Whenever I think of pirates, I think about swashbuckling adventures across the seas in search of treasure, blasting the hulls of my enemies to bits as I watch them sink to the bottom of the deep blue. Sounds like an exciting life to lead as a pirate and yes there are some of the aforementioned present in Sea of Thieves. Well, the searching and ship blasting bit being the more frequent of occurrences. It feels though as if the game promised high levels of interaction, adventure and endless fun, but we’re left with a ship stuck in shallow water with other pirates punching holes through your galleon in order to get your booty, and that’s all she wrote.
What shall we do with a drunken sailor?
Unless you’re an avid sailor with knowledge of how to go about pirating, Sea of Thieves gives you very little direction on what you should be doing, apart from some brief tutorial pop-ups. You’ll basically spend the first few hours figuring out how to sail, how to do quests, and how to catch chickens in cages and sell them for a tidy profit. Figuring out how to do this and managing the rest of your crew during this time can be some of the most exciting if not daunting tasks before you eventually set off to hunt for treasure. One person’s on sails, one person’s steering, one person’s giving directions and another is acting as a lookout. When everyone’s doing their job, it’s a well-orchestrated symphony of sea lovers sailing the seas.
You’ll start on an outpost island where you can pick up voyages from one of the game’s three trading companies: the Gold Hoarders, the Order of Souls, and the Merchant Alliance. While each of these trading companies will offer you superficially different types of quests, the Gold Hoarders want buried treasure, the Order of Souls wants the skulls of dead pirate captains, and the Merchant Alliance wants supplies like chickens and gunpowder, they all amount to simple randomly-generated fetch quests. Go out, get this thing, and bring it back without letting other players steal said thing.
Sea of Thieves offers a visual spectacle of near perfect sailing conditions. The first storm you sail through is a sky dark as night periodically lit up with bursts of lightning accompanied by towering waves awash on your deck, bursting holes into your hull and filling your hold with water. You’ll see yourself steering through rocky terrains as every crew member goes below deck to fix the wreckage caused by the sheer impact of the storm. A sigh of relief can be heard all around as the sky clears, the sea calms and picturesque sunset peeps through the clouds int he distance. As you bail buckets of water overboard you then have the opportunity to set a course for your and your crews’ adventure over that glistening cascade of blue.
What they don’t tell you about though is what happens after and in-between all the thrills and spoils of the hunt. That’s called the doldrums, which can turn into hours of nothing but waiting it out till you can drop anchor and raid an island. Unless Rare updates the game and adds more meat to it, this will be your foreseeable future in Sea of Thieves for a long time to come, unless that is your kind of thing of course.
Sea of Thieves offers a visual spectacle of near perfect sailing conditions. The first storm you sail through is a sky dark as night.
Drink up me ‘earties, Yo Ho! (you’re gonna need it)
The first time you do a mission it’s just as thrilling as that storm you survived and that’s just what you’ll get from here on in. You’ll notice that each adventure is basically a randomly generated copy of the other mission. Set sail for point A to point B, dig here instead of there catch a white chicken or two or a pig and return to the outpost to claim your rewards. This is a grind fest for coin, just on water. Think of some open world games like Fallout that have objectives made up of random, dreary missions and slap an eye patch, hook or a peg leg on it, and you have Sea of Thieves. Repetition, repetition, repetition. No mission will outweigh the other unless the reward is worth it all, but you’ll be spending more time messing around with your crew mates getting drunk on rum and trying not to fall overboard.
Typically in a roleplaying game you’d be able to increase, expand and bolster your arsenal to a point where anyone that crosses your way would wish that they had never done so. The ability to upgrade your ship’s defences would have been neat, even increase its speed, but this is not the case for Sea of Thieves. You can buy some swanky pirate swag and gear though with a minute bump in its usability and they come at a hefty coin. But mostly, it’s cosmetic upgrades. This concept seems to work fine here though, with everyone being on an even playing field and you won’t be left adrift by your friends who may have hundreds of hours under the belt and you wouldn’t want to be blown out of the water by a well-equipped vessel. Sea of Thieves has nothing else to keep you engaged in the game though. It’s reliant on you accompanied by a crew to take on the next task. There’s no good outcome when you decide to take on a galleon in a solo run. You will be dispatched to Davy Jones’ locker and perhaps even taken out over and over if the enemy is just that much of a butthead to spawn kill you on your own ship.
The occasional run-in with a Kraken and skeleton forts may keep you entertained for a while when you’re not in the mood for a treasure hunt or fending off other pirates, but it’s not enough to keep the wind in your sails. Skeleton forts have you teaming up with other pirates to vanquish the hordes of the undead to eventually unlock treasure. This means that you can now decide to share the loot with other players, or overpower them and run off with as much as you can carry. So, like what you’d do in the rest of the game, but you all converge in one place to do so.
Polly wants a better combat system
The player-versus-player combat is limited in a sense that I’ve been fortunate to have a crew that could elicit some well thought through tactical strategies to broadside ships, board them and pillage. Since everyone is equipped with the same tools there’s only so many ways that ship-to-ship combat can play out. You can attack them as they are docked and off on a hunt, take them head-on on the open waters and hope you land all your shots and proceed to scavenge the wreckage.
Movement can at times be a bit sluggish and skittish even while stone cold sober, with your character teleporting here and there making it hard to pinpoint where you were, especially seeing as you have nothing but a paper map to navigate and no way of accurately telling where you are. What makes it harder is the fact that your crew members have to stand right in your field of view for you to know where they are. You can’t see them on the other side of a rock or whether they are down below deck or up in the crows nest. Something as simple as just a name tag or coloured dot would suffice to be able to locate your crew members. I guess it’s to create authenticity in a way that as a pirate, you had no way of telling where your crew member or your ship is docked, but this adds to the confusion in amongst the clunky control scheme.
Don’t expect a Sunday cruise on a beautiful day out with your crew peacefully completing missions. This is a fallacy. There are other crews out there with one thing in mind: bust open your hull and take all your booty. The Division’s Dark Zone comes to mind except in Sea of Thieves there is nowhere you can deem safe from other player’s destruction of your ship and crew. It’s all about luck. This can get really frustrating when going solo and others are just out there to destroy you.
Don’t expect a Sunday cruise on a beautiful day out with your crew peacefully completing missions. This is a fallacy.
Dedication to this PvP marauding tactic doesn’t yield greater rewards either as there’s no faction that rewards you for it and getting high-end loot from another player’s ship is pretty rare. Most of the time you’d only uncover resources instead of loot from other players and you’re left wondering “why did I go through all that trouble?” It’s easier to go on treasure hunts and dig up your own loot and also more rewarding for your hard work.
Put him in the brig or walk the plank?
Sea of Thieves is a fun and enjoyable voyage for the first few hours with a full crew, and not so much on your ace. There’s no story or real interaction with the NPCs in the game to get you wondering where to go next or to delve deeper into the game. It’s a bare-bones concept of setting sail, hunting treasure, PvP battles and looting for gold coin you’d end up spending on a fancy eye patch or shiny new tankard to fill with grog. Rare needs to include some sort of single-player campaign or story to get players back into the game when the co-op factor dies down, which has happened to many games with the same mechanics. Although a great visual spectacle to behold when you sail across the seas, Sea of Thieves‘ hull is perforated with too many holes to keep this vessel afloat unless Rare can pull a parrot from a tankard.