I have played (well, tried out, rather) Wizard101 before and expected Pirate101 to be more or less the same just in a pirate setting instead of the wizarding school. I was mostly right, it seems. The graphics reminded me a bit of Torchlight 2 – and of Wizard101, of course.
My first impression of the game was: “Awww, that’s cute!” It does give you the impression of being a game that’s primarily aimed at young gamers, though, especially with the security settings. You cannot create a character and give it any name you like. You get three parts and a wheel of choices for each part. My character’s name is “Practical Sonia W…something”. I forgot the last part. And that’s the bad thing about a naming system like that: I just chose anything because what I would have loved to create was a “Paeroka”, but that wasn’t possible. So there’s very little attachment to the name on my side. On the other hand, it also means that you won’t see any ridiculous or offensive names.
No free naming and the option to disallow chat are two things that I’ve seen in Pirate101 which probably only exist to make it a kid-friendly game. I’ve seen both in Wizard101 as well. When the chat option is active, you cannot chat and you cannot see anybody else chatting. You can use preset text like “Thanks”, etc. Others see a chat bubble that’s striked through next to your character’s name, so they know you can’t converse with them. As I’ve told bookahnerk, I could see myself play this game with a young sibling, my kid, etc. – if I had any. ;)
In general, I like the pirate setting. It’s definitely different from the usual fantasy stuff, but not that different in the end. You can only play as a human, but the game world has lots of races like froggies, foxes, and so on. So there’s definitely fantasy in there. The story was interesting enough, nothing too special or ground-breaking, but solid I’d say. At least, I did actually read what it’s all about. They mentioned “when you get your own ship” a few times. I haven’t gotten one yet, but I assume sooner or later, that would be the case. And the shop clearly shows items for your ship. Yes, it’s a free to play game with an item shop and the possibility to pay for a monthly sub. There are also weapons, etc. in the shop, but I’ve no idea if it’s “pay to win” or just “pay to avoid the item-grind”. What the shop website shows you is the there are regions/extra content you can unlock (a bit like they do it in Lord of the Rings Online, I guess, where you buy regions with their quests) or you can buy a membership starting at $9.95 a month. The good news is that after playing the game for the limited time that I have, I did not see one single advertisement for or nudging towards the shop. Yes, the shop icon is there and I did click on it to see what they have. But I did not notice any tooltip informing me of something like “this is restricted for free players, please subscribe or buy X unlock to use this”.
Speaking of the story, a nice little feature I saw was that after logging back into the game, I got a short recap of the quest chain’s story so far. That was neat. All in all, the tutorial (I assume it’s still part of the tutorial) has a nice flow. You’re told everything you need to know to get around in the game as it comes and you slowly get in touch with all the game’s features. I don’t like games that overwhelm you with information within the first few minutes on the game and that doesn’t happen here. On the other hand, it also doesn’t feel too slow. You’re playing the game, you’re advancing in your story and little by little, you get more information on how everything works.
The combat in the game is not your usual combat. You freeze in place and the camera moves until a game board appears with you and your companions on them as well as any other players and their companions who may walk into the combat area. Then you choose which field you move onto or, if you’re close enough, which foe to attack. The fighting scenes are animated, but you have no control over what happens. It makes it quite strategic. You also have a special ability (only one in the beginning, but it looks like there’ll be more when you level up higher) that you can use once during such a fight. Your companions also have special abilities and you can also tell them to use them once in a fight. Each fighting round, there’s a timer counting down. You need to decide for your moves while the timer counts down. If you haven’t done so in the end, the combat moves into the next round and you’re just not doing anything at all. That happened once when I got distracted and forgot that there’s a timer. The foes, however, still attack you in that round. ;)
You can level up your own character as well as your companions. You can decide for those special combat abilities as well as choose them for your companions (I think). And then you need to choose which of your companions is “first mate” which means that this companion is the one you see walking by your side through the game world. This companion will also be the one who fights by your side in every combat. Sometimes, you get more than one companion, though. I’ve only had two so far, so I don’t know how many you can have by your side. In my case, it was obviously a maximum of two. ;)
When you’ve lost hit points during a fight, you do not just regenerate health afterwards. There are flying red thingies (are they supposed to be fruit?) that you walk into and they regenerate a bit of your health. They’re around everywhere but they’re not so common that you can just mindlessly walk anywhere without a worry. And during a combat, you don’t regenerate health. But the fox companion has a heal that you can use once during a fight. That’s saved me before. ;)
The game’s refreshingly different, but a tad too kid-like for my taste. That is just my first impression, though, and a lot of things hint at the game being more complex. I’ve enjoyed my time in the game, but at the same time, I’m not too sad to move on. Maybe I’ll have a look at it again later on, maybe not. If I did, I probably wouldn’t bother with the membership fee and just play the game for free.
This was the third game for this project. The fourth is already installed and calling for me: Dark Age of Camelot! :)
Edit: Syp has written about Pirate101 as well now. Hop over there if you want to read about his experiences in the game.