Coming to Xbox One and Windows 10 on March 20, 2018
During my first ten minutes in Sea of Thieves I managed to sink our ship, inadvertently get the crew slaughtered by skeletons and find myself saved in the knick of time by a flare-wielding mermaid. With a group of friends or strangers, Rare’s latest adventure is an unpredictable experience that invites a sense of awe like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s shaping up nicely, but requires a little more technical finesse and variety to really sink in its hooks.
The Sea of Thieves closed beta provides you with three choices: you can team up with a trio of pirates, form a duo or take on the formidable ocean all on your lonesome. They’re all viable options each providing a notably different spin on things. I had an absolute blast having to plan quests while getting to grips with a ship I knew nothing about. As my crewmate accidentally drifted into a jagged rock we’d find the lower decks overflowing with water with only a bucket to remedy the situation.
Desperately scrambling around to prevent your vessel from sinking is surprisingly fun, especially when you’re still getting to grips with how Sea of Thieves’ cavalcade of systems mesh together. So many things need to be considered, whether it be the angle of your sails, equipment below decks or the position in which you’re ship is headed. Fortunately, it’s all pretty easy to understand after a few sessions.
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Questing in Sea of Thieves comes in the form of voyages accepted from outposts. These normally involve travelling to an island and solving a specific puzzle in search of treasure. Sometimes you’ll need to best an army of skeletons or escape a horde of sharks in the process, but they never proved too taxing. I hope the general variety of objectives is much larger in the full release, as what’s on offer quickly grew stale.
Fortunately, the repetitive mission design is shaken up by how much fun it is making new friends and assigning each other different roles when forming crew. I never liked being put in charge of steering the ship, having to monitor a number of different factors while my crew’s lives were on the line. I’d rather be the clumsy oaf standing on deck informing the unfortunate captain of oncoming obstacles or other players keen to plunder our booty.
The unpredictable nature of each mission leads to some wonderful moments of unintentional hilarity. Accidentally sailing right into the eye of a storm only for my crewmate to drunkenly stumble overboard had me in stitches. My desperate struggle to salvage the situation was ultimately fruitless, yet I still had fun despite failing to complete our objective. That’s something many games can’t deliver: a good time in spite of failure. Sea of Thieves deals in delight instead of frustration which is a treat to see.
The quality of each session can differ wildly depending on who you’re matching up with. Cooperation is crucial when operating the ship, and is somewhat impossible when one or more players aren’t pulling their weight. If voice chat is an option, definitely take it. I found my time with Sea of Thieves generally pleasant as friends put on silly pirate accents while eliciting shanties.
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Sea of Thieves is also beautiful, displaying the finest water effects I’ve ever seen. No surprise for something based primarily on the sea, but watching the blue stuff reflect light and react dynamically to each action is a sight to behold. I’m still not sold on the character designs which to me look ugly and unappealing. You can customise them but they lack the lovable charm of Rare’s past efforts. Clothes and additional apparel can be purchased from in-game merchants, so hopefully the full release is brimming with even more surprises to unearth that give the unusual characters a little more flair.
Combat is an important component in Sea of Thieves and the beta only provides us with a small glimpse of it. Armed with a sword, rifle and pistol, the only enemies I’ve encountered thus far are skeletons and sharks. They’re easy to defeat, leading me to worry that hand-to-hand encounters might lack the depth needed to make it as a massively multiplayer excursion. I’m hopefully wrong and Sea of Thieves is hiding a robust system behind its earlier offerings that, to put it bluntly, feel a little disappointing.
Multiplayer skirmishes are far more exciting, although they seldom expand upon combat in a meaningful way. You’re still mashing the same buttons in hope of emerging victorious and there simply isn’t enough impact for it to feel satisfying. Stumbling upon a rival crew of pirates and immediately opening fire is admittedly thrilling, but the spoils from such a treacherous detour aren’t always worth the risk. That being said, the unbridled chaos that can emerge from pirate ship battles are more than worth sacrificing a spoil or two.
This private beta hasn’t shown off the progression system will play out beyond completing quests and building up your rank as a worthy pirate. There’s also no narrative to speak of and the focus is, presumably, on multiplayer alone. Only time will tell, and Rare’s dedication to content updates and refinements will reflect on how its audience take to the game in the long run.
Sea of Thieves is unlike anything I’ve ever played. It offers a multiplayer experience that’s both unpredictable and hilarious with moments that had me cheering in triumph one minute and in hysterical laughter the next.
I feel its success will be based on its variety of missions and environments. At this stage, it feels like routine treasure hunts will grow tedious and banter between fellow pirates and online battles will be the defining factor.
The systems Rare introduces here are fun and innovative, and I only hope they’re expanded enough in Sea of Thieves to warrant revisiting again and again.