"Last days of a sinking ship"1.0 starson by dedparrot
Pros: Good sailing mechanics; attractive background graphics; good music clips; solid auction market mechanics
Cons: Extreme PvP centrism;
unrealistic sailing COMBAT mechanics;
Developer treats PvE, econ, RP and others as 2nd-class players
Summary: Played off and on over life-span of game. Nice to sail around and engage in lower-level ship combat (even tho AI isn't too good). Nevertheless, the AI ship combat is far more realistic than the PvP.
PvP ship combat is highly dependent on player level "skills", that are same as magic spells, buffs, and debuffs in any fantasy game. Supposedly set during the early 18th Century (1700-1720), most of the ships, and ALL of the PvP ships are effectively early 19th Century designs.
"Ship modifications" allow players to rig their sailing ships to sail at 40+ knots, turn on a dime, and fire "extra damage", "extra accuracy", "extra reload speed" broadsides with no preparation.
"Ship crew" is an abstract number that can be reduced to zero by "crew damage" yet resurrected to 100% with just a few "skills(spells)".
The big attraction is for players who can figure out the PvP system and design a ship that will win in certain situations. They then get to spend hours wandering the seas looking for victims, and running from anyone with a ship build that might beat theirs.
The "strategic" map conquest portion of the game had an opportunity to direct various tactical sub-games (PvP, econ, political, etc) and allow players to blend strategies to keep the game fresh.
Unfortunately, the focus on PvP to the exclusion of all else means that the ability to place "red zones" (areas of unrestricted PvP) around ports where economy and quests (missions) take place.
Although most of the starting levels can be done in relative safety in "starter ports" that can't be contested, almost all the mid- to high-level missions take place in ports that either can be contested (and thus have red zones around them) or are in spots where the red zones from other ports will overlap them.
The comparison with EVE is unavoidable. And, like with EVE, there have been a variety of exploits in PotBS that have supplied certain players and guilds with millions of doubloons or other media of exchange, as well as free ships and equipment. Many of the exploiters were PvP enthusiasts, eager to avoid having to "grind" the regular game in order to buy ships and equipment.
This is important to note because, like EVE, when your ship is sunk/captured in PotBS, you lose it and your cargo, and the player capturing it gains it. This puts a premium on warships for PvP, and places anyone NOT a PvP player in the role of target. And, likely a target for someone who has a large amount of unearned resource to lose in an occasional misstep.
So, in order to play PotBS as a non-PvP player, you must enjoy sailing against the odds, spending your game time as a target, and being characterized as a "carebear" by not only the PvP players but, in effect, the developers as well.
The game had a great potential when it first came out to be a comprehensive strategic 18th Century MMORPG. The PvP would be tolerable, IFF econ and PvE players had equivalent (or ANY for that matter) ways to impact PvP players in the Nation vs Nation metagame. Alas, ALL of the developers time has been spent on trying to perfect PvP (and failing -- "ganking" is still the order of the day -- it would be tolerable if there were other modes of engaging in the metagame other than PvP ship combat).
According to the developers own statistics, 19 of 20 players who try the game leave without renewing their initial 30-day subs that come with the game purchase. The original 11 servers shrank to 5 after about 6 months, and are now (in Feb 2010) set to be reduced to 2 in order to "achieve adequate player density".
There's actually a "skirmish" mode available in the game such that players can challenge each other to ship combats without risk of losing their ship if they lose. However, the "real" PvP players almost universally disdain use of this mechanism, preferring to spend hours insulting others in area chat for not fighting them "1v1" (it is common for such a 1v1 to have friends jump in and ambush the naive person accepting a "challenge").
The excuse is that one cannot really learn to PvP without losing ships as punishment for bad decisions in combat. What one learns from being repeatedly one-shotted by experienced players is that they are far more interested in asserting some sort of "superiority" over the new player than gaining more players to sustain the game. And the developers seem to encourage this behavior.
The best outcome for this game would be for an experienced GAME developer to buy the property from the developers (Flying Lab Software) and rework the ship combat mechanics to better reflect reality rather than fantasy, add in strategic areas of politics and economics, and republish the game. Even with the changes, the sailing engine would attract a lot of the people who have left, a more realistic and balanced PvP mechanic would allow more players to enjoy this part of the game, and an enhanced metagame would provide for far more varied gameplay than exists now.