Pirates has increased the level of complexity involved in combat, but the game is hardly as detailed as even Sea Dogs. Sails have only two settings - full and reefed - and while cannon have a choice of three ammunition types, they don't come in various sizes like 12lb, 24lb and so on. In order to give some character to ships, they get "upgraded" at various shipyards with special equipment, like copper-plated bottoms, cotton sails, bronze cannon, fine grain powder, chain shot and grape shot. You can even see what the enemy ship has by looking at his status bar. Your ship can also add special crewmembers to its list, like a sailmaker (repairs sails), carpenter (repairs hull), navigator, gunner and so on. Should you discover the evil Montalban's lair and defeat him, not only will you walk away filthy rich, but he'll give you every specialist crewer it's possible to have.
Your Pirate gets his goodies too, usually in two tiers. For example, you can get a leather vest for protection in fighting, and later upgrade to a metal breastplate. Similarly, your swords, fighting shirt, weather glass and spy glass can be replaced with superior hardware. All these have beneficial effects that become increasingly necessary as your pirate gets older and the world becomes tougher, and especially when the game is more difficult.
There are more kinds of ships than in the original Pirates, and they're also better modeled. Galleon-class ships are no longer abnormally fast even with the wind at their backs, as was true in earlier games. As always, the wind will be coming from the East and headed to the West, though at times it will veer a few degrees North or South, depending on the season.
That's really all there is to Sid Meier's Pirates - sail along, take enemy ships (sinking or capturing, depending on whether or not you want the extra cargo room), attack the occasional enemy town if you're strong enough, while sailing around looking for pirate treasure landmarks and the evil Baron and Marquis. The world feels quite fleshed out, thanks to AI ships and their schedules, the missions to find lost family members and treasure, and your goals of nailing a "beautiful", rather than merely attractive or plain governor's daughter.
You gain rank in various nations depending on the services you provide. Capturing enemy towns is huge, but improving your own by escorting troops or immigrants, or by defeating enemy invasion fleets (including indian war canoes) is also good for some serious brownie points. Your wife/fiancee/love, like the serving wench at the tavern, can give you hints about where notable enemy ships are going and even give the exact spot on the map about where they are.
As a smart pirate, you'll soon learn strategies, like that enemy smugglers are always rich and easy - if fast - targets, and that as tempting as a Dutch frigate with a military payroll onboard is, it's probably best not to tangle with it at Rogue difficulty with only 40 pirates and 8 guns aboard your pitiful sloop. The named AI pirates will even go after you if you're in their area, if you've dug up their treasure!
Not all is perfect with Pirates - there are a few bugs (like freezing the mouse cursor), and even as a fun, "light" game, it could stand to be a bit deeper. And yet, there's no denying that it's one of the most entertaining titles of the year, good for a 30-minute session or an 8-hour marathon.