"Morrowind with an eye patch? Not quite, but close"
Morrowind has the reputation of one of the greatest RPG games on the Xbox thus far. That could stem from the fact it is one of the only RPGs, however Bethesda have returned and after being renamed from Sea Dogs 2, Pirates of the Carribean could yet again fill the void, but it has a few flaws to keep it from "must buy" status.
Pirates of the Carribean surprisingly has little to do with the film of the same name. The movie references do not become apparent in the main quest until right near the end with Black Pearl. However doing this has left the developers with a great deal of freedom and whilst some of the tasks can become repetitive and frustrating, for the most part RPG fans will be happy to complete the main quest. POTC is set in a turbulent time where pirates roamed the Sea and the French and British didn't get along. After a short prologue/tutorial where you are taught how to buy things, hire crew and repair your ship the main quest begins. The French invade local colonies and it is up to you, Nathaniel Hawk, to stop this treachery and return peace to the people.
As you have probably guessed the main quest follows Nathaniel's travels around the Carribean trying to gather information about the invasion and also about the French troops and commanders who reside in the towns. The sub quests which make up the main quest are varied but at times can seem monotonous. One such quest asks you to escort a ship to Oxbay, meet up with a man who will then tell you where to hide the troops for a British counter-attack. It left me asking myself why couldn't the governor tell me that in the first place. Other quests include destroying a French ship and acting as a spy in a French colony. As well as this, other sub-quests such as trading goods between colonies exist to extend the longevity of the game.
POTC is played in three distinct environments. On land, out at sea, and in sea battles or a storm. On land the danger comes from roaming pirates in the outskirts of town. Traveling at night (the game features a day/night cycle) is a lot more dangerous then during the day and because of this it is best to stick to the towns during the first few hours of play. However when fisticuffs ensue, the sword fighting is quite impressive. Nathaniel features numerous moves and can block enemy attacks. For those who don't mind using sly tactics, occasionally his secondary pistol can be used. Of course getting swordplay experience builds up your level as in most RPGs so looking for fights can sometimes be advantageous.
During the sea sequences, the game displays an overview map showing all ships which are in the vicinity of yours as well as storms and other islands. Traveling between islands is a simple matter of steering your ship but French ships and storms can cause havoc with your boat. During a sea battle, the game cuts to a 3D view of both the enemy ship and the one you are controlling. From then its a simple task of shooting each other until one sinks, however get close enough and some real fun can be had.
Boarding another ship is much more difficult then sinking one but vastly more rewarding. Should you win the battle, not only can you take command of that boat (if you have enough crew it can join your fleet) but all the goods on board become yours. Sea combat may sound fun, and after a while it can be but a first its extremely frustrating.
The controls aren't very intuitive, and unfortunately unlike the land tasks a tutorial has not been included. Storms are another problem you will come up against early in the main quest. When in the eye of a storm a player must protect their ship as best possible for a period of time. Again no tutorial is included and again it can be very frustrating. Many times during my first venture out onto sea a storm or French ship destroyed my boat and if you don't have any patience this is almost enough to keep you away from this title. Controls on land are a different story, and it is easy enough to buy and sell products to gain money for the main quest.
Visually POTC is actually one of the better looking games on the Xbox. Reflective water surfaces, heavily detailed (and gigantic) townships and individual NPCs most of the time. The boats look great as do the effects of cannon fire. The storm sequence is especially nice with huge waves, torrential rain and a fierce thunder storm, it is just a shame that there is no variety to this effect.
The voice acting is most definitely one of the strong points of this title. Whilst there is some repetition with the NPC characters (you can talk to anyone walking around to get help), it still stands out as superb. The individual characters such as Nathaniel and the Governor sound even better. On the music side of things, it really is what was expected; a cinematic soundtrack with an underlying theme of pirate music.
POTC, like Morrowind should keep RPG gamers happy on the Xbox. The main quest features some tough challenges and an interesting storyline and even just exploring the Carribean islands can be fun. If you like RPG games and are sick of Morrowind, then POTC just may be the next game you should buy. One thing is for sure, POTC is definitely not going to be "walking the plank" as a poor game.