Pirates of the Burning Sea

I have been very silent on this blog for quite some time, partially due to real life obligations, and partly because the bulk of my gaming time has been spent under a strict NDA. That NDA was dropped officially by Pirates of the Burning Sea, as they prepare to enter their open beta phase of development this week.

I am not going to give a run down of the game-play or mechanics in my observations, as Tobold, Keen and others in the blogosphere have fairly in depth looks at the game. My thoughts on Pirates after these messages…

Pirates of the Burning Sea is an amazing game conceptually, and very fun to play certain aspects. It is genuinely unique in many ways, and provides the subscriber a great deal of variety of game-play. At the same time, I couldn’t help but thinking that the execution of the design was some what flawed.

I started in Beta and played a bit with Ethic, and my first comments to him were along the lines of “What the hell is this crap!?” We tried a few quests, leveled a bit, and I eventually drifted back to WoW and on to LotRO and largely left my beta account lie dormant for a few months because the game was really tedious and poorly designed at the introduction levels.

During a major gaming lull after I cancelled LotRO, I picked up Pirates again, and joined a PvP society called Corte de la Sangre, in the Spanish nation. As one of the premier national societies I was quickly assisted with all of the basic necessities, and shown some of the finer points of the game. I was put into a ship building chain that was quite successful, and learned to really love and enjoy the game for its strengths.

I quickly leveled to 50 on my Privateer and spent basically every spare minute of my time flipping ports, PvPing with my society and national fleet and stealth solo PvPing, which is a talent skill specific to Privateers and Pirates.

I was thoroughly enjoying myself, but try as I may, I still couldn’t ignore the fact that the graphics are largely marginal with the exception of the Open Sea, Avatar combat seems like something that could have been a hit on the Atari, and the PvE game is repetitive, tedious and uninspired. You enjoy the game despite these drawbacks, but they certainly weigh heavily on my overall impressions. The thought of leveling an alt is up there with giving myself a lobotomy with a soup spoon.

Even so, I was all set to pre-order two copies for myself and my wife, grind my way past the terrible game-play to get to the very fun PvP, so I asked internally for a beta account for my wife, was granted one and she tried it…


She hated it. Her first impression of the game, after 20 minutes was, “I miss WoW.” So we are back in Azeroth and passing on this game.

Some problems I see for Pirates in the future, is the lack of end-game, national balance, 1-20 quest diversity and subscriber attrition as a result. I made numerous posts warning FLS that without major early game revisions, people would play levels 1-10 and then go back to [insert trendy MMO here]. They would never even experience the amazingly creative and well designed player economy, the exciting and well designed Open Sea and port battle PvP, the fantastic nationalism that develops as a result of those conflicts… They would experience third rate MMO game mechanics, UI functionality and quest depth and wonder how they got swindled into throwing away $50.00 for the box.

If you like the concept, are looking for something new, and have some degree of patience while they fix the problems, I strongly recommend you buy Pirates and give it a shot. For all its flaws, I would have bought it if it had registered well on the Wifeometer. I enjoyed my time in Beta and know that the game *can* be great if FLS stays committed to the updates as they did during beta, and maintains the openness and love for their game that was their strongest trait up until now.


21 thoughts on “Pirates of the Burning Sea”

  1. I’m not gonna write a review, just saw that I agree with Cyndre on most points.

    Myself, I’ll keep from recommending this for purchase. But that’s personal opinion, and doesn’t really contradict Cyn’s comments in any way.

  2. I have to say that I *would* recommend it… to the right people. It’s certainly not for everyone, as your wife well demonstrated.

    Even I, after falling for post-release Tabula Rasa, can see myself having trouble getting into the combat and slower pace of PotBS. But that’s not going to stop me from buying it.

    I don’t see myself playing it for months on end, but as more of an occasionally drop 15 bucks for a month here or there when the Pirating mood strikes me as it often does.

    One hell of a unique game though, and one everyone should at least try come Open Beta in just a bit. On the 7th everyone will be let in that has signed up, and then I think on the 14th there will be more sign-ups.

    I heartily recommend trying it. Just like EVE, it’s not for everyone, but I think the user-base on this one will be both strong and loyal, a la CoH or EVE. It’s got a long and healthy life ahead, I hope.

    My biggest drawback, all other things aside, is that there’s no real sense of exploration as Keen pointed out on his blog. That does bum me out. It’s mainly port to port, get missions, run missions, and repeat. Or work on the economy and engage in PvP. 3 distinct gameplay options, but one that’s missing for my style is a real sense of “worldiness”.

  3. See, the thing with EVE and PotBS is that at least EVE is upfront about it. I mean, they both say what they have to say nowadays. But once you get past the marketing and all the “Come play our game it’s so awesome for everybody”, at least EVE tells you straight up:

    “Look, this is hardcore. We’re gonna be doing these things, and these other things, and they are hardcore, and we’re not gonna be doing anything else. This is how we are. Take it or leave it”

    The vibe I got from PotBS is that it kept insisting that it was (or was trying to be) truly something for everybody, but once you looked at its parts individually they were either more lacking than not (except ship combat, which was pretty well done I think) or really more hardcore than they probably should be. And the sum of those lacking parts does not make a not-lacking whole, because like Bildo points out, the world is just too fragmented. The instancing everything in the world is just way in player’s faces, way too much.

    Yes, it’s beta. Yes, MMOs are works in progress. But really, unless they scrape the design and start again, how much can it change at this point?

  4. Oh, and they can say they have a robust PvE game until they’re blue in the mouth, but that’s like saying McDonalds is a robust healthy eating option because it serves chicken.

  5. Couple more thoughts…

    1) Grind 1-20 on tendious repetetive missions.

    2) Grind Open Sea combat 21-45 in the exact same spot for hours at a time (i.e. Port Royal docks or San Juan)

    3) Grind Innocents, Cayo or Tortuga 45-50 for Royal Comms and cash.

    Woohoo I’m 50, what now? PvP of course…

    1) Grind PvE ships for hours to flip ports for a 30 minute port battle.

    2) Grind same 3 missions as in 45-50 for more Royals to upgrade to Destroyer/ SOL.

    3) Grind more PvE to create PvP zones to use your new destroyer.

  6. Oh and I forgot to mention, the grind from 21-50 actually requires no tactics, skill or attention. What I did was tab to the first ships, put up my combat skills and drag my rudder all the way to the right, then watch TV until all the ships were dead.

    I did that for three weeks straight, 5 hours a night.

  7. The problem with this article is that you say you would have bought and played the game if your wife liked it, but then you don’t state what HER issues are. So basically the game is a success except for the fact that it’s a failure with your wife for mysterious reasons.

    I guess the moral of the story is that the game has to have super-fun and interesting low level play and endgame play. Everything in the middle can be weak as long as it’s strong in those two areas.

  8. “I did that for three weeks straight, 5 hours a night.”

    Sounds like a blast. Glad you wasted those hours so I don’t have too.


  9. @Coherent: Not so! It has to have super-fun and interesting low-level play and mid-range play. Then once I level-cap I can quit without wasting two years grinding… whatever it is this game wants me to grind. My big question is: if all the effort is going into the end-game, why force us through a mid-game grind? Why not start us with all our spells and abilities and let us play? No one really needs to spend the first ten hours of gameplay button-mashing the three skills they start with, nor the next hundred fifty learning to use one new skill every ten hours. We’re not that slow.

  10. @Jezebeau: But I can’t envision anyone quitting a game because of weak midgame play if they had a wonderful low-level experience and they hear that the endgame is a blast to play. The midgame is the place where you could skimp on the development dollars and then make it up later.

    But we’re not just talking about powers, what we’re really talking about is development time, refinement time. Actual minutes and seconds that the principal designers spend playing through specific level ranges and making sure that no matter where you are, you’re having a blast.

    I always felt that the newbie areas in WoW gets extra attention from high level designers, making sure that there’s something really super fun to do and everything looks really engaging to pull you into the game. This is really evident in the Blood Elf starting area. All those glowing mushrooms and mist-shrouded ruins contrasting with the bright and happy areas too. Very memorable, pulls you in.

    I’m not saying you can ignore the mid-level play, but you could push it back on the schedule and then fill in the gaps later.

    But you absolutely have to have a fun gameplay introduction, so levels 1-20 have to be amazing. And you absolutely have to have something fun for players to do in high levels of the game and endgame, something that will keep them blissfully happy for at least a year while you get your game established and fill in the cracks.

  11. “My big question is: if all the effort is going into the end-game, why force us through a mid-game grind? Why not start us with all our spells and abilities and let us play?”

    I’ve been wondering this a lot lately. Games like this one that seem to put “the real game” at the peak of levels feel like they put the grind in because it’s just the way it’s done. In WoW i prefer the lower levels, even when i have seen it all before, it’s just fun getting new things and skills so quickly, “end game” raiding bores me to the core, and i just end up grinding honor to get the good gear so i can go play around (which for me ends up being trying to see what i can solo or just goofing off). I wish mmo makers would discover what it is about their game that is fun, and make that the “whole” game. Granted, what one person finds fun another finds boring, so i guess doing that would pigeonhole the makers into a niche, although EvE seems to be doing fine with its one.

  12. I have to agree with you on this. PoTBS is an OK game. Not stellar, not horrid, but ok. The one thing that I do like about it is the dev team behind the game. Compared to other betas I have been in, and I have been in a LOT, Flying Labs actually talks with the testers, takes what they have to say and when it’s a good idea they implement it i.e. avatar combat.

  13. @Coherent: I’ve quit City of Villains three times due to reaching the weak midgame in the mid-30’s. I left Anarchy Online way back in the day because I tired of endless door missions and/or grinding on a nigh featureless terrain. EQ2 lost me in the late 50’s because, despite end-game content at that point, the level cap had been raised by the time I got there, so it was often difficult to get a group together, but that’s beside the point.

    That most people would toil through it doesn’t justify its existence in the first place. The early-game has to be a blast or the reviews at launch will bury the game. The late-game has to be engaging, too, or people will cancel their subscriptions. Why, though, do we need to invest so much time in between those? Force us through fifteen to twenty hours such that people can be trusted to have learned the basic gameplay and tactics of their class, and then let us raid, or PvP, or explore, et cetera. There’s no reason the lore and content of the quests that usually occupy the mid-range can’t be made into a non-raiding PvE pursuit at the end of the game. How much more fantastic would it be to grind *those* for faction and rewards than wandering mobiles? How much more fun would the quests and stories themselves be when they become the end rather than the means?

    I’m reminded of GuildWars: Factions. That’s when I jumped into the game, and it was exemplary in this right. The tutorial island could be completed in ten to twenty hours, depending on familiarity, and you arrive at the meat of the game within three levels of the maximum, with a reasonable host of skills. After that, sure there’s a sequence of content, but it still worked despite not having level barriers. The only necessity is that there’s some form of character improvement to keep the incentives flowing until a player’s favourite style of play becomes a habit and keeps them playing.

  14. Some of us enjoy economic gameplay, and in that respect PotBS really shines. The production part is even better than that of EVE, as there is no boring asteroid mining. (EVE has better AHs though). I didn’t think the PvE missions were all that bad, but then I’m a big fan of the ship combat. The avatar combat is lacklustre, and I didn’t like the PvP, but that just shows how different players are looking for different things.

    Anyway, the open beta starts Friday for Fileplanet users, Monday for the rest of the world. Unlike WoW this *is* a niche game. Unless you try whether it happens to fall into your particular niche, you won’t know whether this is the game for you or not. I’d really, really recommend giving this a try and finding out for yourself while you can do so for free.

  15. My review and subsequent responses seem a bit harsh after rereading them and the following comments… please note that I said I would have bought and played this game for all of the reasons Tobold writes above, and because the community, design team are excellent and the PvP was engaging and meaningful.

    @ Coherent:
    […The problem with this article is that you say you would have bought and played the game if your wife liked it, but then you don’t state what HER issues are. So basically the game is a success except for the fact that it’s a failure with your wife for mysterious reasons….]

    I asked my wife last night for her reasons so that I could address your question.. She said it was too slow, too many loading screens… she didn’t ‘get the point’ of the game. Didn’t know what she was supposed to accomplish. The avatar combat was clunky, the towns all looked exactly the same. Lack of variety.

    It just wasn’t ‘her thing.’ I didn’t add the part about my wife disliking the game as a knock on the game specifically, but more as evidence that people will be quickly disenfranchised by the introduction levels. My wife is very typical of the post-WoW MMO player. She won’t put up with pointkess grinds like us old EQ’ers will to some extent. She wants meaningful advancement and variety. She wants to log in and feel like she accomplished something unique, and Pirates does’t really deliver that to the new player.

    Like EVE, Pirates requires more of you to become proficient even. Sure you can sail around, do some quests, but you don’t have the instant gratification of the new breed of MMO. That is a good thing and a bad thing, but could be a symptom of a problem that FLS might face getting their game to appeal to a broad range of player.

  16. Funny. My initial experience was identical to Cyndre’s.

    “What the hell is this crap?!”

    After all the talk of player-run economies and world PvP, combined with the gameplay I know and love from Sid Meier’s Pirates! (both original and remade version), I thought I was in for a hell of a treat. Instead, I got served an uninspired tutorial, a clunky interface and horrid disjointed 3D graphics in a game which essentially seemed to amount to a WoW-style quest-running treadmill.

    That was the first 45 minutes. I didn’t look back. Judging by what Cyndre is saying above, maybe I should have.

    But then again, if the core gameplay is based on Eve-style world PvP and player-run economies, why is FLS giving us something that looks and feels like a clunky WoW clone? Pirates! started you out in a port where you could recruit your first crew, and you were out sailing in the first 10 minutes of gameplay. Why does PotBS force you to run around performing menial tasks for NPCs for an hour before allowing you to smell the salty breeze? Why this apparent emphasis on combat skills, equipment and XP?

    As a good example of how to do this right, Eve has personal skills and XP (skill points) as well, but strongly de-emphasize them by allowing their accumulation at a fixed rate. It is a throttling mechanic, not an achievement mechanic. And it works! Players set their skill to train, then go out to make a fortune – i.e. playing the game they were sold, not some other poorly implemented game they need to play first in order to get to the game they really wanted.

  17. For the record, PotBS does not FORCE you to do the missions at all, they are there as an option. You are perfectly capable of doing no missions and leveling up in this game. You get far more experience hunting ships on the open sea than you do in missions anyway, and for money there is the player run economy (which does have a mission you’ll want to run before getting to deep into because it gives you a good breakdown on how it works as well as some free stuff and a ship).

    The missions are there for people who don’t feel safe going out on the open sea right away or look at them as a way to make some quick cash.

    The leveling in the game also goes much more quickly than any other MMO I’ve ever seen, and I think this is in part because the core of the game (PvP and RvR combat) is not decided entirely by a players level, but also by their skill with the ship they are sailing.

    I’m sorry Lachek, but I think you had to have made a conscious decision to not actually look at the game you are playing to say it’s a “WoW” clone with the missions.

    Anyway, this is my first and probably last visit to this website. Good day.

  18. […Anyway, this is my first and probably last visit to this website. Good day….]

    We are weeping at the loss of such a dedicated reader.

  19. I bought this game 3 days ago and it will not let me register a new account iafter filling in al the nessasary details age etc i just get the message “There was an error creating your account. Please try again later. Error Code: 1020” someone please help! You cant get help from the retards at FLS because you have to log in first! Durr who though of that? logging in is just what i cant do.

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