Previews

Pirates of the Burning Sea

LAN Ahoy

The lure of piracy is clear: pirates are the rock stars of the sea, nicking what they want, doing things with wenches and cultivating complicated beards. For the last three years Flying Lab Software have promised that their MMORPG, Pirates of the Burning Sea, would give us all the case of scurvy we so rightly desire, and at last they're about to set sail.

Set in the Caribbean of the 18th century, Pirates begins with a question of allegiance: will you fly the flag for England, France or Spain? Or will you simply hoist up the Jolly Roger and declare yourself a pirate? It's not an arbitrary decision: the ports scattered throughout the world have national alliances and tax outsiders accordingly.

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And so it was that Privateer Cap'n Lea de Pea (named for my girlfriend, who was threatening to keel-haul me if I didn't) set sail. Each player is the captain of their own ship. After an educational introduction, which shows that the focus is as much on fighting as using your avatar to broker missions and gather information, I set sail to my Spanish home of Vera Cruz.

Dry land is the hub of this game world. You can do a lot with your avatar here, such as visit the tavern, build and maintain your hoard in the warehouse, or develop your skills.

Best of these is to visit the swashbuckling trainers. In one yard I found NPCs swishing swords, and started talking to an elegant lady, the Florentine trainer, who informed me of her desire to teach me to "fight with panache". Then something caught my eye: in the corner, a less classy-looking sort was swiping wildly at the air. Sure enough, he was the Dirty Fighting Skill Trainer, with a full complement of Low Blows, Hostility and Brutal skills.

A few introductory missions that pinged Lea around this land- hub finally got me out to sea, to rescue a few caskets of rum from under pirate noses. Or at least, to the harbour, where normally you're let out into Open Sea to search for adventure and find a port. This time, however, I was delivered straight to an instanced fight between myself and a group of NPC pirates.

It was quite possible to satisfy the mission objectives, and gather the three floating caskets, without firing a shot - but that's no fun. Nor is sailing particularly complicated: as simple as WASD, in fact, although the addition of enemies to fight makes your choice of speed more relevant. The faster you're travelling, the less accurate you become.

Further up the tactical ladder are opportunities to board other ships, your crew swinging over on ropes in classical pirate fashion to fight mano-a-mano.

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There's a lot to more to Pirates of the Burning Sea than the selfish need for self-improvement, too. Nations collide over land ownership issues, and you can take part, first destabilising them and then winning the region via missions. The more regions your race has, the better it is for you in terms of trade and so forth.

There's a huge world to explore, from the traditional ports to the strange area of the Bermuda Triangle. Pirates has some typical MMORPG tropes, but both the area and era make for a interesting take on multiplayer roleplaying. Maybe there is a world beyond Warcraft.

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