later this month. Make sure that your account is ready to leave port.

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