Bethesda has sent over a beta version of its upcoming project, Sea Dogs. In the role-playing game, you assume the role of a 17th-century ship captain, and you're free to engage in anything from privateering to outright piracy. In this particular beta, you start out in a full 3D town, where you walk around and speak to various people like the tavern keeper, who will give you valuable information. The shopkeeper is especially important, as he will help you make repairs to your ship, restock your ammunition, and let you upgrade parts of your ship. Some characters you come across will join your crew and add bonuses to your ship's abilities, such as hand-to-hand combat for boarding other ships or increased accuracy of cannon fire. Depending on how you play Sea Dogs, you can use towns simply to restock supplies or to look for townspeople who can give you quests, which in turn will push you to explore new ocean expanses. The visuals in the town are quite impressive, with a number of detailed townspeople walking onscreen at once, incredibly clean textures, and some great lighting effects during nighttime.
After gathering all of the information and goods you need from town, you can board your ship and set out on the high seas. The speed of your ship is determined by the status of your sails - whether they're up or down - and if your ship is in a wind current, in which case your sails will respond accordingly. Travelling around the world happens in one of two ways - you can either sail to another land via the default ship view or you can use your map to click on different areas and sail there in a fraction of the time. If you happen to encounter something while travelling through the map mode, a prompt will ask whether you want to engage or ignore. You will encounter numerous merchant ships - with which you can trade goods at sea - and pirates. If you do actually come across pirates, you'll have the opportunity to fight using different battle tactics.
The traditional way to take on an enemy ship in Sea Dogs is to hit it with cannon fire, which can be done using the default camera view or the much more useful deck view, which gives you a closer look at the action. If you fire your initial round from the starboard side of your ship, you must quickly turn to port if you want to fire another speedy round. If you're an impatient captain and don't wish to take the time to destroy a ship, you can always board it by pulling up close to the enemy ship. Once on board, you must draw your cutlass and fight the enemy captain, but be careful - if he defeats you, the game is over. If you win, however, you gain control of his ship and can add it to your own personal fleet.
The full version of Sea Dogs will let you play as four different groups - the Spanish, French, English, or Pirates - and there will be up to 20 different types of ships at your disposal as you progress through the game. Sea Dogs is scheduled for release in October.