Free to play MMOs just don't get the respect they deserve. The problem is that that the entire submarket is painted by the same brush. Yes, there are many examples of not-so-great Asian MMOs poorly translated and dumped on the US market as free-to-play titles. Despite that, not only are some imports well done but home-grown free games are increasingly high quality. Three Rings has been making high quality free games for years, and Puzzle Pirates is their flagship title.
You probably already know the outline of the gameplay just from the name; it's an MMO where everyone does pirate-y things via puzzles. Everything is a puzzle in the game, from sailing and bilging to drinking contests. One of the most popular games in Puzzle Pirates is the swordfighting contest, and rightly so. Truly massively multiplayer, based on the Puzzle Fighter 2 console game, swordfighting is craftily, beautifully fun. Read on below the cut for my thoughts on why this simple puzzling technique may be one of the most engaging combats you can enjoy in an MMO.
The basic premise of the swordfighting mini-game is simple. Pairs of colored blocks fall from above, and you can rotate them however you please. Like-colored solid blocks stack up, and form into larger shapes if set side by side on top of each other. Alongside the solid blocks, 'breakers' also fall. These sword-shaped pieces destroy like-colored blocks when they touch, as well as every other like-colored block touching the first. In this way enormous swaths of screen real-estate can be taken out by a single breaker, if the player sets things up properly.
The beautiful element of this game is that it is truly massively multiplayer. Many players can all participate in the same sword battle, as long as each side is evenly matched in numbers. The multiplayer aspect comes in similar to what you've probably seen in games like Doctor Mario; success on your screen means additional problems for the player you're targeting. While you can only fight a single player at a time, multiple players can 'gang up' on an individual. In this way a coordinated team can quickly move through the ranks of the opposing swordfighters.
Ingeniously, the flow of combat actually feels like swordfighting. Working through simple pieces of the puzzle has the feel of feinting and sword-clashing, while bigger breakers feel like deft cuts beneath the opponent's guard. What type of weapon you're wielding actually aids you depending on what kind of strategy you should best employ. Larger swords (like hatchets) make your large block breakers more potent, while shorter blades (like daggers) make a small-block strategy stronger. You can thus chose weapons and strategies together to offer a distinct technique to your opponents.
In a genre where most combat is as cookie cutter as can be, the deliberate and intelligent footwork required to get the most out of Puzzle Pirates' swordplay is a welcome change. And unlike traditional MMO PvP, this combat is actually fun to level against friends. It's harder to have hard feelings when a loss wasn't dictated by slow twitch skills, and your only real opponent are colored falling blocks.
Puzzle Pirates swordfighing is a free-to-play component of the game on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Go get your puzzley combat on tonight!