In development since 2002, Pirates of the Burning Sea is a massively multiplayer online experience set on the backdrop of the Caribbean circa 1720. Thanks to a partnership between Telstra and Flying Labs Software, you can now download and play Pirates of the Burning Sea free of cost for one week. We did exactly that - and within a short time found ourselves hooked on this surprise new entrant in the ever-expanding MMO world.

After the 5.2 GB download, the game installed smoothly and required virtually no updating. The initial creation of your character really isn't anything unique, you first need to align yourself with either the French, English or Spanish, or you can simply elect to be a Pirate. The three countries generally appear to look after each other for the most part, and allow you to choose a profession such as naval officer, privateer and freetrader, whereas the Pirates are stuck with "Piracy" as an occupation. It's not all bad however, as Pirates have the unique ability to capture other ships.

There's a fairly wide range of customisation permitted with your character. Although you start in a fairly basic area, you still have your own ship, and the introductory training missions will provide you with a new class of ammunition for your cannons. You also get to practise some of the more difficult combat scenarios, such as grappling your ship to an enemy ship and boarding.

Unfortunately here is where things break down a little - the combat can hardly be described as remarkable. You will need to be disciplined to avoid button mashing, and the skills are quite varied so there is a lot to take in. For example, you can train in "dirty fighting", which allows you to use psychological warfare to break down your enemy before you even take a swing at them. Knowing exactly the best move at the best time is something that will take a very long time to master. Also, the character animation and general on-board graphics isn't up to the level generated in other parts of the game.

After spending a short while in town clicking on a number of NPC's just to get an understanding of the game dynamics, the temptation to take to the sea is just too much. After electing to leave port, you're presented with a huge expanse of open sea intermittently peppered with islands, most of which have settlements.

What is of more interest however, are the dozens of other craft sailing around - from French warships to Pirate hunters, they all seem to sail with purpose. Unfortunately, if you're a newbie and manage to pick on a pair of level 12 English warships, you'll get a short taste of the combat mode, followed by a trip back to the nearest island to retrieve another ship. The second time you decide to pick on another vessel, you will have learned to pick on one your own size (one being the operative word here) and this is where the game really excels.

The battle scene is like an instance all of its own - there is a load screen before and after combat. When you arrive in the battle instance, you will see your own vessel, and that of the enemy lying a few miles away from you. At this point, it really becomes a bit like an America's Cup qualifier, in that both ships must manoeuvre for an advantage, taking into consideration the wind velocity and distance from each other.

Your cannons can only fire broadside, so a hit will require you to close the range, spin the ship on its heels and fire a volley towards your foe. You're given a running update on your potential accuracy before you fire, which appears to be largely based on the distance to your target.

You can also choose what sort of ammo you want, from large round shot to damage the armour of your enemy, to a type of box shot useful for shredding masts and taking out crew members, and some of your skills as a captain can dictate how quickly the cannons reload, and what sort of manoeuvrability your vessel has. It's a huge amount of fun, and you get a real sense of satisfaction when your final volley sinks the enemy, and you get to loot her for plunder.

Further down the track, the game is designed to showcase the impressive economy, and open up the world to a more dynamic player-vs-player (PvP) mode. Essentially, you can affect the status of a whole area by performing certain acts to destabilize the economy. You may choose to dump a huge amount of goods on the market for a low price, or just complete a number of quests in a certain area, either way you will be contributing to a scheme of unrest that will eventually create a PvP zone around a certain area.

At this point, players can elect to fight in huge battles - up to 48 ships - and try to turn the area back to their control, or leave it for the Pirates to plunder. Either way, control of an area is crucial to control the supply of various goods, so there's a real need to understand the economy if you want to progress to the level cap of 50.

When you've tired of pillaging and plundering, you can return to a dock and relax in a pub, or visit your factions trainer to spend the skill points you've acquired in your travels. The town environment is generally well done, with day/night effects (that strangely only appear to occur when you're docked) and intriguing NPC stories. The characters aren't voiced however, but the quality of writing makes up for it.

All in all, Pirates of the Burning Sea is a fantastic period MMO that will appeal to many different people, as long as you are prepared to put in the hours. It really doesn't appear to be overly newbie friendly at the early stages, but it is apparent that the rewards will be there if you put enough time aside. Hopefully it will continue to be updated with new content on a regular basis, because this is one MMO that shows some serious potential.

Give the free download a shot for a week here.