Apologies if I seem to be spamming the forum with Naval Action posts. I get my teeth into something and run with it, read extra stuff, post often with questions and ideas, most of which has already been suggested a few months ago over at the NA forum... So without further ado, if interested, some further thoughts to get you up to speed.
Your purchase is a one-time purchase, you own the game, there will be no further subscription. There will be some pay-per-content, certain ships (like the yacht), cosmetics (perhaps a figurehead, or custom paint?), etc., but general opinion is that it will not include higher ships-of-the-line. Nobody wants everybody just drifting around in a 1st rate ship; there will be roles to play, and different ships are better at these jobs.
The game is really being made right now. AFAIK the devs are shaping it based on player feedback, adding things as suggested, tweaking damage and maneuvering etc., and not just paying lip service. That said, wrt some aspects of how the persistent world will be handled the devs are tight lipped, I suspect because they don't know either at this point. But different nations are represented, independent factions will be created, alliances made and broken, battles fought for territory and resources, etc. You can simply play a role within a larger nation, be a citizen-captain, take orders (from who I do not know), fight the enemy, hunt pirates, etc. As of right now, it appears there is room for small groups of players to be more independent and sail under their own flag, not necessarily pirates, but think merchant consortia like Hudson Bay Company, Dutch East India Company, all allied with a nation anyways. Slave trade will not be in the game apparently, but some have argued for NPC's to be doing it and allow players to hunt them. I say why not?All that said, as mentioned in OP, the current game is nothing more than 'arena' battles.
You wait to be placed in a matched team against bots or real players for about an hour. Stick together, try to isolate one or two ships from the enemy team, and concentrate fire. Try to get the 'weather gage' right away, which means work your way up-wind in order to have the maneuvering edge http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weather_gage
There are some gamey aspects currently. You have three 'repair kits' that you can choose to use to repair your hull or sails when damaged; wait not too long and your hull is miraculously healed! -- but so is that enemy that you just knocked down... Several people have posted dislike of this mechanic, but I've read that the physics engine will be updated soon to take into account shots hitting angled surfaces and bouncing off. Just this will hopefully reduce damage inflicted and negate the need for the repair kits, or bring it down to at least one.
Hit 'F' for auto-skipper right at the beginning of the battle. This will allow your sails to always be best facing to the wind. There is a manual control of sail management, but I haven't figured it out yet. When you watch experienced players using manual sails you understand why it is important in close-in combat.
Your crew also operates in different modes: sailing, gunnery, survival. This mimics tasking more men to certain jobs on the ship. Learn to jump between them as you need to in order to make that turn quicker, to reload faster, or to pump out water when it shows up in your compass rose in the bottom left corner. You can still fight and turn in survival mode, but it all happens slower.
I've asked whether the devs plan to release NA for private servers, and have no official response, though one volunteer moderator said no, but provided some really limp excuse. I followed up with a logical argument (as you know I do), and others supported my position, but he backed off and nothing further. Personally, I think NA will be relatively niche, not as much as WWI but the devs will not
want to water down the player presence by having multiple servers.
I know many of you have accounts over that NA forum and have picked up the game. Make Syndicate known as a rising presence in the community!