Except for your very first game session, every game requires you to select
various options before you begin. Specifically, you must choose a name, a
difficulty level, a special skill, an era and a starting nationality. The last
two also determine your starting ship.
This is purely cosmetic, so pick whatever has your fancy. My only advice here
is to remember that if you name yourself Jack Sparrow, you are not the first
player to do so. You might also want to steer clear from naming yourself
Blackbeard, as there already *is* a Blackbeard among the other pirates in the
game. Otherwise, your name (obviously) has no effect on gameplay, so if you
want to go into history as Duke Bob the privateer, nobody's stopping you.
There are five difficulty levels in Sid Meier's Pirates, and they affect many
different factors. As such, the difference between the levels is quite
significant, to the point where the first one is very easy (at least once you
get used to the game), and the highest is almost sadistic. I strongly
recommend starting low (especially if this is your first Pirates game) and
going up once you grow more confident. The following aspects of the game are
affected by the difficulty level chosen:
- Apprentice level has a lot of tutorial messages and visual hints during
minigames that you don't get on any other levels;
- Enemies, on the whole, strike more quickly in sword fights on higher levels.
It varies per enemy and depends on the advantage bar as well, but in general
you can expect harder fights on higher levels;
- Enemy AI in naval battles improves on higher levels, and the enemy is capable
of quicker turns and sailing. You'll find enemies circle or escape you much
more easily on higher levels. In addition, enemies appear to cheat a bit with
their top speeds on the highest levels, sailing faster than their ships should
be able to;
- The damage dealt by your cannons and those of the enemy is dependent on
level. On lower levels, you'll do a lot of damage while enemy cannons barely
faze you. On higher levels, it will be the other way around;
- Your crew will remain happy for longer on lower levels;
- You require less map pieces for the various map quests on lower levels;
- On higher levels, dance sequences contain more complex move combinations and
there are also more different music styles (including quicker and trickier
- You tend to lose more crew in naval and land battles on higher levels,
making it harder to keep your crew at a decent size;
- Guards are more numerous during sneaking sequences on higher levels, making
it harder to remain unseen;
- Nations are much more forgiving to pirates on lower levels. The higher the
level, the more likely you are to get a reward on your head and pirate hunters
after you if you attack a nation's shipping or towns;
- The wind is less predictable on higher levels, and harder to sail against.
On Apprentice, the wind is *always* straight west. On higher levels, it changes
much more, though it will still tend toward west.
There are also two advantages to selecting a higher level (apart from making
the game more exciting):
- Your share in the loot when you divide up the plunder is directly based on
the difficulty level, allowing you to get much richer if you're successful on
higher levels. Share is as follows:
- If you play on Apprentice, you are not allowed to select a different era than
1660 (which is, incidentally, the easiest one).
Be aware of a jump in difficulty level from the fourth to the last. Difficulty
goes up gradually until Rogue level, but the difference between Rogue and
Swashbuckler is greater than usual.
You can choose one of five special skills when you start the game. Each offers
an advantage in a specific area. You can use this to tone down the difficulty
somewhat in an area you have trouble with; for instance, if you like the
Adventurer difficulty level but find that swordfighting becomes too hard for
your taste there, you can compensate that by picking the Fencing skill. Which
skill is the best to pick depends on your playing style; they're fairly well
balanced. Your options are:
Makes your character quicker in sword fights, both on the attack and the
defense. All moves can be pulled off quicker. This skill also appears to
improve the chance that dodging at just the right moment makes your character
counterattack automatically. This is a solid choice because you will probably
do more swordfighting than anything else. Especially on the higher levels this
might be your best bet, especially once your character's swordplay slows down
because of old age.
Makes your ships move quicker both on the world map and in battle, which is
especially useful when sailing against the wind. You'll find this a good
choice if you get annoyed by the long time it takes to sail from west to east,
or if you get outmaneuvered during battle a lot. Navigation skill basically
makes the game more forgiving in these areas, allowing you to focus on the
action. It is my personal favorite.
Lets your crew load their guns more quickly and makes the game more forgiving
in terms of accuracy. Since hitting enemies on higher levels can be tricky,
Gunnery skill can make the difference there. This one's not particularly
popular since many people prefer not to fire on enemies too much to keep their
ships intact. But don't discard it too quickly; it also makes the difference
when using different types of ammo that don't harm ships so much, and having
the ability to get off good Grape Shots can be very important on higher levels.
WIT AND CHARM
This skill makes the dancing minigame a lot more forgiving, and since most
players consider that the hardest part of the game, that is a very important
consideration. Like the dancing items, this skill gives you a set percentage
to avoid stumbling when you input an incorrect move. It does not appear to
protect you if you fail to input a move at all (which the dancing items do).
While the scope of this skill is limited, dancing *is* considered one of the
hardest minigames by most players, yet it is a primary source of items and
information. As such, you may find Wit and Charm every bit as useful as the
more direct special skills.
If you feel you don't really need any of the skills above, Medicine will prove
useful. It basically extends the health of your pirate, allowing you longer
careers before your health gets in the way of your ability to fight properly.
You'll be able to stay at sea for longer, and hold off the ill effects of age
for longer as well. The difference is significant but not earth shattering;
expect to get a couple of years more out of your pirate but less than a decade.
Except on the Apprentice level, you can pick five different eras to start
your career in. The era you choose affects the balance of power between the
nations and the relative wealth of each. Generally speaking, the effect is
- In earlier eras, Spain is much more powerful and the other nations only have
a few small colonies. In later eras, the other nations become more powerful at
the expense of Spain. In 1660, all nations have a few viable ports, and in
1680 Spain is only a little more powerful than the rest.
- The overall wealth of all ports increases in later eras. In 1680, all nations
(not just Spain) have a lot of wealthy ports and ships full of gold sailing
around. On the other hand, Spain is richer in the earlier eras; you can
definitely become a very rich man in the 1600s, but you won't have nearly as
many ports to run off to for repairs (and you likely won't have any good places
to sell off goods).
- In earlier eras, nations have less resources at their disposal to ward off
piracy. There's less to be plundered, but it's also not as well protected. As
time goes by, piracy is taken more seriously and nations work harder to
prevent it. In 1680, pirate hunters are as common as pirates and any attempt
to make off with the great wealth of just about any nation will result in harsh
For the most part, 1660 is the most balanced and easiest era. It's the default
era for a reason, and if you play on Apprentice you can't even choose a
different one. Picking different eras makes for a slightly different and more
challenging experience. 1680 is of special interest to players who'd like to
work *for* Spain instead of against it for a change; it's the only era in
which the other nations have almost as much to plunder. Just be aware that
you'll face a lot more resistance than usual.
What nation you work for and who you pick as your enemies can affect your game
quite a bit. However, your starting nationality has very little impact on this.
You don't have to keep working for whoever you start out with; you don't even
have to work for them at all. You can betray them right away if you so choose,
regain their trust a year later and then betray them again. In that sense, what
nationality you pick to start with is mostly a cosmetic choice. It affects the
- You always start out near a port of some significance belonging to the nation
you signed up with;
- You get a ship based on the nationality and era you chose. In 1660, this is
always a Sloop, but in the other eras your starting ship changes depending on
the nation you choose. Check just below in the 'starting ship' subsection for
the whole list;
- The nation you start out with gives you a free Letter of Marque when you
visit a governor for the first time (though on Apprentice level, they all do
Regardless of which nation you start out with, the following is of note when
working for specific nations (assuming the 1660 era):
Ports of call aren't very widespread if you side with the Dutch. You've got
St. Martin and St. Eustatius next to each other in the east, and Curacao as a
lone haven (quite a wealthy one, even) on the Spanish Main. The English and
French don't have any ports near the Spanish Main, so Curacao is actually an
important advantage. If you decide to side with the Dutch, you might find it a
good idea to either stay friendly with the English or the French as well, or
capture some more home ports for when you're a long way from both
St. Eustatius and Curacao. Port Royale is a good place to have on your side,
one way or another.
The English have their ports spread out pretty well, so they're easy to work
for. The only place where you won't find any refuge is on the Spanish Main, so
if you do your plundering there, you may find it beneficial to keep the Dutch
on your good side so you can flee to Curacao when necessary. Or you could just
try to take over a few of those easier to capture ports like Rio de La Hacha
or Gibraltar. One disadvantage of the English is that Barbados, the best place
to sell goods for high prices, is somewhat remote. But Port Royale is nice and
central, there's a bunch of ports huddled together on the east side of the map
(perfect for recruiting) and a few desolate havens in the far north.
Like the English, they have a good presence in different parts of the
Caribbean. No less than four ports are available just off the east of Jamaica,
and south of the Dutch and English presence in the east you'll find three
French ports in a row. To the north, Florida Keys is nicely situated for raids
on Havana and further west. The Spanish Main itself, however, has no French
ports anywhere near it. Once again, you'll find it useful to either befriend
the Dutch and sail from Curacao, or capture a smaller port or two for your own
Working for the Spanish appears counterintuitive at first, because that means
the best targets are not available for you. However, there are advantages: all
those wealthy ports will buy the goods you steal from the other nations off you
for very high prices, and wherever you are sailing, there's almost always a
good sized Spanish port nearby to replenish your crew and get your ships
repaired. Just how viable working for the Spanish is depends on the era you
chose; in 1600, there's not much to attack that isn't Spanish, but in 1680
there is plenty for you to prey on, and you can easily afford to be hunted by
all other nations at the same time. The one thing you might want to refrain
from is to take over other nations' ports and give them to the Spanish, lest
you run yourself out of targets.
This is not something you get to choose directly. However, what ship you start
with is determined by the era and nationality you chose. In 1660, the default
era, you get a Sloop no matter who you sail for, but in the other eras there's
quite a different selection. This alone may be a reason for you to pick a
nationality that starts with a proper ship. For instance, if you decide to play
a 1600 game, you probably don't want to be Dutch, unless the idea of capturing
a proper ship with only a lousy Fluyt at your disposal sounds like a fun
challenge. I've included a 'suitability' column for a quick idea of which ships
are viable for piracy and which aren't.
Starting ships based on era and nationality are as follows:
Sloop of War
Sloop of War
very low (1)
very high (2)
1: there's something very sadistic about having to start with the single worst
ship in the game for piracy purposes. Capture something slightly better, but
easy to catch to start out with; a Merchantman, perhaps. Then use that to get
something even better. Trying to capture a Sloop or something with the Fluyt is
pointless unless you're playing on a low level; you'll never catch it.
2: this is pretty much the best starting ship in the game. Brigs are very
powerful and well balanced.
3: while the Fast Galleon is a combat ship, it's pretty slow, worth it only for
its high gun count and max crew. Neither of which you will have early in the
game, and its inability to catch smaller ships at high levels will likely
infuriate you. You'd need to capture a Merchantman or something to have a shot
at getting a Brig or a Sloop next.