Pirates of the Caribbean Online
Developer - Disney Online VR Studio
As painful as this may be, I should just come out and say it: the last time I played an MMORPG, Ultima Online was all the rage. Actually, Ultimate Online was the only rage, unless you count the dozen or so people who played 3DO's Meridian 59 or the handful of lonely Unix sysadmins who fought off trolls in text-based MUDs. If you didn't like being outnumbered by NPCs, though, UO was the place to be. At least, for some folks; that first MMORPG experience filled me disdain for the genre, and I left UO after a vicious Warrior, engaging in some unsanctioned PvP action, raided my shack and ganked all my loot. This scurrilous fellow hit me with some serious DD and left me with the impression that MMORPGs are just PK FFAs. Filled with disgust and overwhelmed with ridiculous acronyms, I've been AFK enjoying RL (and my dignity) ever since.
So when I was asked to take a look at the beta of Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean Online, I felt obligated to divulge my prejudice against the genre. Luckily, I believe in second chances, so I'm willing to give MMOGs another chance. After all, it's not Disney's fault that my UO character was robbed blind ten years ago. I can't say that this review will be free of all pre-conceived notions, but at least my cards are on the table (which is more than I can say for that devious Warrior). So can Pirates of the Caribbean Online convince this single-player stalwart that an MMORPG can be – gasp! - fun? What follows is a chronicle of the three days that I spent testing the waters in Disney's pirate-themed online adventure. Get out your eye patches and fit those peg-legs, because we're hitting the seas, Jack Sparrow-style.
Cast off for the high seas!
After downloading the client and signing on to PoTCO (another acronym!), I immediately realized that something was, well, different. The game itself was in small window on my desktop, with an ad banner sprawled across the top. I had a nasty flashback to an ad-supported game from WildTangent which installed near-permanant adware on my machine. Normally, a banner ad means an instant trip to "Add/Remove Programs", but I hit up Disney's PoTCO web site before doing anything irrational. There I discovered the game has two basic account types: a Free, ad-supported sign-on and a full-blown Unlimited subscription access option. For the first few hours, I played with the ad-supported version, which has some clear limitations.
First, due to the nature of displaying banner ads, the free client is windowed-mode only. Second, there are some content restrictions on the free account, including an inability to chat in a casual manner with other players. Dialog must be selected from a menu of predefined chat texts, such as common greetings, invites, acknowledgements. The free client had a maximum resolution of 1024x768, although this may change after the game's public go-live date (which has yet to be officially announced). After moving to an Unlimited account, I switched to full-screen mode without ads and never looked back. Even with the limitations, it's great that Disney is offering some level of 2199 play to gamers unwilling or unable to pony up the proposed monthly $10 fee. Both the free and Unlimited clients offer a number of graphics options, but only Unlimited access will get you high resolutions (both full-screen and windowed).
Pirates we be! Arrr!
The game opens with an in-game cutscene which has your character tossed in the brig, and none other than Jack Sparrow is there to bail you out. It's worth noting that the key voices in the game are done by the actual actors from the game's namesake film series. At this point, character creation begins. There are plenty of customization options, and I relived my Oblivion character-creation fascination by spending a full 30 minutes adjusting the nose width and eye spacing of my soon-to-be buccaneer. Your character can be outfitted with a wide array of hairstyles and clothing options, and there are some facial hair choices for male characters that even Blackbeard himself would be proud of.
Your first order of business is to walk around the small start island and talk to its sole inhabitants, some shopkeepers. Wasting no time though, the opening cutscenes set up the story and throw you immediately into action on a ship.
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