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Pirates of the Burning Sea Review

Duke_Ferris By:
Duke_Ferris
01/22/08
PRINTER FRIENDLY VERSION
EMAIL TO A FRIEND
GENRE MMORPG 
PLAYERS
PUBLISHER Sony Online Entertainment 
DEVELOPER Flying Lab Software LLC 
RELEASE DATE Out Now
T Contains Blood, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco, Violence

What do these ratings mean?

Steal this game.


Avast, me hearties! Draw ye near to hear a bloody tale o' plunder on the high seas. For I bear witness to the tale of that most fearsome pirate, the dastardly Duke Ferris. That's Captain Duke Ferris.

click to enlargeToday marks the launch of Sony Online's newest MMORPG ship, Pirates of the Burning Sea, which I've been merrily sailing for the last two weeks while swilling rum. However, it was today that Sony opened up the shipping lanes to the European Colonies and the unwashed scalliwags of the Caribbean. The sea, it would seem, is now burning.

Fine by me. Thanks to my head start, on day one I'm already a level 16 Pirate. Cheating you say? Did you forget? Pirate.

Of course, you don't have to be a Pirate; you can also choose to join the Spanish, English, or French navies. All four sides offer their captains unique skills, training, and ships. It all takes place in a semi-historic Carribean, where there's no magic, cursed gold, or ghosts and the like. Just the open ocean, and what a man (or woman) can gain for himself by hook or crook.

And there are a lot of ways to gain fame and fortune in this deep MMO that might just be the bastard child of World of Warcraft and Eve Online. Like a proper pirate, Burning Sea steals heavily from both titles. Yarr!

Take the interface, for example. It's obviously copied from WoW, with little toolbars for your skills and cooldown timers. The mission structure is also exactly the same, with missions of familiar varieties, although thankfully there are far fewer of the "bring me 8 blue frango mushrooms" type. But while most Burning Sea missions revolve around private combat instances (both swashbucking and ship combat), you'll still think of WoW every time you return to your contact who has a big question mark floating over his head.

Still, why confuse people with a new system when there's one out there that everybody knows how to play?

click to enlargeHand-to-hand combat (that includes pistols) also reminds me of WoW as you activate skills to stab or shoot the enemy. There are three different fighting schools: Florentine - with lots of flashy spins; Fencing - with deadly quick precision; and Dirty Fighting - with a throw-sand-in-their-face and stab-'em-in-the-gut mentality. Without magic, however, there's not a lot of differentiation in tactics. But there is a new element: balance. Keeping your footing on the ground is vital to your health, and fighting multiple opponents can kill your balance, and thus, you.

Unfortunately, the hand-to-hand combat is one of the least polished parts of the game. And it's especially poor when you board an enemy ship with your crew in an attempt to capture it - the whole thing is really just a jumbled mess. There's almost no strategy or tactics to it at all.

Which brings us to the ship combat, which unlike the weak swordplay, is the most interesting part of the game and the part that reminds me of Eve Online. It's extremely tactical and complex, involving not just your skills as a captain, but the wind, your equipment, ammo, various types of damage, the sailing characteristics of your ship, and whether or not you have enough rum. Your RPG level is far less important than your ship and how it's outfitted. Skilled lower-level players, especially working together, can easily best captains twice their level.

Also like Eve, there's more than a hint of hardcore Player vs Player (PvP) combat. It's really innovative in how it works. Every port is controlled by one of the four factions. Completing some missions, or destroying ships of that faction near the port, destabilizes the area. First, that makes it a pirate zone where any Pirates can attack or be attacked at will. If the situation worsens, ships of any rival nations can attack each other. And finally it comes down to a 24-on-24 PvP fleet battle for control of the port between the defending faction and the main destabilizing faction. In this way, It's possible to conquer the whole Caribbean.

It's nowhere near as hardcore as Eve, but yes, you can lose your ship and your cargo. Ye been plundered, matey.

So why isn't everyone a Pirate? Because only the European factions can conquer ports. Pirates can only loot them. Also, all the biggest ships in the game are only available to the navies. That doesn't mean a pirate couldn't capture one though.... Ye been warned as well, seadogs.

click to enlargeThe complex market is also more like Eve Online, with most of the best stuff in the game being created by other players, rather than being found in rare loot drops. Even making something as simple as rum requires a lot of coordination. You'll need a warehouse, molasses, a distillery, labor (which operates in real-time), and oak barrels. You'll probably want to buy those barrels too, because to make them, you need a carpenter's shop, labor, oak logs, and iron ingots. Short on molasses? Buy a sugar cane plantation and a sugar refinery, and get to work.

You had better appreciate that rum, matey. Forget all the work it takes to make some of the big ships, a job made more difficult by the clunky interface for managing your resources and cargo.

The graphics are solid, with plenty of character customization right down to the color of your glass eye or your parrot. Ship combat is pretty as well, with dazzling sunsets - you can even create your own custom sails and pennants. And while you'll spend most of the time zoomed out surveying the battle tactically, you can also zoom all the way in to see all your crewmen working busily in the rigging and see even a model of your captainy self commanding upon the deck.

The sound is actually terrific, with perfect ambient noises in the cities and drunken saloons. Cannons roar, swords clatter, and muskets pop with perfect precision. The music really stands out as well with a collection of traditional sea shanties and a rousing score clearly inspired by the Pirates of the Caribbean movie. (Like "Midnight Booty" by Blake_Morse's band, Apple Pie Hopes, which can be found on their MySpace page.)

click to enlargeAll of this makes Pirates of the Burning Sea a unique hybrid of plundered gameplay elements. It doesn't manage to actually improve upon its MMORPG parents, but if you've become tired of space lasers or elf wizards, Burning Sea is easily the most interesting new game in town. In the long run, it will be the complex economy and the faction warfare that will determine the success of this ocean venture.

And that be the tale of the detestable adventures of the despicable pirate Captain Duke Ferris. Be ye warned that he lurks the trade winds still, awaiting the foolish and the bold alike, and neither of them shall survive. Should ye come face to face with his fearsome visage, know this: Ye be going to hell with that final image burned in ye mind's eye for all eternity.
B Revolution report card
  • Great visual customization
  • Terrific soundtrack
  • Great ship combat
  • Innovative PvP
  • +/- Some people hate losing their stuff
  • Bad swordplay
  • Clunky management interface

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