While admittedly Sony Online Entertainment has been lackluster lately with their customer service and subscription problems (numerous problems with credit cards being declined, mine included), I have none the less always enjoyed their games and I could consider myself a veteran of said games. Having played Star Wars Galaxies for nearly four years when I started in 2004, and Everquest II for over two years after that, with trials of their other games here and there, I have been through their up’s and down’s (NGE anyone?), and am still playing. This time, it’s Pirates of the Burning Sea.
SOE has seemingly followed the recent trend lately of converting well-known MMO’s to free to play models. With Everquest II Extended having been released recently, their swashbuckling game Pirates of the Burning Sea has also adopted this free to play model, and from what I have seen, with much success.
A year or so ago, I downloaded a trial of Pirates and had a hard time getting into the style of the game for numerous reasons. The graphics were a bit on the cartoony side, and the lack of new players was a bit depressing. Ship combat was a strong point however, yet with so little time to learn the ropes so to speak, I found myself often quite confused. In other words, I never finished the trial.
Since Pirates has adopted the free to play model, I decided to give it another chance, (ala Lord of the Rings Online.) When I finished the short tutorial that teaches you how to do avatar and ship combat, I was plopped onto the docks of Marsh Harbor in the Bahamas. What I found was a shoulder-to-shoulder crowded pier full of new and older players alike, all dressed in their suave pirate coats and officer attire. The main factions in the game are Pirates, British, French, and Spanish. Since Marsh Harbor was a pirate town, there were of course mostly pirates. I took a few quests from the first person with an “!” over their head that I could find, which was only a few steps from where I had landed. These missions were basically more tutorial missions which would guide you in terms of things such as ship-boarding combat, crafting, using the auction-house, and skill trainers. Very useful skills indeed. As a Cutthroat Pirate who have the abilities to storm and capture enemy ships for their own, I set to the seas to commandeer a better ship for myself, ending up with a nice little Chaleur Schooner.
Ship combat is without a doubt the shining star in Pirates. The seascape is beautifully crafted and the ships are equally beautiful. I have played other pirate MMO’s before, and none ever had my entire crew visible on the ship decks while combat was taking place, climbing up the masts and running around the deck manning the cannons all while my avatar sat, his hands on his hips, on the stern of the ship near the wheel watching the mayhem. My favorite part of being a pirate is definitely broad-siding the enemy with a volley of cannon-fire and then grappling his ship and me and my crew boarding to go sword-to-sword with the enemy sea-dogs. I couldn’t help but mutter “Arrrr” under my breath as my grappling attempt was met with success. Players can also customize their ships with wood and sail colors, and players can even create their own sail designs that they can submit to the Pirates team for review and acceptance, where they can then display their own unique insignias on the sails of their ships. Ship as well as avatar customization can be changed at any time in the character sheet. One thing I love is that your player avatar does not need to equip “statted” clothing for looks. All clothing that has game-play stats are equipped in a certain area that have no effect on how your avatar looks. All displayed clothing is purely cosmetic (as far as I know) and can be changed any time in your character sheet.
Like other free to play MMOs, there are options of having the basic free model, or a subscription model where you are awarded typical necessities such as more storage, auction space, etc. While playing Pirates, I noticed very little in terms of things that subscribing players received opposed to free players. I had read before I had started playing that there is actually very little that separates the two. There would of course be such things as more ship storage, enhanced ship insurance, more spaces on the auction house, and surely others. What there is not, I believe, is a hindrance on regular game play. I have never run into anything so far (currently a level 13 Pirate) that I have had to pay for in the game store, or anything else that would require some real-world doubloons.
For the casual gamer who doesn’t have the funds, or perhaps the desire to pay a monthly fee to play online games, they are now being presented with a myriad of well-known and top-notch MMO’s with the new free to play models. Perhaps more famous games will follow suit with adopting this model, since in all the games I have played with it so far, it has seemingly breathed new life into these once struggling games. As the same with Lord of the Rings Online, Pirates of the Burning Sea now seemingly has a respectable population count, and I have never sailed in an area yet that was not teeming with NPC and Player ships alike. Despite accidentally wandering into a PVP area and having my ship destroyed by another player fifteen levels ahead of me, I have had little complaints about this game. Actually, I have had none at all so far. So if you enjoy the pirate or the historical genre, or just are looking for a casual MMO to play in your downtime that requires no real dedication of time, Pirates is a wonderful choice among the many free to play games that have sprung up recently and is certainly worth looking into if elves, dwarves, and magic is not your thing.