Last night we went to see Tron Legacy (short review: pacey, exciting, great graphics, and light cycles have never looked this good – but disappointing in that it failed totally to build on the rather cool themes of the original story) and one of the trailers was for Pirates of the Caribbean 4. (A film about which I’m pretty excited because a) Geoffrey Rush upstaging Johnny Depp in every joint scene and b) it’s based on a goddamn Tim Powers book!)
And being in the piratical mindset, it seemed time to take a longer look at Pirates of the Burning Sea, which recently switched to a Free to Play/ Cash Shop basis. Arrrrr!
Bloggers have claimed that you need to play an MMO intensively for several months to really get a good feel for it, and while there’s something in that, I also think that within 30 mins or so I should be able to get a sense of what a game is about. Pirates does a stunning job in that respect.
I’m never really sure what the ideal newbie experience should be like. Should it be a carefully scripted in media res storylike experience which draws you into your new character and the game world? Should it focus more on introducing you to the UI? Or is it enough if you just want to keep playing after the newbie quests are done?
With the Pirates opening sequence, you first get to create your character. And this is one of the high points of the game, for me, because they tend to look absolutely stunning.
You can choose between British, French, Spanish, or Pirate as your faction of choice and then have a vast array of clothing options alongside the usual skin colour/ hairstyle/ facial hair (for guys) etc. I do love the clothing of this era and PotBS loves it just as much as I do.
After that, there’s a practice naval skirmish, controls of which will be familiar to anyone who played Sid Meier’s Pirates or Star Trek Online and a practice fencing bout which follows the more typical MMO model. Then a chance to explore the starting town, which is interrupted with another scripted sequence where you get to use your newfound duelling and naval skills in anger.
And while exploring the town and talking to NPCs, I find that there’s a deep sandbox aspect to this MMO. Players can become Governers of towns, they can take part in a player based crafting and merchant economy (which, like EVE, requires you to travel between ports to access the best prices) and there seems to be a lively faction based PvP game as well. Also, if you are arty, you can design your own flags/ sails and upload them to your ship (they charge for this, which strikes me as reasonable).
Whatever the locals do for Christmas, it clearly doesn’t involve going to the church, which was fairly empty. Instead, as I wandered into town, I ran into the local Christmas event in the shape of a drunk Irishman who inveigled my new captain into taking him round town to sing to some of the local people about burying a wren – apparently connected with his home traditions.
Pirates loves its lore with a deep and abiding passion that seeps into every part of the game. On the Christmas quest, I got to learn about how the Spanish, the French, and the English celebrated Christmas in the Caribbean in this era and it felt very solidly researched. There’s an attention to detail in this game which totally won me over.
I was also totally bowled over by the sound track. As I wandered around town, the sounds reflected the area I was in. If I walked next to the chickens, I could hear them clucking. If I went to the fiddle player and dancers in a corner, I could hear the violin and the laughing. If I wandered closer to some gossiping women, I could HEAR what they were saying.
Not only that, but all the music is put together with period sensibilities in mind. The instruments sound authentic, so do the songs. It’s just a brilliant demonstration of how much sound can add to a game, without needing everything to be fully voiced, Bioware-style.
So although my game time at the moment is mostly taken by Cataclysm, this is definitely a game I intend to play for awhile longer. (So if anyone knows any friendly guilds on EU-timezones who can put up with newbies, feel free to note them in comments.) I can’t comment on play balance or how well all the various elements work, but there’s something very cool and different going on here, with a theme unlike anything else you’ll find in the genre.
The players on the general channels also seemed friendly and helpful, something which you often find on smaller games where players are more conscious that every new player who gets hooked is someone else for them to play with in future.
So if you are finding that WoW is a bit linear at the moment, and have any interest in pirates or historical sandbox type games, give this one a look.