Tobold's Blog
Monday, December 03, 2007
Pirates of the Burning Sea Review

Since early August 2007 I had the privilege of playing the Pirates of the Burning Sea beta. I like the game a lot, and before I went back to WoW I played that beta more than any other beta or finished game I had access to. Unfortunately I couldn’t write about it at the time due to the NDA. So naturally now that the NDA was dropped today, I have a *lot* to say about PotBS. So much in fact that I won’t even try to fit it all in one post. I’ll start with this review, giving an overview how PotBS works and how the gameplay is. And then over the coming days and weeks I’ll write posts about details of the game, like the economy, tips & tricks, etc.

Pirates of the Burning Sea, like all MMORPGs, starts with you creating a character. You get the choice between 4 nations and 4 character classes. The 4 nations are: Britain, Spain, France, and Pirate. The former three are very, very similar to each other, while the pirates play a bit differently. The 4 character classes are: Navy officer, privateer, freetrader, and pirate. Only players of the pirate nation can play the pirate character class, and that is the only class they have access to. If you play one of the other 3 nations, you get to choose between the other 3 character classes. Pirates are the only characters in the game that can capture ships for themselves. Navy officers are specialized in ship-to-ship combat with broadsides. Privateers are specialized in boarding combat. Freetraders aren’t very good in combat at all, but they have advantages when it comes to the economy, and can to some extent overcome their lesser combat skills by using more expensive ships, outfitting, and consumables.

After choosing nation and class, you need to design the look of your character. Equipping gear in PotBS is not going to change the way you look; you can only add accessories, like a parrot on your shoulder. But if you don’t like the look you chose at character creation, you can change it in a tailor shop in the bigger ports.

Pirates of the Burning Sea is set in the Caribbean in 1720, but also has some mythical elements. After character creation you start on a ship in the middle of a fight. The tutorial teaches you how to do swashbuckling (the sword fighting type of combat), and how to do ship-to-ship combat, sinking enemy ships with your cannons. At the end of the tutorial you land on the docks of the newbie port of your nation. You’ll see quest givers with green exclamation marks floating over their head, or green question marks for quests you already completed, like the tutorial quest.

You are starting the game at level 1, and you gain experience by finishing quests, killing enemies in swashbuckling, and by sinking ships. At the start you’ll do quests most of the times, beginning with the port you started in, and then later the nearby ports of your nation. On the docks of every port you will find the longboat coxswain, your way to either the open sea, or to many of the instanced quests of that port. So much of the time you will grab one or several quests in the port, run to the longboat coxswain at the docks, do the instanced quests there, and then go back to the quest giver for the reward and maybe some more quests. All quests are instanced, but some start with you going through a door in the port. There is a helpful local map accessible with “l” showing you where quests are waiting for you.

There are many different kinds of quests. Some are land-based swashbuckling quests, others are ship quests. Sometimes you just need to sink the enemy, other times you are specifically instructed to board him. Sometimes you just need to touch certain points and escape, or prevent somebody else from escaping, or break through a blockade. Sometimes you are alone, sometimes you have NPC controlled allied ships with you. The majority of quests can be done alone, but you can also do them in a group, in which case the quest scales up in difficulty to compensate for the larger number of players.

When you level up, you gain one skill point. Every even level this is a swashbuckling skill point, which you can invest in a skill that makes you a better sword fighter. Every odd level you get a captain skill point for skills that apply to your ship (or your economic skills in the case of a freetrader).

Besides experience you will also earn money, in the form of doubloons. Training doesn’t cost anything, so what do you do with your hard-earned cash? You buy a bigger ship, or you equip yourself and your ship. Pirates of the Burning Sea has an economy in which the bigger part is played by the players, and a very small part is played by the NPCs. NPCs sell you “civilian” ships, which are worse than the player-built ships of the same name. They also sell you very basic ship outfitting, and very expensive ammo for you cannons. They buy your loot at very low prices, except for special “loot items”, which can otherwise be turned in for collection quests.

In most cases you are better off buying from and selling to other players, via the auction houses. Many ports have an auction house. The map is divided into several regions, and when visiting one auction house, you can see the prices and wares on offer for all auction houses of that region. Freetraders can see all auction houses with a special skill. But while you can buy from other auction houses directly, you need to actually go to that port to pick up the goods. Most goods in Pirates of the Burning Sea have a weight, and need to be transported by ship. You can’t just “mail” goods to somebody else somewhere else, like in many fantasy MMORPGs. This means that sometimes money can be made by buying goods cheap in one place, and selling them at a profit at another place, after shipping them there.

It isn’t very often that looting ships gives you trade goods, most of the time trade goods are produced by players. To learn how to do that, you best do the economy tutorial, which you get from the auctioneer in your starting port. The economy tutorial explains how to build a warehouse and production structures, as well as explaining about foreign NPC traders, and where your nation’s capital is. This is well worth doing early in the game, as there is a reward which is quite substantial for a low-level player. You get a deed for a level 4 ship, and if you don’t want to use it, you can sell that deed for a hefty sum to the civilian ship dealer.

Most ports have a number of natural resources, like an oak forest, or iron deposits. You can only build an iron mine somewhere where there are iron deposits. You can build a forge that transforms the iron ore into iron ingots and other metal goods everywhere, but unless you want to haul goods between ports all the time, it is better to concentrate on a few ports. You also need a warehouse everywhere where you have production, and while the first warehouse comes cheap at 200 doubloons, the second already costs 3,200, and the third 16,200, another reason to only use few ports for production. Finally you are limited to 10 production lots *per account*.

Every production lot accumulates “stored labor” in real time for up to three days. Every resource you want to gather costs some money and some stored labor. Some production building manufacture goods from resources, in which case you need the resources, plus money and stored labor. Even if you aren’t very interested in the economy, you should at least build production units for resource gathering. As resource gathering is limited by stored labor, which is limited by number of production lots and real time, resources always sell for more than the cost to produce them. You just need to come to your home port once in a while, use all the accumulated stored labor to mine iron, chop oak, or produce whatever other resource, put the resulting resources at a markup on the auction house, and presto! Free money!

More complicated, but usually also more profitable is manufacturing goods from those resources. For example a lumber mill turns oak logs into oak planks, which a shipyard can then use to make hulls and eventually ships. Player-built ships are the top of the economic pyramid. They require a large number of very many different goods to make. It is impossible to produce all those materials yourself, seeing how you are limited to only 10 production lots. Thus if you want to be a ship builder, you need the help of a guild (“society” in PotBS), or you need to buy intermediate goods on the various auction houses. But ships aren’t the only useful things to produce. Much easier is the production of consumables like cannon ammunition, or various patches to repair your ship in combat (the equivalent of a healing potion). And then there are ship outfitting goods, for which every ship has a number of different slots, and which improve the stats of your ship.

So now you level up and get better and better ships and equipment. What else is there in the game? There are no “dungeons” or “raids”, but there is PvP. When you bring up the map of the Caribbean in the game, you see all the ports distributed over the map, marked in the color of the nation that holds them. This starts out with the historic distribution, but during the game the ownership of ports can change. To take over a foreign port, you first need to create “unrest”, by sinking NPC ships of the nation that owns the port, or by supplying goods to the rebel agent in that port. Once the port is in contention, a PvP zone appears around that port, marked with a red circular area around the port. In a first step this area only allows pirate vs. nation players PvP, but when contention grows this becomes a full-blown nation vs. nation PvP zone. Finally, after 2 days, there is a huge 25 vs. 25 players contention battle, in which the port can change ownership. A nation can “win” by capturing lots of foreign ports, at which point rewards are handed out to the winners, the ownership situation resets to the initial state, and the losers get a head start for the next round. PvP is consensual insofar as you aren’t forced to enter PvP zones. But of course you might log off and when coming back a few days later find the port you’re in being the center of a PvP zone, at which point you either have to wait for the fight to be over, or dare to try to escape without another player attacking you.

Ships can sink in Pirates of the Burning Sea. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, because most ships have several points of durability, and when you sink you just lose your cargo and come back in the next harbor. Only when the last point of durability is used up, the ship is gone for good. You can have several ships in a dry dock all over the map, so when one ship is gone, you can continue with the next. If ever you lose your last ship, a fallback ship is provided to you, depending on your level. But these are even worse than civilian ships, so you should try to make some money and get yourself a new ship soon. So there is a money cycle, where you make money with quests and by sinking ships, but spend money on new ships, as well as outfitting and consumables, most of them from the player-run economy.

Thus Pirates of the Burning Sea basically is a game of three parts, a PvE part where you quest and level up, a PvP part to “win” the game for your nation, and the economy part that creates the ships and goods needed for the two combat parts. You can’t really opt out of the PvE part, but how much you want to participate in PvP and the economy, or both, is up to you. This variety of parallel modes of gameplay is one of the strengths of PotBS. But this isn’t the only reason why you should play this. Pirates of the Burning Sea is very different from the usual MMORPGs, and offers a lot of innovation. Especially ship combat is very well done, and is a lot more tactical than classic MMO combat. Ships have the most of their firepower in their broadsides, and between trying to keep the enemy in the arc of your guns and using the wind for maneuvering the battles often become very interesting. My other favorite part is the economy, which in some ways is similar to that of EVE Online, but without the boring asteroid mining. As labor is produced in real time, you can make a lot of money as a freetrader while logging on only for short play sessions several times a week. And the market is dynamic, reacting to supply and demand of player-produced goods.

But while Pirates of the Burning Sea is a gem, it is unfortunately a rough one. It seems that all other development studios are crying so much for polish that for PotBS there wasn’t much left of it. Some features are really mind-boggling primitive, like the /who command that dumps the list of all players and their locations, but not their class and level, into the chat window. No filter options. Good luck finding somebody that way. Other features are still in development, for example the user interface isn’t scaleable yet, thus becomes very small at high resolutions, but the devs are working on it. Overall the game has a lot of rough edges, which belie the game’s long development time. Players used to the smooth and comfortable way everything in World of Warcraft works might be put off. But behind the rough surface is a really good game, worth overlooking these minor flaws. Most of them will probably be fixed a year from now.

Pirates of the Burning Sea is no “WoW killer”. I wish this game the best of success, but as it requires a lot more thinking than WoW, the potential audience is smaller. And I have doubts about the game’s longevity. Up to now the majority of quests for each nation are identical, up to and including the quest name, just copied and pasted. Thus replayability is limited. Furthermore I’m not sure whether PvP is enough to carry the end game, with no raids, nor epic loot to acquire. On the other hand not every MMORPG needs to last you for years. With many people waiting for games or expansions that will come out later in 2008, Pirates of the Burning Sea, which is released in January, might just be the game to play while waiting for the next big thing. Recommended.
I really really wanted to love this game, and as you show, it has some very good depth to it. Much of what you explain above I did not know of yet, because I had nothing but problems even trying to play it. After the second stress test, I got in as a beta, and didn't get very far in the learning curve due to the 'rubberbanding' issue at sea - after about 3 mins in a sea battle, ship became unmanageable. After being on land, then going to sea, rubberbanding set in. NPC ships appeared, and re-appeared randomly. When the sea battles worked they were great! The swashbuckling I found awkward, but didn't get to experience much of it due to the above issues.
After contacting a GM, and spending hours reading fixes and fiddling with router settings, firmware updates and .ini files, I just gave up, and uninstalled it. And I was *this close* to pre-ordering.
I think I'll wait on this one, perhaps 3-6 months after it's out. I really hope they smooth things out, I wish them all the best.
I've played this game in both stress tests and after that up until now. Leveled a privateer in stress test 1 and a pirate in stress test 2, and by the way those two classes are very similar in playstyle, but pirates have a few unique abilities.

I really like this game and will be playing it in release for sure. The only real problem I see at the moment (aside from a few that you mentioned) is that the PvP circles sometimes block content that you want to reach. This will probably mean that sometimes you might just throw caution to the wind, run in and hope for the best. If you then are down to the last durability point on your ship you might lose quite a lot of value. Now if you didn't lose much on dying the PvP circles could have worked, but as it is now the punishment for dying is a bit steep.

Oh, and of course there are already threads with fights between "carebears" and others on the boards, as you can probably imagine. :)
*pssst* It's still the 2nd for FLS and the NDA isn't down yet! ;)
how is this game in terms of bandwidth usage? is there any hope for running it on 56k, or will my ship's anchor drag on the ocean floor during the big battles (aka fun) as it did in LOTRO?
I hope people dont start crying about losing their ships and cargo my goodness they gave you guys durability points. In EVE Online / UO you straight up lose your stuff upon death. So getting a durability point taken away should be worlds better

I'll probably buy it when it hits stores but I'm not sure how much time I'll have to play. I'm looking at a few MMOs at the moment
Only played the beta for a few days and leveled up to about lvl 15 and was already bored by that point. The swashbuckling is very bad, the sea battles luckily a lot better, but they get repetitive after a while.

It's a shame because I was looking forward to this game :(.
What is the pricing structure like for this game?

I like the premise and will probably try it.

It would be nice if there is a subscription discount if you have multiple copies logged-in from the same IP address or something. I'm looking for a game I can play simultaneously with my 2 sons.

Also it's too bad they didn't get this out before Xmas. I have 10 days off around then with not much to do, and would ideally like to get my hands on this game during that time.
I don't play games where equipment is destroyed pemenently especially in a PvP centric game. In my experience PvP is almost never about skill and mostly involves ambushes, overwhelming numbers, and exploits. Thus its very easy for a player to fall into a bad situation through no fault of themselves and die repeatly.
I don't play games where equipment is destroyed pemenently especially in a PvP centric game. In my experience PvP is almost never about skill and mostly involves ambushes, overwhelming numbers, and exploits. Thus its very easy for a player to fall into a bad situation through no fault of themselves and die repeatly.

Normally I've got almost the exact same opinion. I never played Eve just for that specific reason. I'll give this one a chance though, but if I notice that I'll start having big setbacks like that I'll leave it. I fully understand your position regarding this though.
The idea is probably that you make money through the trade / economics system to pay for pvp losses ? Or do missions like in Eve ;).
I'm happy about how polorizing the game play is. The right (wrong) people will be weeded out just by the sound of the PvP mechanics. It's not for everyone, and is pretty honest about that.
Thanks for the in-depth review. I'm looking forward to future posts on the game. So far it's on the list to be picked up and played.

If you've ever played SWG .. other than resource gathering, is the complexity of the crafting about that level? I loved SWG Crafting and would love a game like that!

If you do die repeatedly in PotBS then it's going to be wholly through all fault of your own. Mainly because the PvP zones are going to be clearly marked and you'll have every chance you need to avoid them.

It may mean you won't get the best prices by skipping a port in contention, but by no means do you ever "have" to engage in PvP or be flagged in potBS. It is the most fun you'll have in this game though. Not your typical combat, this.
From the sound of it Bildo the PvP system is fluid with the ports switching from safe to PvP zones depending on how the factions are fighting. Thus like Tobold said in his review you could log into the game only to find that safe port you camped at has turned into a major PvP battle. I don't really mind dying to random PvP factors like that. But if I lose a particularly hard to craft ship repeatly because I can't escape a blockade it sounds a bit much. If I hear good things about this game after launch I'll probably try it out just because of its innovative features. In general though gear persistance should never depend on not dying especially in a PvP oriented MMO.
But while Pirates of the Burning Sea is a gem, it is unfortunately a rough one

It is still a beta... Just because the NDA is lifted, it does not equal to "free trial" - it is not an Asian game. While I have no intention of playing this game, I think it is not good to post extensive "reviews" of a game before release. Perhaps some initial impressions to be followed up with a review after release.
While I have no intention of playing this game, I think it is not good to post extensive "reviews" of a game before release.

MMORPGs are *never* finished. If there are major changes in the coming year, I'll post a re-review. But this "it is still a beta" argument is pretty thin a month before the pre-order players get access to the release server. The UI won't miraculously become brilliant in one month.

*pssst* It's still the 2nd for FLS and the NDA isn't down yet! ;)

Ooops, I took the announcement on the beta boards that "NDA drops on the 3rd" as being sufficient. Turns out I should have camped the official website until the NDA drop announcement was on the frontpage a couple of hours later. Don't think it really makes a difference. I think PotBS can use all the publicity it can get, even if small flaws are mentioned that might still be fixed later.
How stong of an influence does tactics have in combat?
Quite strong, Anon.

By way of a for instance, many smaller manned ships, say 8 gun ones or so, have been seen taking out poorly maneuvered and handles 100-gun ships.

The general rule of thumb is that less guns, equals faster ship, but also less armor and sustainability in battle. More guns, equals more hurting power, but less agility and less ease of combat.

Therefore a well-manned small ship with a bit of luck, and maybe the help of a few consumables can and will take out the mammoths of the sea.

It'll just be damned hard.
I surfed for over 15 minutes to get this information:

Which operating system is needed and what platforms are supported.

Since they refuse to tell ANY FUCKING THING, I already know this is a windows only game. But I continue to find some information about the client. On the beta application page I they finally did the mistake and used the word "DXDiag" which makes very clear, that this is a windows game.

And since they won't tell any specifics of hardware needed they might not even know that (which means: this is a bad windows game not made to be ported to different operating systems by clueless developers just doing something until it is working. Aka: trial and error developing).

Have fun with it, but I'm a mac user and if you piss me off like this on your product home page, you will be forgoten even before it starts.

Blizzard has this leasson learned very well, they mac support is *OUTSTANDING*.
You could have simply gone to the official Pirates of the Burning Sea FAQ which lists the system requirements as: "Windows Sytem XP/Vista, 1.5 GHz or AMD Athlon 1.5 GHz, with 512 MB or more of RAM, 128 MB 3D video card supporting Pixelshader 2.0 and a broadband connection."

If you are just angry that there is no mac version, well, you should be used to that. How many other MMORPGs besides WoW are there for the mac? Even Warhammer Online will only launch for the PC. Nor could I found any information about a mac version for Age of Conan. Some older MMORPG run on the mac, like EVE, EQ1, ATitD, and Puzzle Pirates. But for most games it isn't profitable to go through the expensive port to mac, and end up getting only a handful of users out of the 5% market share of the mac.
From the reviews I've read (this one included), it doesn't seem a game to last too long:

1) Fights seem boring after a few weeks; WoW is a LOT better because you have a ton of classes, each with a ton of different skills.

2) Looks more like a "trading" game, that is, the whole point of the game seems to focus on economy.

3) Doesn't seem to be enough variety (even the quest names are the same?!); again, WoW excels in that even if you master a given class, you're almost a noob when you start another one: it's not just another "color" for what you've been playing, but a radically different experience with new ways to overcome challenges...

It may have some appeal to some people, those who don't like to fight much and rather do business, but they might as well call that something else! :)
Actually, I think the appeal of fighting will be to those who enjoy well-calculated and strategically paced combat combared to hotkey-mashing or twitch based skills... which from Tobold's own words, fits him to a tee.

Myself, I'm starting to really like the brisk pace of Tabula Rasa, but PotBS' combat while slow, is cool enough and dynamic enough especially in PvP that I think I prefer it to your traditional fare.

TR is quickly becoming the most fun combat I've played though in an MMO.
MMORPGs are *never* finished

And? Just because development is an ongoing process does not make it more appropriate to review the game before release. The release date is the date where a game, ideally, is considered good enough to be provided to consumers at some cost and it is at this point reviews become more valid when people actually have to pay for it.

Some aspects of a game may certainly not change much, but others may. I cannot comment on specifics for PoTBS, but this is a more general observation. A review close to release would still contain a lot of beta impressions, but at least would have some first hand experience of the "good enough" state of the game.
PoTBS fits my lifestyle. I am an old EQ1 Player now with kids, wife, etc. PoTBS is fun, well made, and considerate of my time.

I hope this is the future of MMORPGs.
You mac people are so incredibly stupid. The world doesn't catter to you. Only an ID10T pays more for a mac since they are nothing more than a PC running a different OS.

Every mac user you see anywhere is always "I'm better than everyone else" in their attitude.


PotBS is a wonderful game, everyone should TRY it. Don't rely on anything you read as it has a lot of depth.
the mac boy who posted before is a complete loser. nobody cares if you are angry.

wow is a terrible game, the genius behind it is how casual and easy to play it is. everyone needs to stop comparing all mmos to wow because it is nothing but a beautiful example of marketing and product placement, the game itself is nothing special.
WoO is a great game for idiots and seven year olds.
I'm an EVE player and coming from EVE PoTBS simply has nothing to offer. The fights are a little more tactical then in your average shooter but besides that it's simply grindtastic and not even fun to grind because there is no end-game.

I can understand grinding level 70 in WoW because then you can turn around and do something new.. such as instances or maybe a BG (whatever, I don't play WoW).

In PoTBS on the other hand there is absolutely NO end-game content. You grind to about level 20 and it seems like good fun. Then you slowly notice that it's kind of getting lame always doing the same thing so you look for something other then what you did for the last 20 levels and don't find anything. Supposedly I'm grinding level 50 so I can then grind some more to buy some new ship thats 1% better then the other ones just so I can then say "hey I got ship XYZ" because there is no actual use to having a good ship once you're level 50.... unless you feel like doing RvR but since RvR is exactly the same as normal "grinding" (you simply get unrest+XP instead of only XP) I don't see any motivation what so ever to play this game.

It's fine to hop in there, float around in a ship for a while unstill the never-changing fights get boring (in my case about 5h in) and from then on you could just as well bot your way to level 50 for all the fun it is.

The PvP aspect (in other words the only so called end-game content) is totally flawed and broken because
a) there is no motivation to take over enemy territory since every faction has the same resources when they start out (so no regions or areas that are worth more then others so you'd have a reason to fight) and
b) PvP is meaningless because there is no proper death penatly
c) RvR is just as pointless because if one nation wins then the game is reset and the losers get a boost for the next "round" of RvR (which is retarded because if a nation sucks then they should be punished and defiantly not rewarded for sucking)

All in all PoTBS is a total waste of time and doesn't motivate you to even grind level 50... the inexistent end-game not withstanding.

I'd give it the following grades:
- Technical aspects = 5/10 (sharded servers but still unstable and laggy)

- Game-play (PvE) = 3/10 (repetitive and boring, no motivation to grind due to missing end-game)

- Game-play (PvP / RvR) = 1/10 (meaningless, like BGs in wow just less action, no way to incur real damage on enemies, non-persistent loss, losers get a reward for sucking)

- Economy = 2/10 (really simple, like a cheap browser game dumbed down for 5 year olds)

All in all = 3/10

Some nice idea, technically alright but sadly lacking in content and motivation. I can't recommend this game to anyone that doesn't like pointless grinding for the sake of it (so RO gamers should love it hehe). Epic fail, gimme my money back FLS, sub canceled.
I can't even play this game. There are so many bugs that every 10 minutes i have to restart the game just to get anywhere.

WARNING: IF YOU BUY THIS, YOU WILL BE PAYING TO BETA TEST BASICALLY. The game was released a year too soon. :/

2/10 rating...(the 2 is just because i like pirates, without that it fucking blows)
it's really laughable that anyone could have anything positive whatsoever to say about this game, but hey, whatever floats your boat.
it's not a bad game all in all, just capture every port over and over
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