Bounty Bay Online PC Preview - 12/09/2007

Bounty Bay is the European version of an Eastern MMORPG from Yusho and Snail Game, which aims to recreate life on the high seas as a sailor, pirate, trader or warrior, depending on whether you're a killing innocents sort of person or not.

It's another piratey game, and it seems like there's been a sudden resurgence in the subgenre of late, mainly because of the fantastic water effects that are possible, as was shown with Tortuga earlier in the year. The graphics in the version we've used for this preview (the open online beta, running now) aren't actually the stand out feature however, with the intricate and intelligent gameplay consistently impressing.

The premise of the game is one in which you own a boat, a basic ship at first, and can sail the high-seas of the globe, visiting cities along the way, and generally live out the life of a wealthy person adept at travelling. You really can be a trader, fisherman, pirate or warrior, unlike Oblivion for example, which claims it, but ultimately doesn't see it though.

The setting of Bounty Bay is, unusually for a MMOG, aiming to be historically accurate. You choose a nation and character at the start, and that decision affects your responsibility and allies and enemies when you begin the game. It all circulates around the sea of course, so Britain, Spain and France for example, are all main nations in Bounty Bay, whereas smaller counties without access to water at the time, or with a paltry coastal industry, won't feature.

When you begin, you're given a small vessel after completing a short tutorial exercise, in the Explorer class. There's also the war and merchant classes, which have different capabilities for armament, speed and firepower. You can upgrade your ship's class and attributes in the huge array of ports in the game, so you can really tailor your desired levels of pirateness.

The levelling system is equally interesting, as your characters attributes are increased as you walk around, sail or fight. Of course, if you defeat an enemy (or a roaming sea turtle, the only fodder readily available at the start of the game) you get experience points, but merely by sailing in open seas for a few minutes you can level up your seafaring abilities, without having to do the dungeon quests or most MMOs, where you would just fight hordes of sea turtles to level up. Or that's how it would be in Bounty Bay at least, Oblivion has those crabs of course…

The pirate stuff comes straight into the game at the start. You can be attacked by another player as soon as you leave a port, and make the transition into the 'high seas'. Other player vs. player options come in the form of guild vs. guild fights, to gain control over certain ports, as well as nation vs. nation, whereby Britain would declare war on France for example, and then all the French players would be at risk from British ships when they travel in the high seas. The ships can have a large number of attachments installed, transforming their purpose further to fish, fight or trade.

You have a fame attribute as you travel through the game world, which is increased by successful combat, against another nation for example in a war, or is decreased by getting killed by pirates at sea.

The guild system is by far the most interesting aspect of Bounty Bay however, with scores of guilds fighting for control of certain cities. They can besiege ports that other guilds control, or that are not yet taken by anyone, in which case the nation's navy defends it. You meet at a designated point and have first a sea battle, then a land based battle (many quests in the game require land based travel and fighting) to decide control of the city. When attacking on land, your guild has to run up a narrow staircase to a flag, which is always heavily guarded. When in control of a city a guild and its master manages imports, exports, defences and diplomacy – it's really in depth and represents a virtual first for MMOs.

Of course, you don't have to be an aggressive player. You can trade items gathered from around the globe, some of which will be worth far more on one side of the globe, therefore rewarding the treacherous pirate-infested travel on the high seas, or craft items from those resources. These can then be sold in the ports, where a player can set up a stall near the dock with their wares described in text and other players can come and buy products from you. There are also options to farm, collect resources on land, such as wood, and generally, you wouldn't even have to go to sea, the land based areas are so feature full – it really is quite remarkable.

You can also tame certain animals discovered in the gameworld and use them as pets, which is a pretty nice touch – they can aid you in attacking enemies, and so don't expect the majority of people to be walking around with French Poodles, more likely are feral animals with a taste for meat. The pets can level up, and have a wide range of attributes assigned to them.

Bounty Bay is looking like one of the most in depth and involving MMOs of the last few years. You can actually succeed in the game without killing, and that's a commendable feat which many other games strive for, but ultimately fail in accomplishing. The graphics at the moment don't look quite good enough to entice the mainstream audience into the game, but this was the Beta and clearly the game will be optimised for retail and so higher settings maybe available. It doesn't look bad however, but there's better alternatives in that department.

With enough polish to make the mission objectives and quests a bit clearer, which would no doubt be helped by an instruction manual, this could be a sleeper hit in the MMO community, and we emplore you to try out the Beta which is still running, or buy the game on release this Friday (14th). Otherwise, enter our competition and you could be a lucky winner of the game.

- Mike Hazleton



Yusho/Snail Games