Pirate 101 is the most recent addition to the market of child-friendly games by KingsIsle, coming from the same world as Wizard 101 in the Spiral. The game adds a pirate motif to the MMORPG gameplay in this free-to-play game by giving five pirate-themed classes, the ability to sail a ship around the worlds, and a lot of interesting places to visit. There’s a lot to witness in this game and it’s got a fairly innovative battle system.
Looking at how the game is built, it’s obvious that KingsIsle has given up on the CCG system and replaced it with a sort of Battle Chess. It adds a different dimension to the game play—in addition to that, players get to fly airships through the cloudy sky and launch canisters of grapeshot at the Armada. Of course, every pirate game needs an enemy, and in the Spiral, that means a strange Victorian-esque fleet of British-wannabe villains who have too much drama.
As a game, KingsIsle has build a technically excellent game, but it falls to the same flaws as Wizard 101 with a restrictive freemium system and a poor-to-nonexistant highly censored chat system. As this game is also directed towards a younger audience, the game play, the story, and everything else is highly watered down and very Fisher Price—causing it to lack many of the qualities that modern MMOs excel at.
All that said, it has some interesting elements that might be worth perusing in other MMO properties, much like Wizard 101 managed, and we’ll take a look at those.
Graphics and Sound: Frogs, and sharks, and pirates – oh my!
First and foremost Pirate 101 is a game for a younger audience, as a result, you can expect the graphics and sound to reflect that. It also means that the graphics are a little bit more primitive than the usual fare. With all that in mind, it makes due extremely well, and once again I’ll be comparing it to Wizard 101—the game that P101 is a direct successor to.
Initial character customization is minimal, but the game works from an equipment-costumes-character model. There’s only one race to choose from (a human) and various skin types, hair styles, and eye color; but that’s about the extent of it. Of course, as the game progresses your outfit will change according to the gear you pick up and to an extent it will match your chosen class.
Truthfully one of the fun parts of this game is the outfits and the pirate regalia. As you get new year, your character will move through various stages of pirate costume. Even at the very beginning you’ll find more than just a feather in your cap, or a fold in your boots, a peacoat or a heavy captain’s jacket. Like most gear-up games, there’s a particular enthusiasm I found for getting the next interesting outfit piece.
Since this takes place in W101’s world, the Spiral, that means humanoid animals abound—cranes, dogs, horses, goats—as well as the usual human folk. Their animations are acceptable, but you’ll notice that their mouths don’t move when they speak (something that KingsIsle could have done as a detail, I think.)
Then there’s the animations and here the game goes and takes the cake. Mostly these will be seen during the combat phase of the game and there’s not too many of them (about 3 per attack type) but they can be quite amusing to watch. One of the characters is a Kung-fu goat who wields a gnarled bo-staff, he twirls and swings at opponents. Critical attacks have a flash behind them (almost like an anime) and this isn’t the only time you’ll see this.
Almost everything early game is voiced with full narration. I really like that fact, and its interesting seeing it in a game like this. From the get-go there’s instructions and quest text given by various NPCs, including the first two you meet—even your shipmates talk sometimes. I’m not sure how far the voicing goes into the game but it starts out strong.
Combat is the next place where sound pops up and there’s little skimping there. Magic makes the right noises and so do attacks. The critical hits from the Kung-fu goat includes a battlecries. Watching the battles resolve themselves can be pretty fun—even if it means watching the same animations all over again. There’s a lot to be said for the animations having quite a few to go through means that often it’s not too cumbersome (and given some of the enemies it’s quite amusing.)
What other game do you get to see humanoid great white sharks and frogs get pummeled down by goats and cranes.
Gameplay: Pirates play chess and fight on boats, they party all night and sleep all day
This game has several components. The first of which is the overland map along with NPCs for you to interact with and mobs to fight. Except that unlike a traditional MMORPG, fights work a lot like they do in Wizard 101 where the mobs to fight are visible on the map and trigger “combat zones.” In W101, this is a strategic card game—in Pirate 101 it’s almost like a game of battle chess, a field is set out between you and your crew, and you move across a field of squares to engage.
Parties are not required in P101, engaging in a battle means that you join into a game already in play. Players get to take at least one of their crew to bring with them (I tended to take the musketeer fox) and then it’s all above moving and then attacking. The game is both less strategic and less of a game about preparation than W101 with its CCG aspect had before. However, now it’s added a sort of miniatures battle.
There are five classes: Buccaneer, Musketeer, Privateer, Swashbuckler, and Witchdoctor. They run the normal gamut of MMORPG classes but there’s less necessity for a tank because there’s no agro mechanics and it works like a board game. Buccaneers wear heavy armor and wield heavy weapons; they get the special ability ‘blade storm’ which allows them extra attacks. Musketeers, of course, are ranged DPS with a gun, they can call in mortar strikes and lay down traps. Privateers act more as healers than anything else and act as support for their friends on the battlefield. Swashbucklers act more like rogues, moving silently and stealthily through the field, attacking by surprise. Finally, there’s the Witchdoctor who wield powerful hexes to weaken and strike down their foes.
Players gain their primary skill for attack, but also receive special critical cards during combat that they can work with. These skills gather as they gain levels, in the case of the Witchdoctor class they’re hoodoo spells—the normal attack with the staff is balls of lightning, but there’s also a skill that causes a massive ghost attack (at range.) Each class has specialized attacks as well as the standard.
Freemium: The ability to buy currency (Crowns) and a premium membership option
Just like Wizard 101, Pirate 101 enables players to buy into their system in two ways: via Crowns or by purchasing a premium membership. Buying Crowns can earn players the ability to buy their way into items in the virtual mall and purchase their way into further chapters of the game. With W101 there’s a lot of different ways to buy further into the game—all of which is restricted from normal users.
If Pirate 101 keeps up the same trend, then most free-to-play players will find themselves unable to continue to play the game after their finish the first or the second world. As a result, there will be a lot of incentive either to buy premium or get there via Crowns.
This sort of free-to-play freemium aspect could be seen to greatly curb the number of free-to-play players who stay with the game. However, the primarily audience for this KingsIsle product is parents willing to give their children a “safer” place to play in the MMORPG world. As a result, the usual audience of readers here will probably not fall into that category.
Conclusion: Pirates 101 is a kids game at heart and while it’s interesting it has massive flaws
Pirate 101 is fundamentally a kids game and its directed towards a young audience. Like W101 it has an innovative and interesting combat style, and an interesting world; but it’s not without massive flaws that retard gameplay and enjoyment. One in particular is designed to protect young children and that’s a bizarre white-list when chatting that restricts words such as “bottom.” As a result, the game can be nigh impossible to play even with friends and is a terrible space to actually get anything done.
The population are friendly enough and there’s a lot of people playing currently. The game just came out onto the commercial market and it’s a part of an already popular franchise.
The game feels mechanically sound, and in many ways its got a lot of fun behind it; but as a free-to-play game it has a lot of space to grow into. It works much better than most of the other kid friendly MMORPGs on the market (especially those by Disney), but the way that the chat is censored, and how it fails to actually address the problems the market proposes to have against younger audiences and for parents really doesn’t bode well for what’s out there.
I expect that some other outfit will come along and do what KingsIsle does better, hopefully without the poorly implemented chat censoring replaced by a family-functionality that writes safety into the underlying code and culture of the game.