If it's crap ... We'll tell you
I've been a fan of Beau since I first started listening to LEOG on a regular basis. I still am, even listening to the occasional Lounge Geeks podcasts he's on if the topic is something interesting. I mean, let's face it, Beau is really entertaining, and I can't show my appreciation for that properly.
I'm not a big fan on MMORPGs in general. The last one I played was RuneScape back when it was running on nothing but Java script and had graphics that looked like they came out of a N64 prototype. I was also turned off by them when they started doing subscription-based content in an effort to compete with World of Warcraft's business model. Then there's the Player-vs-Player part of most of those games, and to be frank, I don't like killing other players. I'm not a dick when I role play in these kind of games.
So when I learned that Beau was working on a Free-to-Play MMO as a writer--and then later on as a voice actor, I had to give that genre of gaming a second chance. And I have to say, I'm hooked again. Only this time, I don't think my social life will take that big of a hit.
The story of Pirate101 starts off simple enough. You are rescued from the brig of an evil Clockwork Armada by Beau... I mean Captain Boochbeard and his monkey first mate Mr. Gandry. To make sure they rescued the right person, they quiz you about your backstory, where you were raised (which determines your main skill bonus), and what the Clockwork Armada arrested you for (which determines your class type). Once rescued, you spring your first party member who was also arrested with you and begin your pirate adventure in the world.
Most likely, the player will follow the main story quest, as those quests are pretty much delivered to you one after the other in a huge chain. The only way you'll find side quests is by exploring every area of the world and finding a NPC who needs help.
But there comes a point in the Free-to-Play area where the main story quest comes to a halt and requires you to purchase the next part in one way or another. The game is still free to play, so this isn't false advertisement by any means. It's just an annoying part of the design in order to help pay everyone who worked on the game.
Thankfully, the developers KingsIsle offers two different option of payment for those that want to play more than just the initial area. Each one has their advantages and disadvantages depending on what path you take. The standard Subscription Membership gives you access to the entire main story quest from beginning to end, as well as all the areas that are related to those quests, but you don't get access to the Premium Item shop no matter which level of subscription you pick without buying the game currency known as Crowns. The other option is to buy Crowns and Pay As You Go. This is great if you don't want to deal with a monthly renewal charge to your bank account and if you don't binge-play the game often, but the price you pay to access new areas increases the closer you get to the end of the main quest.
As a MMO, it's actually designed to appeal to both younger players and older players who like casual game play. Yes, you can be a hardcore player by focusing on specific stats and grinding to specific levels and loot farming. But at the same time, you can ignore all that and just sign on for an hour, kill some Warf Rats for an hour, and then call it a day. Hell, I'm playing my main character by aesthetic by only equipping items I think looks nice despite the fact they don't help my stats! And I'm still kicking ass in the battles I'm getting myself in to at the various dungeons on Skull Island!!
Speaking of battling, the Combat System in this game is probably the strangest one I've seen. If you solo an encounter, it plays out like Final Fantasy Tactics. You are presented a grid with your team and your enemies. You move about the grid and attack based on range and types of attacks you have available to you based on levels, talents, and class. If another player joins your battle, more enemies show up and the difficulty amps up as a result of having another player in the same battle. And this can happen at any time you are in a public area where encounters are all over the place.
Once the battle ends, any loot that gets dropped is shared equally among the players that participated in the battle... including the ones that joined during the last turn and didn't do a thing but walked two spaces away from where they spawned into the battle. But, hey, at least you don't have to race after chests that spawn after the battle to insure you get the best stuff or the most gold. If someone beats you to a chest to open it, you get a message on your screen that says what that chest gave you.
What's great about this system is that they make it very easy to learn if you follow the main quest or do things that have tutorials associated with them. The game does a great job of walking you through a lot of the different areas from equipping new gear, learning new skills, and even how to equip a pet to your pirate after acquiring one. A variation of this system is also used when you log back into the game after more than 24 hours. When that happens, the characters in your party will remind you where you left off in the main quest! However, it isn't a perfect system. For example, I didn't know about the Shared Bank feature that allows you trade items between your main character and your second character until just before I started typing this review.
So where is Beau in all this? It's in the writing! The script is very engaging, and surprisingly very nerdy in humor. You have obvious jokes like the Star Wars reference when you first approach Skull Island. You even have the surprising ones like the way Lucky Jack Russel (no, seriously, that's his name) says "As you wish." Hell, one of my favorite puns in the game is a character named Marquis Mark, who gives you a quest to help him find his rotting bunches of bananas! The writing alone was the main reason why I kept seeking out side quests and why I was extremely disappointed when I discovered I needed to pay to continue the main story.
Now this review is only of the initial area available to play by just registering an account and downloading the initial client from the website. At this point, I've opted for the Pay-As-You-Go option to continue the story as I don't see myself binge-playing the game enough to warrant a subscription. (Though I'm pretty sure that may change depending on how close I get to the higher priced areas of the game.) And of what I've played, I've actually enjoyed.
Now if you'll excuse me, I've got a Witch Doctor to level up.
SPILL RATING: FULL PRICE*
* = Please keep in mind that this doesn't mean that you should buy the highest level subscription or enough in-game currency to pay your way through the main story. This means that you should play the game. I mean, you get a good chunk of it for free, so why not?