Buccaneering MMO Pirates Of the Burning Sea is about to open up its public beta, which reportedly appears today. (Although no sign of it at the time of posting.) I've been playing on the private beta and actually had a jolly (roger) good time. It's a big mishmash of pirate-game staples, such as sword-fighting, raiding sea-forts, sinking ships and looking for treasure, and it all comes together rather fruitfully.
More sea dogging beyond the jump.
The game has a number of factions, British, Spanish, French and Pirate, if I recall correctly, and you can join up with any of these for various instanced missions, trading, and missions that range from doing violence to enemy boats, to defending a town from attack. The sea-combat reminds me of a meeting the Age Of Sail games (which I've always had a fondness for) and Sid Meier's Pirates(!). In fact the entire game is a little reminiscent of Sid's reworked classic, even down to the presentation of some of the towns, and the fact that the game is divided up into distinct sub sections: wandering round town, sailing, fighting at sea, fighting hand-to-hand, and chatting to folk. It's never anything like a simulation of sea-warfare, but it's believable and playable enough for you to keep on gunning. The bright horizon of building boats and ganging up with other sea captains makes PoTBS a really interesting break from the traditional MMO fare.
The hand-to-hand is in some ways the most unusual part of PoTBS reminded me of City Of Heroes. While no other MMO has ship to ship cannon battles, those somehow feel obvious. Of course I'm a ship captain and have my own transport, how else could it possibly work? The up-close-and-personal fights are conducted in instances where you run into battle alongside loads of pirate chums. So you'll board a boat and be involved in a brawl with your chums alongside, or you'll attack or defend a fort, each time relying on both your cutlass-skills and pistol skills to down the enemy. It's a little crude and uses standard push-button-and-wait combat mechanics, but it's pretty satisfying to down an enemy captain.
The bit of PoTBS that I haven't really managed to get much of a handle on yet is the factional warfare, where ship to ship PvP and port-sieges allow factions to capture towns off each other. If I get some more time on the beta I might give this a closer look, since I suspect it's where the long game of PoTBS will lie.
The full game is due to set sail on January 22nd 2008.
EDIT: Alec also has his impressions over at Eurogamer.