An adventure set around helping Jack Sparrow retrieve the Black Pearl is just as perilous as it sounds. You wake up in the same jail as the rogue pirate. Together you take advantage of cannon fire assaulting the Caribbean town of your incarceration to escape and begin your exploits. Those include meeting Wil Turner, the voodoo priestess Tia Dalma and a new villain, Jolly Roger among others. Not to mention facing down the Imperial Navy, hungry crocodiles, rampaging zombies, pirate-eating giant plants and cut-throat card players.
There are no classes, servers or banks. This game isn't about inventory management, but is action-based about being a pirate. No tradeskills, either. The scourge of the High Seas don't craft, they take. The number of weapons available is small, but the skill ups for them are numerous. If you are looking for less strategy and more action in your pirate MMO, read on for a tour of the first few levels of the game.
Character customization, sea battles, voodoo magic and cameos galore, plus two videos after the jump.
Pirates Online web page, you download a small executable. Run that and you immediately get to create a character. While you are watching a short cinematic with Jack Sparrow and then customizing your avatar, the program starts running the additional files it needs in the background. Then the real adventure begins.
The game is free to download and free to play. About 1/3rd of the game content is available to players at no charge. There is also a level cap. After that, players will have to play a low monthly subscription fee to advance past that level cap and access the majority of the content.
Making a pirate
Character customization includes the intricacy we've come to expect from current MMO's. There are small details like chin size and eye brow angle that I generally think of as not important. Then there are some smart options like body shape. Your pirate can be fat and pear shaped if that's how you want to play it. Also, with the option to control eye angle, you can create a more Asian looking pirate, if you choose.
I also like how naming is handled. You can type in a name to see if it is approved. Or if you, like me, wouldn't know a name that fits the genre, you can choose from preselected choices. There is a long list of first names, then two columns of words to put together into a last name. Examples of what I was able to randomly generate include Nathaniel Cannonbottom, Dog Yellowtimbers and Sven Scurvyskull.
Avatars look caricatured, cartoony. This was intentional to keep minimun specs low. The game can run smoothly on built in graphics cards. Min specs I was quoted for the PC were P3 chip, 900mhz and 512 memory. It's also playable on the Mac
Taking your first steps...and stumbling into Jack Sparrow
Now you enter the game. A cinematic plays with Jack Sparrow recommending that you use the chaos of the pirate raid on the town to escape the jail you find yourselves. He also tells you to look him up if you ever make it to the local pub. With that, you are in control of your toon. Two things you'll notice immediately. There is an arrow at your feet that points you in the direction of your current direction. Also a shaft of light shines down on the physical location of your goal. Disney Online VP Mike Goslin explained that they wanted to avoid confusion by players over where to go and what to do next. Frustration leads to logging out and not coming back. In this case the light shines down on the door leading out of the prison.
Once outside, you are faced with incoming cannon fire that shakes the whole screen and the light shining down on the wooden shack across a rickety bridge. Running across and inside, you are greeted by a cutscene of a surly barkeep and his barmaid. They explain they have a chest that holds your things. This is actually the quest tutorial. All your UI elements are accessed through the chest icon in the lower right hand of your screen.
The writing and voice acting in the cutscenes are quite good. After a quick run through on how to check your quest log, the barkeep directs you down to the docks. The barmaid has a message she wants you to give Jack Sparrow the next time you see him. And with that, she smacks you so hard that you spin a 360 and black out. You come to outside the shack with the docks in view.
Down at boat, you introduced to it's captain, Bo Beck, who wants to sail you to Port Royale at Jack's request. He is itching to push off since Jolly Roger is right on his tail. But before you can go he wants you to practice with the cannon. Walking up to it and pressing the SHIFT key will change your point of view and control to the cannon. Aiming and firing on a derelict ship three times will end the test.
Bo Beck is ready to head off, but Jolly Roger's ship comes out of the green fog and overtakes your small ship. The skeleton pirate the Jolly Roger boards your ship in a new cutscene. One of the great things about the use of these cutscenes rather than prerendered movies is that your avatar is part of it. In this case, watching Bo Beck getting killed and Jolly Roger forcing you to walk the plank and swim for shore as a warning to Jack Sparrow.
Wil Turner, chat features and the combat tutorial
After a brief loading scene, you are dropped into Port Royal. When you arrive, you are now in an area with other players. If you chose to talk with your fellow gamers there are a few levels of chat. First, there are predefined phrases you can say picked from a menu. This is a level of protected chat that removes people from using offensive words. Then these is dictionary level chat and finally open chat that only broadcasts in earshot.
You can stand around and socialize or follow your trusty shaft of light to a warehouse where you get, you guessed it, another cutscene. Wil Turner wants to introduce you to the basics of combat.
Now, you may be thinking at this point: what's with all the cutscenes? Much like the Lord of the Rings Online, the PotCO developers realized that immersing you in the story and the world is one of the reasons that people play. Just like LotRO players are thrilled to meet Gandalf, Aragorn and Gollum, PotCO players get to meet the major players of the movie series. After you get through this tutorial part, the cutscenes are still in the game, but not every 2 minutes.
The combat tutorial is a simple and straight forward as everything is in this game. Draw your sword, target mob, then left click to swing. Double click with the right timing for two slashes. Doing this once levels you up. You are now granted more health, Voodoo (mana pool) and a skill point. You are shown how to invest skill points into additional combat abilities. In this case, you are directed to activate Sweep, your AE sword attack. This combat skill appears on your screen and is clickable. It does big damage, but is on a short cooldown.
Wil Turner directs you to visit Tia Dalma in the jungle for additional training, but when you get outside, you must first take down a zombie at the graveyard in front of you. When you do, you get a quest completion and loot window. Loot comes in the form of gold and items to sell to vendors.
Tia Dalma, Zombie loot and the secret desire of your heart
Another shaft of light directs you into the swamp where you meet the voodoo priestess. She explains the two enemies in the region are, of course, Jolly Roger, but also a corrupt Imperial Navy officer, Lord Beckett. Both must be stopped and helping Jack find the Black Pearl is the key to defeating both. She gives you a compass to help you find your way. The compass is supposed to point to your heart's desire which translates into an onscreen minimap that shows the direction of your current quest objective, nearby NPCs and exits. Tia promises to teach you dark magic later in the game.
Elizabeth Swan, the Black Pearl and Quest NPCs
Now you must kill a few Navy guards in front of the governors place to find the release orders for the Black Pearl. On your way to do that, you will begin to encounter quest NPCs. You'll know them by the glowing map over their heads. They grant optional quests that will grant you gold and equipment upgrades. Many also sell supplies like various elixirs to restore health and cure disease. Also voodoo items like cloth dolls and skull sticks that allow you to curse your enemies and heal your allies.
Dispatching an Imperial guard in front of the Governor's Mansion is tougher than your other fights so far. But using the new Sweep skill will help you defeat him. Take the orders you've found into the Mansion where you'll meet Elizabeth Swan. She uses her father's seal to authorize the release of the Black Pearl and tells you to head down to the docks where she has arranged for a boat for you to sail for Tortuga.
The dockmaster allows you to name your ship in the same way you names your avatar, select from two columns of preselected words. I set sail on the Cutthroat Dragon. Sailing is very uncomplicated, not the level of complexity of Pirates of the Burning Sea, thank the gods. Your destination, Devil's Rock is lit ahead by a shaft of light. Sailing in that direction you pass other players and NPC Navy ships of various size. If you've made friends in game and have grouped, you can steer while the others man the cannons. Don't worry, the ships captain gets to fire the cannons below deck.
As you gain gold and notoriety, you can buy bigger ships with more armor, firepower and carry more plunder from defeated opponents. The largest can support 12 players. The captain can learn ship buffs like Full Sail. Eleven skills in 8 categories with 4 levels of advancement allow ship to ship combat to be its own game. Play it well enough and you may be known as the most Notorious pirate in the game.
Some trading ship targets are so big, you will need multiple players manning multiple boats to take them down. Essentially, it's a raid on the water. If you are looking for a more personal approach, you can grapple the ship and board it for hand-to-hand combat and a chance at better loot.
Gun play, PvP and the secrets of Voice Acting
Once at Devil's Rock, you drop anchor and head into a cave to meet Barbossa. He shows you how to handle gun combat. He also explains PvP, one of the few places the gun can be used. By flagging yourself PvP, you temporarily turn yourself into a cursed pirate, your appearance transforming into that of the undead, so other players know you are ready to engage in Player vs Player mayhem. Barbossa also directs you continue to Tortuga to find Jack for the final part of tutorial, combat on the High Seas.
In Tortuga, you meet Jack in a bar. He directs you to talk to Joshamee Gibbs to get back the Black Pearl. Here you'll find a mini-game within the game: Texas Hold 'em Poker. You play for gold against other players as well as the computer. Here's the interesting part. In your adventures you may come across playing cards as loot. You keep them up your sleeve and when you get a hand you don't like, you can exchange a card in your hand with the one in your sleeve. Just pray you that same card doesn't show up in someone else's hand or else they'll catch you at cheating and get thrown in jail.
The death penalty and the future of the game.
Ah, jail. You know it well. You started out in it and you'll end up there every time you are defeated. You can walk out and continue your adventures, but your maximum Health and Voodoo power pool will be diminished for a short while. Nothing severe compared to other games.
Whether you enjoy questing, high seas combat, PvP, mini-games or just living in Jack Sparrow's world, this game offers a little bit of everything for the casual online gamer with a very easy learning curve and lots of free content. They also make it easy to hook up with your friends. You can teleport to them at any time, for example. Also, PvP and Poker play will take you directly to your opponents. The design team was very conscious about making the game accessible and immersive. And they have lots of new content on the way.
If your tastes run to crafting, player-run economies and historical accuracy, you may want to look into Pirates of the Burning Seas. But if fast and fun action in the world of Jack Sparrow appeal to you, PotCO may be the MMO you've been waiting for.