Pirates of the Burning Sea PC Review

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Those of you expecting “World of Warcraft” on the high seas should probably stop reading and give this one a miss. Now, seeing as literally millions of people have had their social lives ruined by Blizzard’s all-conquering MMORPG, that’s probably a fair few of you, but for those – like me – who find WoW to be a tedious, repetitive bore-fest and ask for a little more depth in their gaming, Pirates of the Burning Sea (or PotBS, from now on) could be the one to float their boat.

Despite being nothing like World of Warcraft, it does share a lot of common ground with another MMO heavyweight – Eve online. Set in the Caribbean waters of the year 1720, the area is fiercely contested by the nations of England, Spain and France, all struggling for their own land, riches and power. After choosing your allegiance to one of the countries, you choose a class and create a character from a decent selection of options. The classes on offer are Naval Officer, Freetrader and Privateer, specializing in navigation, trading and adventuring respectively. Of course, if none of those take your fancy, you can always be a pirate. Swear your allegiance to no flag and take to the high seas for no one but yourself.

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Once you’re out of the tutorial and into the starting areas, it becomes clear that PotBS is very much a game of two distinct halves. On land, you can shop, explore and chat with other players and NPCs, taking solo or group quests and raising your “rank”. Most of these quests are your usual MMORPG affair (fetch quests, kill a certain number of enemies etc.) and other than being well-written, don’t offer up a great deal of excitement. The other half is once you’re onboard your ship and sailing the high seas and where the game truly starts to shine.

From basic navigation to fleet combat, sailing in PotBS is by far the most fun and exciting part of the entire experience. With the entire Caribbean there to be explored, you can sail from port to port, trading various goods or fighting with pirates and rival nations. The ship to ship battles are genuinely tense and strategic affairs – imagine the brilliant Sid Meier’s Pirates!, only slowed down to a much more thoughtful pace – involving tactical use of wind direction and what kind of shot to use in your cannons. Success in these battles is less to do with the power of your vessel and more about employing a good strategy. When grouped with other players, you can each take a different role in systematically taking apart an enemy; with one player focusing on destroy the sails while you take out as many of the crew as possible. In a world where MMORPGs are about creating tedious “builds” and then clicking on an oversized wolf for twenty minutes, this is a refreshingly excellent feature and one that deserves attention.

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Once a ship has been suitably weakened, you can either continue to sink it or board it, which although sounding brilliant shows up one of the weaker parts of the game. The normal, number key based combat featured in most MMORPGs is present here and, despite a few original touches, is just as tedious as usual. The main part of the combat involves the two meters “balance” and “initiative”. You can only use certain special attacks when you have enough balance, which is gained by using some lesser “set-up” attacks, whilst initiative charges automatically over the course of combat, eventually allowing you to use one of your “finishing manoeuvres”. There are various styles of swashbuckling, taught by trainers found in the major cities, and advancing in rank will allow you to learn more advanced techniques, but in reality all this really means is a different jerky animation for your character to perform and a different set of numbers being detracted from your enemies’ health. It is by no means dreadful; it is just another typically uninspiring MMORPG combat system.

In these fiercely contested waters, it is no surprise that PVP is a very important part of PotBS. As you complete quests at certain ports, your chosen nation develops more of a foothold in that area. Eventually, an area will become “unstable” and up for contest, turning that particular spot in the ocean into a dangerous PVP zone. These ocean battles for territory are spectacular 48 player skirmishes and it is genuinely breathtaking to see you and your fleet heading out to fight. If victorious, the port will become owned by your side and with it you will get access to the resources available there, tying the PVP into the player run trading economy that underlies the entire game.

Getting to grips with the economy is tough, at first. A swift tutorial teaches you the basics of resource management, buying warehouse space and crafting, but it is not until quite a few hours immersed in the world’s economy that you’ll be able to start making some serious doubloons, which you can use to buy new ships, cannons, parrots and a whole manner of pirate-y things.

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Much like the gameplay, the graphics on offer vary in quality depending on what part of the game you are playing. Sure, as a rule, MMORPGs aren’t the best looking games on the market, but the character animation on show here is especially bad. Jerky, stilted sword slashes and awkward movement make all the potentially epic moments, like the port siege battles, look really poor. In contrast, the sections on board your boat, sailing around the vast ocean, look excellent. A combination of detailed ships and excellent water effects put these sections above most other MMORPGs. The sound is decent, if predictable. The open sea is soundtracked by whooshing wind and waves, while in the ports you can hear the hustle and bustle of the crowd and the occasionally jaunty sea shanty coming from one of the many bars dotted around the game.

The MMORPG market is a strange place right now. Absolutely dominated by one title and with very few, if any, that can compete. The entire situation is summed up by the fact that the biggest selling point of PotBS is also the reason why a good chunk of people will ignore it. Much like EVE Online, after the first few “levels”, you’ll find that most of the enjoyment comes from immersing yourself within your chosen server’s political toing and froing, rather than just grinding through quest after quest to get better “loot”. There is such a rich depth on offer from the very beginning, but in order to truly get the hang of it, the learning curve is very steep and completely at odds with the genre’s current trend towards simple and straightforward satisfaction. Honestly, I feel that Pirates of the Burning Sea is too much of a niche title to truly have a pop at World of Warcraft’s world champion status, but it’s almost a certainty that Flying Lab Software knew this from the start, instead concentrating on creating a unique entry in the genre. It is by no means the best MMORPG available, but despite its flaws, it is probably the most fun you can have with online piracy this side of thepiratebay.org.

7/10

by

Version tested: PC

Developer: Flying Lab Software

Publisher: Sony Online Entertainment

Genre: MMORPG