Deftly crafted sea battles, an engaging fencing system and a finely tuned old world economy combine to make “Pirates of the Burning Sea” a fresh and eminently playable entry in the bloated massively multi-player online space. Game is a somewhat bifurcated experience, with adventures at sea far outshining those in port. But there’s still more than enough to keep rum-swilling plunderers happily occupied.
Like any new MMO, “Pirates of the Burning Seas” will be compared with the absurdly popular “World of Warcraft.” At launch, it certainly doesn’t stand up to that game’s depth and breadth. But on the plus side, “Burning Seas” will also be compared by players with the recently launched “Pirates of the Caribbean Online.” Though Disney’s game has a monumental franchise and famous actors, the new entry from Sony Online Entertainment, a division of Sony Pictures, is much more engaging, particularly when it comes to combat.
Game takes place in a Caribbean Sea of the 1720s that’s as historically accurate as videogames get. Players assume the role of free trader, naval officer or privateer for one of three countries, or can become a pirate unfettered by national loyalties. The game includes more than 1,000 missions, 50 historically accurate ships, and 80 ports, all of which can be conquered by one of the four warring factions
Ships are used to travel from port to port, a journey that proves the most graphically pleasing part of the game, with rippling water, minutely detailed ships and gorgeous sunrises and -sets. During these travels, players can launch instantly into engaging, and often prolonged, sea battles that involves keeping an eye on the current, wind direction, cannon loading times and current state of the hull, sails and crew. It is in these surprisingly tactical encounters that “Pirates” shines. The camera can be zoomed out so far that players can watch the battle unfold between thumb-sized ships, or close enough to see the crew load cannons between volleys.
Once in port, the game simply doesn’t look as sharp. Graphical style seems more suited to portraying the precision and distinct lines of a ship than the subtleties of the human form.
On land, gamers can buy and sell goods they’ve received through combat or by producing their own products, like weapons or rum. The “Pirates” economy is extremely deep. Everything is made by players, from the wood for ships to nails and weapons.
Ports are also the place to pick up missions, which are pretty varied and include a good mix of land and sea combat as well as a modicum of plot, though what little story is told in this game is found mostly in short dialogue and brief encounters.
It is in these missions where players will mostly likely find themselves practicing their hand-to-hand combat. Though they’re not nearly as engaging as sea battles, sword combat is unique enough to remain slightly entertaining. Instead of allowing players to simply click their mouse over and over again, “Burning Sea” requires that they keep an eye on their character’s health, initiative and balance, all of which can be thrown off by different special attacks. Savvy players who balance all these traits, which seem to be based loosely on fencing, can successfully rout a more experienced player or even a group of assailants.