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Pirates Offers More Than Expected

Gamers can be forgiven if they don't have a lot of affection for the previous attempts to bring Disney's Pirates franchise into the video game space. Though the popularity of the movie franchise has helped those games succeed commercially, they've often failed to garner critical praise. That pattern looks like it's about to change based on our hands-on time with Armada of the Damned, an exciting new project being developed by Propaganda Games.

This new Pirates game is a prequel to the first trilogy of movies. Players adopt the role of Sterling, a pirate that came to the Caribbean for his own reasons but was forced to stay when he became cursed. Early on, players must choose whether Sterling will become a dreaded or legendary pirate. Legendary pirates are agile, roguish fighters who use their wits, tricks, and tools to get by, and their appearance tends to be brighter and more friendly (if a tad scoundrel-like). Dread pirates have a darker air, having been changed by the experience of giving in to the mystic traditions of the islands. They have access to magic-like powers, and their battle style tends to use heavier weapons and brutish combat moves.

While every player will be Sterling, there is enormous flexibility to shape the character's appearance and abilities after the game begins. A huge number of clothing options exist in the world, and most of them have designated buffs and bonuses, much like armor in a medieval fantasy game. In addition, players level up along two distinct progression trees. One is for sea-based ship abilities, and the other is for land based character action.



During the game, players pilot a ship called the Nemesis as its sails among the islands. There is a great deal of ship to ship combat, including the option to board other vessels and switch into melee combat. Whether during a ship boarding or on land, the combat feels fresh and fast, with some great animations that communicate a lot of the wit of the franchise. Battles have standard control options with a few fun tweaks that should be interesting to experiment with. Light and heavy attacks can be combined to craft combos, while other combos occur through well-timed button presses. Players also have a pistol button for a quick long range shot. In addition, there are the expected defend and dodge motions. Another great feature is the ability to pass on curses to your enemies. These debuffs can turn the tide of a fight, and help to lead to one of the gorgeous finishing moves that abound in the game.

Many players will note similarities to games like Fable in the land portion of the game. This apt comparison carries through to the ability to shape the world with the decisions you make. Whether you play as dreaded or legendary, you still have full access to decision-making trees, each of which can change your relationships with characters or places.

The speech system shares much in common with Mass Effect's lauded approach, where a flick of the left analog selects your dialogue option. Characters that you meet have a wealth of information to share for players who are interested in role-playing and learning more about the lore of the game. Alternately, most mission givers have straightforward options that move the action forward.

We didn't go into our meeting for Pirates with great expectations, but came out pleasantly amazed at the potential of the game. The action is already looking extremely solid, and there is great potential for an RPG set in this universe. Best of all, for as good as it looks, the game still has months to polish before release. Armada of the Damned will be out sometime in 2011 for PS3, 360, and PC.

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