Pirates of the Burning Sea Review

Ever since the release of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, high seas plundering has become all the rage. Much to the chagrin of ninjas everywhere, the swashbuckling scoundrels have invaded American pop culture like never before. Heck, there are at least 3 major Facebook applications related to them.

With Flying Labs Software’s Pirates of the Burning Sea (PBS for the purposes of this review, and for the retention of my sanity), the motley bunch have taken the leap into MMORPG territory, and the results are fairly impressive. In a world full of me-too fantasy-themed level grinds, this game really shines as something unique, not only in terms of subject matter, but also in its gameplay and design.

In the beginning, PBS is much like your typical MMORPG; you pick one of four “careers,” each with different strengths and weaknesses, as well as one of four national alignments. Then you customize the gender and appearance of your captain (though many end up looking very similar to one another), and off you go.

Players will still find themselves carrying out menial tasks for various locals in the early goings, as they become familiar with the mechanics of the game world, but soon the depth and complexity of the game reveals itself, and you just start to ‘get it.’

At some point, my own Captain Bloodwater began to question why he would be taking orders from just about everyone who happened to have exclamation marks floating over their heads, doing their bidding for a few carrots here and there. Once I stopped accepting anything but those quests involving good old-fashion pillaging and plundering (and the quests that advanced the story), I found that the game’s pace quickened and became more interesting and enjoyable. Ditching any sort of grind certainly makes the game world more inviting.

Adding to the early problems with PBS is the fact that its learning curve is about as steep as the back of a Uhaul truck, so a few gamers will likely be turned right off before getting to the real meat of the game. That main course happens to be a deep economic system, complete with land-purchasing, construction, inter-colonial trade, alliances, and large-scale conflicts that are entirely player-originated. PBS is very much about world-building, besides just playing around inside of one.

Within that world, the main focus for many players will likely be on questing and naval combat (including plenty of PvP). Quests are unfortunately not as varied as one might hope, and often induce a deja vu -like sense of reality. Ship combat…is fun. It is also very simple to jump into, yet complex enough to allow for plenty of different degrees of mastery. Players learn a load of skills as they gain levels, granting new abilities for use during battles. Couple that with the many types of canons, ammunition, and other ship enhancements, and the game winds up with a wide variety of possible combat strategies.

My personal favorite course of action is to batter the ship, raking it of its crew, and then board, cutting down the enemy captain in vicious hand-to-hand combat. The only problem with that is the cumbersome nature of swashbuckling. By comparison, this is far less refined that other parts of PBS.

The user interface, too, is somewhat awkward, especially the quest and map windows. When many quests are in queue, finding specific ones is a bother. It would be nice if there was a column displaying the location (island name) of the next goal. That would also allow players to organize by island, and easily cover everything they have to do in a given location. As for the map, it seems to be the sort that a heavily inebriated magical cartographer would create in his spare time to dish out to unassuming newbies on April fool’s day. It jumps around and zooms as if possessed, and is hell to manipulate and navigate by. And don’t get me started on the trips between islands, because I may have to leave this review to prepare a full seven course meal…just like I did while waiting to arrive at many of my in-game destinations. ZzZzZz…

PBS’s production values are not terribly impressive, leaving me generally unaffected by whatever I could see or hear at any given moment. The seascapes can be pretty, thanks to the sky and water reflections, but the water itself is repetitive, plain, and somewhat ugly, and the music and sound effects throughout the game are quite repetitive. On the technical side, the seamless windowed mode is very stable, and great for multitasking.

Pirates of the Burning Sea does some things right, and some things wrong. It features a depth of gameplay not often found in typical MMOs, and while its steep learning curve may turn off a few gamers early on, eventually things fall into place and one gets the hang of things. Ship combat gets better and better, players can get into a sort of questing groove, and working to influence the shape of the virtual world becomes highly engaging. The incentive to play and grow as a character jumps way up, and you have a winner on your hands.

Just kill whoever made the map.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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