Such is life in Pirate101, a family-oriented MMO created by KingsIsle Entertainment and due to launch today. Placing you in the role of a young pirate at the beginning of his or her quest for glory, Pirate101 asks you to carve your own path, gather cunning crewmembers, and discover the hidden mysteries of The Spiral (a fantasy world the game shares with smash hit Wizard101).
I hopped in on the Pirate101 head-start over the weekend to get an idea of what this colorful MMO has to offer and to see whether its kid-friendly design hinders its ability to be fun for those of us jaded gamers who expect a little blood with our sword slashes. What I found was an accessible game with a clear slant toward younger players as well as a robust and fun MMO with plenty to offer grown-ups seeking to step away from the grim, dark worlds of more traditional fare.
My Pirate101 adventure began with an explosion and a jail cell. My character, the aforementioned Reckless Roslyn Ramsey, had apparently been captured and taken prisoner for what I can only assume had something to do with her being a pirate. Luckily, two adventurers had come to my rescue: the clumsy but affable Boochbeard and the French-accented monkey Mr. Gandry. The conversation between the three of us helped to quickly explain some of the core concepts of the game world, in addition to allowing me to customize my character's backstory (orphaned due to Sky Squid attack), criminal history (busted for smuggling), and skillset (raised on Skull Island, of course).
"I wasn't expecting something quite so intricate and engaging, but walking through the character creation process forced me to take a hard look at my preconceived notions of what exactly 'kid-friendly' means in a game."
Fights in Pirate101 are turn-based and occur on a grid. Each turn, you move your character and crewmembers around the grid, select abilities, and then watch each attack play out. If you've ever played Final Fantasy Tactics or Advance Wars, combat in Pirate101 should feel almost second nature. This first fight was fairly straightforward; all I had to do was knock out a few bad guys and move on with my day. Combat is simple on the surface, but I sensed a great deal of potential depth just waiting for a higher-level character with more crewmembers and a wider array of abilities. Once you add in a few group members, it's easy to see Pirate101 fights becoming exercises in pure strategy (assuming the foes scale accordingly).
Yes, you're reading that right: In Pirate 101, you'll break out of prison, fight enemies on the deck of a pirate ship, engage in a ship-to-ship assault, and build a colorful history for your character all before setting foot onto the game's first quest hub. The first 30 minutes of the game are a well-paced and exceptionally crafted tutorial designed to teach you about the world in which you've found yourself and give you a taste of the adventures ahead. It's stunning work that immediately engages you in the game's universe while simultaneously giving you the tools you'll need to move forward.
In order to get to Fin, I had to complete a number of smaller quests. These were your basic "go kill these guys, go find these things" MMO fare, but each was laid out in an organized fashion and wasn't overly time-consuming or difficult. In completing these quests, I discovered that combat in Pirate101 is group-friendly; if you see a player engaging a pack of enemies, all you have to do is run into the fray and you'll automatically be added to the fight. Once the grid pops up, you'll see the enemy, your characters, and the characters of other players as well.
That being said, Pirate101 combat is mostly a fun experience, with funny attack animations, varied foes, and myriad interesting grid layouts. Your character and crewmembers also learn new abilities as they grow in power, adding another layer of strategy to the fights in which you find yourself. I wasn't able to adventure too deeply into the game, but what I saw over the first story arc hinted at a vast sea of potential with plenty of room for customization and creative combat tactics.
Pirate101 is family-friendly; there's no doubt about that. But if you're willing to take off your "I'm too cool for kid's games" hat and give it a shot, you may find yourself having much more fun than you anticipated.
I certainly did.
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