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Game Review: Sea Of Thieves
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Sea of Thieves

Sea of Thieves
Xbox One
DEVELOPER: Rare
PUBLISHER: Microsoft Studios
RELEASE DATE: March 20, 2018

If you’ve been at all interested in Sea of Thieves, the new shared world pirate adventure game from developer Rare, chances are you’ve read a review or two for the game since its launch last week to see if it’s worth checking out. I’m here to offer a bit of a different perspective on the game than others.

This is a game meant to be played with friends or even total strangers. You join up with others, and set off pirate adventures together. But I’m not someone who often plays multiplayer and co-op type games, unless it’s quick competitive matches in something like Rocket League. I much prefer single-player games I can get lost in without having to worry about what other players are doing. That said I’ve been intrigued by the look of Sea of Thieves since we first saw it, and since there is an option to play alone I simply couldn’t help but dive in head first and see how a lonely pirate might fare.

The first thing to keep in mind if you’re thinking about trying the game out, is what exactly it is. Sea of Thieves is not some big RPG with a narrative and a bunch of side-quests with their own storylines. It is, quite simply, a game in which you get to realize that childhood fantasy of being an old school pirate, and experience it with friends if you so choose to.

You begin the game by choosing your pirate. You won’t be spending time tinkering with various sliders as you adjust the size/shape/style/color of various body parts here. Instead, you start with a lineup of pirates of different shapes, sizes, and genders, and you can either pick one of them or bring in a new group to consider. You can do this once or twice, or you could end up doing this a couple hundred times until you find the pirate look of your preference. To help make this a little bit easier, if you see one you like but aren’t sure of you can favorite it and that look will remain when you refresh the rest.

Once you settle on your look, it’s time to choose your ship. If you’re playing with a crew, you can grab yourself a massive vessel and go full-pirate. If you’re like me and playing alone (or with a small crew), you can choose a smaller ship that’s easier to manage with fewer hands on deck.

After that, it’s time to begin your Sea of Thieves adventure. You’ll start off at an outpost—one of multiple islands scattered around the map where you’ll handle your business transactions, purchase items, and so on. From there you can visit the Gold Hoarders, the Merchant Alliance, or the Order of Souls, where you can obtain voyages to complete. You start with not one coin to your name, but no worries, there are early jobs you can take that cost nothing to accept and will pay good gold if completed. If you’re playing solo like me you simply choose which job you want to take on. If you’re playing with others, each player can present a job and the crew votes on which to do.

Then it’s time to finally set sail. And here’s where things get a little bit tricky. You don’t just hop on your ship, take the wheel and accelerate using a button or trigger as you do with vehicles in most games. You’re sailing, and that involves some work.

First you have to look at the map for the job you’ve acquired, and then locate where it is on the overall map. The second step is raising your anchor so you can actually move and then making sure your ship is aimed toward the ocean and not the shore so you don’t immediately plow into land and end your first journey before it even began. Next, you drop your sail—the lower your ship’s sail, the faster she moves. Finally, if you really want to hit top speeds, you’ll need to determine the direction of the wind and position your sail accordingly. From there it’s as simple as grabbing hold of the old wheel, setting the necessary course, and enjoying the ride.

Sea of Thieves Sailing

Early on it’s pretty simple to complete these tasks—a simple “X marks the spot” situation where you figure out the spot, deal with any pesky skeletons who might want to kill you, and dig, for example. But as you progress things can get more complicated, such as having to solve riddles in order to find the treasures you seek. You can also find random things on your adventures—a valuable flagon, a crate of goods, a message in a bottle with a new map, a treasure filled chest in a shipwreck, etc—which can lead to a nice profit. Just be cautious if diving to check out a shipwreck as sharks may be nearby. And of course there be monsters in Sea of Thieves to also worry about, with the mythical kraken out there somewhere. I personally haven’t encountered it yet, but its unsettling bellows can often be heard no matter where you are on the map.

Of course, once you’ve gone through all of that, you still need to get your valuables back to an outpost and sell them. Something that wouldn’t be too difficult, if this wasn’t a shared pirate world. There are other players out there, and some of them will want to take whatever you have. You have to be cautious, or be ready to engage in some epic cannon fire exchanges with other players to defend what’s rightfully yours to the death.

As you do these things your reputation will increase, and you will be one step closer to becoming a pirate legend. And that’s basically what Sea of Thieves is. Jump into the world either alone or with others, board your ship, set sail on various adventures whether they be specific tasks to accomplish or just exploring the world and seeing where it takes you, and become legend.

As for my personal efforts to exist as a lone wolf pirate in this harsh environment, well, it’s certainly been interesting.

The waters were a bit rough in the first week of the game. I had multiple issues early on. This isn’t all that surprising, however. We’re used to seeing games—especially online games with multiple players like this—struggle upon release. It just goes to show how hard it is to prepare for such a launch. Though the game just came out last week people have been playing it for quite a while now as Rare tested things through betas and such, tweaked and polished as needed, and tried to get it where it needed to be. But it’s another story completely when you actually open the doors to the world.

But despite a few bumpy moments here and there, it’s felt to me like Sea of Thieves has been running better and better each time I play. I expect that to continue as they hunt down more and more bugs and the game settles into whatever the average number of players will be.

My biggest fear going into Sea of Thieves was that there would be swarms of other players around, shooting cannonballs (and people) at each other. While I’m sure a good cannon fight between ships is a lot of fun, I was worried I’d be under fire constantly. Not something that sounded enjoyable, especially being alone in a small ship. Thankfully, that hasn’t been the case at all.

I’m not sure if the game uses a bunch of mini servers each with a set number of players to avoid too much traffic, or perhaps it’s because I often play in the early morning hours, but things have been fairly quiet for me. I have seen other players’ ships, but the game does a great job of keeping them visible. Even from a great distance you can see them on the horizon if you’re looking for them. This gives you the option of either heading toward them to engage in battle, or altering your course if you want to focus on other things.

I’ve only had two close encounters with other players so far, both at outposts. The second was uneventful but the first was not my favorite experience. While still learning the ropes, I put a good amount of work into locating, recovering, and transporting a treasure chest back to an outpost. For some reason I had it in my head that these outposts were safe zones where you didn’t have to watch your back. This was a fatal error on my part. While running toward a pocket full of coin and a night of celebratory grog, I ran by another player who immediately shot me dead before I had a clue what was happening. Didn’t even have a chance to defend myself. One shot and I was lost on the Ferry of the Damned.

I understand that Sea of Thieves is a pirate game. And that’s what pirates do, they loot and plunder and kill those who get in their way. But this still bummed me out. I envisioned safe areas where pirate players could gather, interact, drink, dance, and play music. Areas where you can let your guard down for a bit. For example, exhibit A:

Rare's Sea of Thieves

I don’t see that happening often when many players will be running around shooting whoever they can find. Article 3 of The Pirate Code hanging in every tavern clearly states “Disputes Are Settled Upon the Waves,” which makes getting blasted to oblivion at an outpost after all that work hurt so much more. I’m not holding my breath that many other players are going to simply follow this sacred code, despite Rare putting it together with the help of the community. That’s not how they function. Many have no interest in getting lost in a wonderful pirate world as I have. They seek only carnage and coin.

I very much hope this is something that changes at some point in the future. Leave the combat for on the water or, if you want to duel or sword fight, on one of the non-outpost islands. Though I haven’t personally experienced it, it sounds like this has been a real problem for some players as, unsurprisingly, there are already jackasses setting up shop at outposts and waiting for others to come along so they can ambush them. No playing the game, just camping away. No code in sight. That’s not fun, that’s a flaw that damages the overall game. Putting a nice big invisible dome over each outpost preventing anyone from attacking inside of that area would greatly improve the overall experience.

I know some won’t agree, and I understand why, but this is just my personal view on it as someone who was hoping there would be both combat and non-combat areas. Not only so you can let your guard down from time to time, but so you also don’t have to sail around to multiple outposts looking for one that doesn’t have a ship anchored nearby, which really makes getting things done feel like a grind. If two pirates cross paths at an outpost who decide they need to fight it out, perhaps have an option where the two can agree to a good ol’ 10-paces duel or a cutlass-only face-off. Maybe they can even wager some gold on said battle!

When looking at negative experiences I’ve had, that’s about it. My overall time with Sea of Thieves has been a blast. This is such a gorgeous world Rare has created. I genuinely love getting lost in it. My first time getting a ship out into open waters might just go down as an all-time favorite gaming experience. Sailing along the open seas, waves crashing around you, it’s something every gamer should experience at least once. It can be a little intimidating at first, especially when it comes to trying to run back and forth between the wheel, sail, and making sure you’re heading in the right direction, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a true thrill. Even if you plan to mostly play with other people, trust me…grab a small boat, and venture out into the deep blue all alone for a while with no set destination to reach. Experience the world. When you have a long straightaway ahead of you, you can even break out one of your instruments and play a tune to add to the experience.

Rare has also done a tremendous job in making the world dynamic. Each time of day offers its own unique qualities to appreciate. There’s the quiet, serene arriving or departing light of dawn or dusk’s Sun. Bright, clear days that can shift unexpectedly with the approach of ominous black clouds spewing bolts of lightning. The night brings starry skies painted with exquisite auroras.

Speaking of ominous black clouds, it’s wise to pay attention to them. If you find yourself sailing into a storm system, things can get intense on you quickly. Violent wind, rain, and deadly electricity falling down around you as you fight to maintain control of your ship. And those bolts of lightning? They aren’t just a cool part of the game’s weather system to ooh and ahh at. They are dangerous, and they can cause damage if one strikes you or your boat.

While the overall world is incredible, the real star here is the water. In a game all about being a pirate and sailing the open seas, nailing that sea is crucial. Something Rare clearly understood. I’m not sure a better video game ocean has ever been created. And each of the above mentioned times of day, weather, and location has an effect on the water. From light blue tropical waters to darker bluish grey or green water to black and dark blue waters shimmering with moonlight at night. The look of the things around you is constantly changing.

The elephant in the room with Sea of Thieves is that it’s a full-price $60 game at launch, despite not having the same amount of content and story a full game usually has. Usually a game like this which is online-only with no single-player campaign, I’d scoff at charging that much. But as you might have been able to tell in the review, I adore the world they’ve created here. That alone might make it worth the price if you’re really into the idea of a shared-world pirate adventure game.

If you’re intrigued by the game but not sure it’s worth dropping $60 on, I’d recommend taking advantage of an excellent option gamers haven’t had before: Xbox Game Pass. For $10 per month you can check out a library of games, including brand new launches like the very game being reviewed here. If you’ve never had Game Pass, you should even be able to grab a free trial, making it a no-brainer.

I’ve spent just as much time appreciating the ever-changing world of Sea of Thieves as I have actually playing the game and completing voyages. Any game that has that effect on me wins big time points, and I look forward to seeing how it grows and evolves moving forward.

If they make some changes—safe zone outposts, going easy on the inevitable microtransactions, adding substantial free content to the base game here and there to make the price tag more worth it—I honestly believe it has the potential to be a truly special game. For now, I can only sail and hope.

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