Saturday, August 4, 2007

Pirates of the Burning Sea preview

As promised I'll try to introduce the MMORPGs announced for the second half of 2007 a bit more, so people are aware that there are games whose name doesn't start with a "W". First in line, due to seniority, is Pirates of the Burning Sea (PotBS). PotBS was announced for Spring 2004. It didn't quite make that release date. It got the editor's choice award for best graphics from the E3 2005. After not quite making a promised release date in June 2007, the game is now expected for sometime in fall 2007. In spite of the delays, the game seems to be well on track to be actually released, as they now gained SOE as publisher, while keeping control of the game design. The good part of that news is that PotBS will be included in the Station Access Pass, in case you want to play several of SOE's games.

So what do we know about Pirates of the Burning Sea? Well, quite a lot actually, there are several sources on the internet: Wikipedia has an entry, there is the official site, a bunch of trailers on Fileplanet, and various game portals and fansites.

In PotBS the player controls a character in the Caribbean in 1720. You get the choice between 4 careers: Navy Captain, Privateer, Freetrader, and of course Pirate. Sorry, no ninjas, apparently. There are no "races", but 4 nations, Britain, France, Spain and the Pirate nation. Every character controls a ship, but can also move on foot through the towns of the Caribbean, or in instances or on ships, doing sword fighting. The developers said that sword combat will be pretty similar to the kind of combat we know all too well from other games. So the more interesting part is the ship-to-ship combat, which should be similar to what you can see in games like Sid Meier's Pirates!.

Of huge interest to me is the fact that PotBS will have a completely player-run economy. Every player has 10 plots on which he can place various production buildings. Some gather raw materials, like wood or iron, some make intermediate goods like nails or ship masts, and at the top of the pyramid there are shipyards making ships. The trick is that to build one ship you need far more than 10 different manufactured and raw goods, thus you can't have a complete production chain on your own. If you are shipbuilder, you buy intermediate goods from players who themselves buy raw materials from other players. If they manage to balance this right, this could be very exciting. The website also mentions local and regional auction houses with profit to be made by trading, buying cheap where the goods are produced and transporting them to where they are needed. This is getting better and better. This is like EVE without the boring asteroid mining!

After mentioning EVE of course the big question is how PvP will work out. If I want to play the economy and trading game, I wouldn't want to be sunk and plundered by a level 50 (which is the cap) pirate every 5 minutes. But apparently I don't need to worry too much. PotBS has lots of ports from the different nation, and only if a port is "in unrest" it becomes a PvP zone, until one nation conquers it and it becomes peaceful again. If a nation conquers all ports, it "wins" and the server resets to the original distribution of ports. So if you like PvP you can head towards the PvP ports, and if you don't like PvP you can stay away from them.

But economy and PvP isn't all there is to PotBS. The game also has a PvE quest-based part, where you do missions against computer-controlled enemies, in ship or sword combat. That is how you gain experience points and go up in levels. Supposedly that isn't much of a grind, with people speaking of about 2 months of play for an average player to reach the level cap. The "end game" doesn't have raids, but is dominated by PvP and nations trying to take over each other's ports. If you don't like PvP, you can still play your part by helping the economy of your nation.

All in all Pirates of the Burning Sea looks good to me. Maybe the graphics have suffered a bit from the long development, but the advantage of that is that you don't need the very latest high-end machine to run it. But the gameplay promises to be significantly different from the usual EQ/WoW/LotRO mold. There aren't even elves or dwarves! Of course I can't give a final verdict before I have played it, because features always look good on paper before you see them in game. But right now I'm looking forward to playing this later this year.

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