Sea of Thieves

TITLE Sea of Thieves
YEAR 2018
GENRE Adventure. Pirate Sim. Arrrrr.
CURRENT PRICE £44.99 (Xbox Game Pass £7.99/M)

I feel like I’ve waited a decade to get my grubby little pirate hook on this. Having strategically avoided the lengthy betas, awaiting a highly polished retail release, only one question remains: Was it worth the wait?

Having put in far more hours on this over the past few weeks than I’m willing to confess, I have to say that for the majority I have really enjoyed the experience. Whether it’s been sneakily raiding unsuspecting fellow pirates or sinking their ships, throwing buckets of puke over crew-mates, searching treasure maps or trying not to get raided whilst smashing skull island; ultimately, it has been a bundle of fun.

Once you look past the initial teething problems with connectivity and that sinking feeling —no pun intended— when heading to an outpost stacked full of loot for the server to randomly boot us for no apparent reason, rendering the last ninety minutes of game time completely pointless. The biggest issue Sea of Thieves faces is the distinct lack of varied content.

To start the game you choose your pirate, beware as once you’ve chosen, other than clothing and hair there’s no way of changing their appearance. If you pick a giant flat-footed oaf, you’re stuck with him or her, so choose wisely captain!

Once you awake from your drunken slumber and amble down to your ship, banana in hand you suddenly realise, I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing. The game really doesn’t hold your hand a lot, just gives you a ship and sets you free with little pre-ordained direction. Having avoided even the tiniest of spoilers the game was fresh to me, and after spending a few minutes crashing and repairing my ship I made it back to my starting point to pick up the extravagant merchant quest of collecting and delivering chickens; easy right? The less we talk about the evident lack of chickens on every island I set foot the better, though I did finally manage to complete my first delivery through my growing frustration. Back at the outpost I took another quest, got back on my ship to find I was once again delivering chickens; I guess every pirate legend has to start somewhere. It wasn’t until after that mission I realised there were two further factions with slightly varying fetch quests, I also noted that I hadn’t yet seen another ship, even at a distance.

The first things that strikes you once you begin sailing are the water and lighting, it’s beyond beautiful the first time you sail a choppy sea into a sunset. For this, Rare truly delivered. As for the sailing itself, it’s not too difficult playing solo on the game’s small ship, the single-sailed sloop, once you get used to angling the sail dependant of the wind and the slowing distances some of the journeys can seem a little boring without company between destinations.

As for the quests: what you basically have are three factions to level up by completing quests. For one you get maps and riddles, then dig up buried treasure and sell it at an outpost. The second you get sent to an island, kill a bunch of skeletons, collect the captains skull and return that for a reward. And the third you basically have to deliver a commodity to a certain outpost before the rather lenient timer runs out, this usually —at least at lower levels— involves you catching chickens, pigs or snakes from relevantly stocked islands. In completing quests you are also rewarded gold that you can spend on your appearance, ship or equipment; however, everything you buy is purely cosmetic, there is no true levelling up in this game.

Along with the three sets of basic fetch quests you have sunken ships to explore and loot, signalled by birds circling above the sea; and messages in the bottle, which are simply just a random hit from the quests above, these are most commonly found washed up on beaches.

Skull forts offer the only real challenge to the game and typically take twenty to thirty minutes to complete depending on your crew; if other crews interfere as they often do, you can add considerably to that. These fortified islands are signally by a huge skull with flashing eyes above in the sky, these are public events and I think the creators maybe hoped crews would work together to complete them, the reality —at least in my experience— is far from confederate.

Much like when questing for skulls, the island throws waves of skeletons at you, these are numerous and differ in type, some standard ones, metal ones, shadow ones, ones that regenerate in water, etc. Each wave needs to be destroyed until eventually a captain appears, once killed the captain drops a skull shaped key and the island falls peaceful. The key opens the door to a stronghold situated beneath the main fort on the island, inside is a wealth of treasure which from experience seems to range from 9K to15K; not a bad haul.

From time to time the Kraken will pop up like a cluster of tentacles from some Japanese b-movie. First time it was epic and amazing, now it’s more just an annoyance. Once you’ve shot them all a couple of times it retreats, although if the rest of your crew are snoozing it’ll grab the ship and ultimately sink you. On occasion it can grab you and send you in for a dip, if this happens don’t expect your loyal crew to wait around for your return; bloody pirates!

I’ve sailed a fair bit solo and enjoyed it for the most part, the spyglass really is your best friend when your alone and paranoia manifests itself as a galleon two island over that suddenly drops it’s sails and turns toward your miniature rowboat. Do I ignore it and find the chest or run before it’s in range? Nope, I load the cannons, so long as I’m not carrying anything of value.

What makes Sea of Thieves special is the interaction with other players. Solo can be fun for a while but playing as a team of four on a Galleon can be so much more entertaining. I made more new xbox-friends in the first week of playing this than in the whole of last year. The game encourages you to mic up and after the nervousness of four complete strangers passes —often with some random buffoonery— you find yourself having a great time. Playing this with a crew of un-mic’d randoms can be troublesome and makes everything harder than it needs be.

As much as this, the interaction with other crews shapes the game in varied ways. Many, maybe most, simply want to blow you out of the water, but on occasion you meet a friendly. On one voyage me and friend approached a skull fort in a sloop, knowing that another sloop had been there for sometime. Our angle was to hope they had near completed the raid so we could jump in and steel all the loot. The other sloop was a solo player who had foolhardily decided to attempt the raid himself, this guy slowly approached us with his accordion out serenading out entrance and after much deliberation we agreed to help him with the raid and split the treasure. (I’ve seen this where two galleons have agreed and it never goes down smoothly) It was edgy and tense at the end of the raid with very little trust on both sides but we did manage to do exactly as we’d all agreed.

That’s Sea of Thieves; it’s a series of stories that you make while completing the repetitive and often underwhelming tasks the game supplies. It’s the only game I can think of that I can wholeheartedly gain enjoyment from stealing a chicken.

Although it’s certainly not all plain sailing…

The combat is clunky, often you can occupy the same space as the thing you’re trying to attack or morph through it to slash at thin air. The guns seem a little cumbersome but the skeletons seem to have near perfect aim, this is fine until you have four of them all trying to de-humanise you.

Maybe it’s not a great analogy, but isn’t a game about sailing ships that contains only two different ships, akin to a game such as GTA only having two different cars? 

Another gripe would be down to the title being cross-play, with a few PC users now exploiting various hacks including unlimited health and single hit swords. I know Rare are taking a no tolerance approach to cheating and hope they can stamp this type of exploit out for good.

A very minor annoyance, the game constantly spawns me in with a pistol and sniper, whereas my preferred default is cutlas and blunderbuss. (My fault that I forget to switch before I’m on an island surrounded by sword wielding skeletons, cue avoidable death.)

For those of you out there that are achievement hunters, good luck. The achievements were initially turned off for the game to help them handle the demand on their servers. They turned them back on and since I’ve found them to be buggy, with several not popping that I’ve met the criteria for multiple times. On top of this there are a few that I’d guess only the most hardcore pirate would ever set their sights on that —if they work— would require several hundred hours of grind to unearth.

And that’s it, pretty much the whole game. I know there will be content updates but the game does seem somewhat dependant on you filling in the blanks. What they’ve created seems more a framework for something that could —and I believe will— be amazing, though to me it feels a little like a beta, lacking in content and certainly not a flagship AAA release.

All in all, I’ve enjoyed sailing the seas with my ragtag band of swashbucklers, but in its current form it’s desperately lacking varied content. I’ll look forward to revisiting this in the future after a couple of updates.

Excellent multiplayer experience
Graphically impressive atmosphere
Is basically just good fun creating your own pirate'y stories 
Fetch quests get very repetitive with not a lot else to do
Currently only two ships
Upgrades are purely cosmetic


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