CES '08: Pirates of the Burning Sea Impressions

This pirate-themed massively multiplayer online role-playing game actually got underway this week.

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LAS VEGAS--Although the retail box isn't shipping until Jan. 21, Pirates of the Burning Sea officially launched on Monday, letting gamers experience the life of an 18th century pirate in the Caribbean. Within a few hours of launch, members of the Flying Labs Software development team said that they had already signed up over 3,000 subscribers to the world's newest massively multiplayer online role-playing game. That's not too shabby, considering that the game is still over a week from reaching shelves.

Pirates of the Burning Sea will let you play as a pirate in the 18th century Caribbean, or you can create a naval officer, privateer (an officially sanctioned pirate), or a free trader aligned with France, Britain, or Spain. The game features a mix of on-foot exploration as you go about the more than 80 ports in the game, as well as sailing and intricate naval battles, along with swashbuckling.

This is a pretty intriguing game, and it helps that it eschews the traditional fantasy settings of most MMO games. The ship combat itself bears little resemblance to anything seen in the genre to date, given that it doesn't feature the constant mashing of buttons and keys to activate various abilities. Instead, ship combat requires you to maneuver realistically with the wind in order to put your ship in position to unleash devastating broadsides against the enemy. It's a very deep combat system because of the many different factors that can affect the performance and maneuverability of your ship, such as the types of sails and rigging that you employ.

At the same time, Pirates of the Burning Sea is an MMO, which means that you'll be sailing around a world populated by thousands of others. The game's economic system means that there's going to be a rich network of trade going on. The example we were given is that everything in the game, from cannonballs to ships, is manufactured by players, so there's a system of supply and demand going on. And, of course, these are pirates that we're talking about, so there's potential for stealing booty.

The game's player-versus-player system is pretty interesting, though, because you can be attacked only if you sail into a PVP zone. These zones erupt if players cause instability in a port by attacking it, either militarily or economically. The more instability caused in a port, the larger the PVP zone around it, and it can become so large that it engulfs other ports. If you sail into this zone, you can be attacked by other players. So if you're carrying time-sensitive goods in your cargo hold, you'll have to weigh the risks of either sailing through a PVP zone or taking a longer route around it. Any way you look at it, Pirates of the Burning Sea looks and feels like a refreshing change of pace in a genre that's full of sword-and-sorcery clones.

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