by Danny "Ralsu" Gourley
In my preview of style="font-style: italic;">Pirates of the Burning Sea
(PotBS), I told readers that developer Flying Lab Software and
publisher Sony Online Entertainment were bringing something new to the
market. After weeks of sailing the high seas, I stand by that
assessment. I think PotBS offers something very unique in a
massively-multiplayer online game (MMOG), and gamers who love strategy
over mindless button-mashing have a lot to be excited about with this
As you read this review, consider my preview required reading and
understand that PotBS differs significantly from conventional MMOGs in
one very important way: it requires some serious patience. The
game play leads me to believe that PotBS subscribers will be more
mature and/or older than the average gamer. And its fans will be people
who prefer the concept of a realistic world to one filled with
fantastical creatures and who enjoy strategic combat more than
low system requirements, Pirates of
the Burning Sea provides high graphic detail.
PotBS has some modest system requirements, which is pretty impressive
when you consider how much the game accomplishes graphically.
XP/Vista, Core Duo 2.0 GHz or greater, 1 GB RAM, DirectX 9 Compatible
video card: NVidia® GeForce 6600, ATI® X850, or equivalent
with 256 MB of texture memory
Required: Windows® XP,
Pentium® IV 1.5 GHz or greater, 512MB RAM, DirectX 9 Compatible
video card: NVidia® GeForce FX 5700, ATI® Radeon® 9600, or
equivalent with 128 MB of texture memory
The low system requirements mean almost anybody with a computer can run
this game. More importantly, it means gamers won't have to upgrade just
to play the game. Consumers are sometimes leery of shelling out
hard-earned cash to upgrade a computer to play a game unless they are
just in love with the concept of it from the beginning. PotBS is not a
demanding game, so it should enjoy some trial runs by gamers who were
on the fence.
PotBS follows the trend of modern MMOGs. You'll need to spend $50 on
the box or a digital download and $14.99/month to play. You
can purchase 3-, 6-, and 12-month subscriptions to defray some of the
subscription cost. At this time, it appears that PotBS is part of the target="_blank" href="http://station-access.station.sony.com/">Sony
Station Access package and will launch from the href="http://launcher.station.sony.com/">Station Launcher.
After several weeks of playing PotBS, the best I can offer is mixed
reviews on stability. As far as the client goes, my client never
crashed once. The code seems solid. My home server of Antigua, however,
dropped me back to server select screen more than I would have liked.
My first day of playing after the Pre-Boarding party began on January
7, I dropped to the server select screen 3 or 4 times in 45 minutes.
After that rush, though, I only dropped to server select about once
every other playing session. That's more than what I'd like, and I
still found it frustrating. I have full confidence that this will
Game play begins by selecting your server. The on-screen display will
inform you about the population levels for
each nation. Want a challenge? Be a Frenchman on a server with a very
low population of French characters. Do you tend to mob mentality? Be a
pirate on Blackbeard server. With your server chosen, it is time to
select your nation and career. Please note, you can only play for one
nation on each server. I chose Britain on Antigua, so I can never be a
Spaniard there. Now it is time to customize your character!
Flying Lab Software knows it's important for gamers to feel unique in
the virtual world. To that end, Pirates
of the Burning Sea allows an impressive number of character
customization options. Not only does each nation has its own spin on
dress for each career, but players can fully customize everything from
hats to scarves, from vests to jackets, and from boots to belts. With
the ability to choose primary and highlight colors for most articles of
clothing, it's very hard to make two characters look alike. Check out
customization video for a peek at just how varied the looks are.
man has to come in from the sea to visit the ladies style="font-style: italic;">sometime!
What happens next depends a bit on your career. My freetrader found
himself on a boat being attacked by pirates. With the captain dying, he
assumed command and rescued his vessel from a watery grave. From there,
he began the slow task of building up his resources to make money in
the burgeoning Caribbean. Naval officers will find themselves with
errands to run for the monarchy. Privateers will need to hunt criminals
and bring them to justice. And pirates...well, pirates are in it for
The tutorials cover swashbuckling, sailing, ship combat, career
training, and the economy. They should get players through 6-7 levels
without a whole lot of trouble. In general, the tutorials are
well-done, with clear on-screen indicators. Still, there is a lot to
learn, and I found myself baptized by fire in my first "real" ship
battle and then again when I actually had to build something in the
economy screen. I also had a significant problem with my tutorial--one
that I felt was inexcusable for a game this late in production.
My dying captain ordered me to try to steer the ship to shore. The
on-screen prompt told me to left-click on the ship's wheel. I found the
wheel. I moused over it, and it glowed green. I clicked. I clicked. I
pressed X, the default key for interaction. I clicked again. I talked
to the captain. I ran the length of the ship and back and clicked
again. I pressed X again. I talked to the captain again. I cursed a
lot. As far as I could tell, I had
to complete this part of the tutorial to actually be able to play the
Finally, I deleted the quest from my journal in sheer desperation. I
figured I would just log it again, but the dying captain would not say
anything new. Then I got a loading screen and I was suddenly sailing
the vessel. I don't know for sure what broke that quest (but I suspect
lag between the server and my computer) or what fixed it, but I
consider it something that should have been fixed in beta.
It is important to remind you that combat is very different in PotBS.
Melee combat, known as swashbuckling in the game, works on the
principle of using initiative to score deadly hits while maintaining
balance. Think of initiative as the magic points used in most
conventional massively-multiplayer online games. But unlike magic
points, initiative starts out at zero in battles and gamers must try to
build it up to dispatch foes. Meanwhile, balance rates a fighter's
chances of landing and avoiding blows. The more chances a player takes
to score a hit, the lower his balance goes. The result is a chess-like
system that adds elements of strategy to combat. You can view href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/21053">a video of swashbuckling
action involving one of my low level characters to see it in
Players have access to different swashbuckling styles based on choice
of nation and career, and the trainers allow for some good
customization. One person might focus on abilities that increase
balance while another might focus on abilities that drain initiative
for major damage. I saw plenty of polite arguments about best skills
and builds during my play time, and I have seen patch notes address
over-powered and under-powered skills. It seems safe to say that we can
expect the game to allow variance in play style and support multiple
Meanwhile, ship combat is it's own strategic marathon. The marketing
team bills it as exciting, but it can actually be pretty slow and
methodical. It would be much better to advertise it as a battle of wits
than an action-packed adventure because it is very fun for what it is.
I just worry that expectations may not mesh with the reality.
A ship battle could involve maneuvering for the best position to fire
bar shot to damage the mast and sails. With the enemy vessel crippled,
a player could then use langridge shot to take out some of the crew on
the deck before grappling. Once the grapple is successful, the boarding
begins and a swashbuckling battle ensues. I've even pieced together a href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/21056">video of ship combat
basics to get you started.
Unfortunately, ship battle is not at all glorious when an encounter of
3 pirate vessels twice your level attack your hapless British
freetrader. In these situations, you are forced to flee to one of the
eight escape points on the map. This can take a long time--a very long
time. In fact, let me show you what I mean. I have a href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/21057">video of fleeing from
ship combat. It takes me 1 minute 42 seconds to escape with the
wind in my sails. It takes even longer with the wind against you. On
average, I'd say ship encounters against a single even level opponent
took anywhere from 5-10 minutes below level 10. The higher I leveled,
the fights became more complicated. Adding in multiple ships only
extended the time.
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