(I’m going to use Tobold and Potshot for cover as far as NDA breakage is concerned, just in case… they did it first!  And they write far better reviews, as well… check them out.)

I’ve been involved in the PotBS beta as well, though not as heavily as I feel I should have been.  It has been a frustrating title on a sheerly personal level so far: not bad, and a definite positive addition to the current roster, covering new ground… but not entirely what I had been hoping for, either.  Weeding out my own incorrect expectations and offering feedback on what the game is (as opposed to what I wanted it to be) is difficult for me (which is why I generally avoid doing reviews), but I’ll offer my first impressions to add to others… might be of value to someone, somewhere.

The Good

Ship battles are frankly exactly what I had hoped for.  I was a big fan of Age of Sail tactical wargames in my grognard days (Wooden Ships and Iron Men ftw), and PotBS captures the same feel marvelously.  Definite kudos to all involved.

The wind and sail mechanics in particular are straightforward and inspired.  Cannon control feels just the slightest bit “kludgy”, but considering the complexity being implemented, it’s possibly even more impressive from an interface design standpoint.  Assuming this is what they spent the first few years on… it definitely shows.  _Great_ job. 

I’ll buy and play this game for this part, all by itself.

The Less Good

All the land and port based play still needs work (and is getting it, I should add, it gets _markedly_ better with each patch).  This is where the game still feels like an indie release, which would of course be fine if it still _was_ an indie release.  (SOE just doesn’t qualify as “indie” any more, sadly.)

Towns have not yet gotten beyond the “abandoned movie set” feel… getting there, not there yet.  That should improve with higher player volume as well, of course.

Ship boarding and land combat suffer in comparison to the ship-based combat: it’s not that they are “bad”, it’s just that they compare poorly… the contrast can be jarring at times.

The Ugly

I don’t know if there’s anything that really fits into the “ugly” category, but the one thing that _I_ would personally put there, at present, is new player orientation.  Please tell me that is not what is going into the final release.  It’s just a placeholder, for beta testers, who expect to be abused and confused.  Right?  Please.  (Pretty please?)

How does Balance _really_ impact you in combat?  You can feel it out over multiple combats, yes… how about offering up a small clue ahead of time?  What’s the _real_ difference between combat styles?  What are all those different indicators in the ship combat HUD (and why is the Crew count in the center “hit point” position, as opposed to hull integrity?)  It all makes sense after a while… but why aren’t you explaining it, in detail, up front?

All of the above can be puzzled out over time, yes… but is that what your players want to be doing?  Is that what you want them doing?  Will you lose half of them in the tutorial because they feel confused, and haven’t bought into your game enough yet to work through that confusion?

It’s not that it’s _bad_.  It’s just… typical.  It could, and should, be so much better.  And maybe it will be.  (Yeah, I know, I’m on my soapbox again.  Ignore the above if you’re looking for a _real_ review.)

Conclusion

Short and sweet, I think this will be a solid new entry to the genre.  I’ll be doing the freetrader thing for quite some time, I imagine.  (And to all you pirates and privateers out there… um, be gentle?)

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