The ocean was choppy and the servers were taking on water at launch, but once the waves calmed and you could actually get into Sea of Thieves, the game offered a near-limitless swashbuckling adventure generator. Still, it must be said that Rare’s first proper gaming outing in years isn’t without some shortcomings.
First and foremost, it’s important to note thatSea of Thievesis what you make of it. It’s a sandbox in the middle of a gigantic ocean, giving players the ability to hop in a one or two-person sloop to brave the ocean or a mighty three or four-person galleon. The game requires finesse, cooperation, and plenty of communication… unless you actually want to run aground and kill your fellow pirates. You can do that too.
The game is basically nothing but fetch quests, which has drawn the ire of thousands who say they’ve “seen all that can be done in the game” after just a few hours. That’s technically true in some cases, the game needs more variety, more permanence, and a reason to keep up with hunting for treasure chests beyond aesthetic upgrades. Hopefully, Rare will add pirate minigames and a more lived-in world to enjoy, but for now, the game is still subtly deep. Not everyone will agree.
The fact that Sea of Thieves is nothing more than a reputation grind misses the point. It’s also a hub, a sometimes relaxing jaunt with your pals or by yourself across the most stunning water ever seen in gaming. The ocean is truly awe-inspiring, and plenty of my time on the deck has been spent drinking from my grog and contemplating the gorgeous sunset in the distance as the waves tangle into a trillion watery diamonds. It’s hard to imagine how it can get better than this.
The game feels more like Dungeons and Dragons, or even DayZ than a traditional multiplayer game. Sometimes your missions will be carried out undisrupted and you’ll have a healthy session, making gold without troubles. Other times, you’ll be griefed by a gaggle of drunk pirates who throw up into buckets and splash it on your face before stumbling at you, rapier out.
It’s like the .gif of the puppy, constantly distracted by the shiny things. Have a load of treasure stowed away? Well what if we stop at that sunken ship. That shouldn’t take too long, right? Then after you’re done unloading the sunken booty, you get caught in a storm, go off course, and end up side by side with another galleon who, despite their playing instruments and singing at you, open fires. Now you’re taking on water and your hard-earned gold is at stake.
Sea of Thieves is about what happens between A and Z. The game shouldn’t be judged simply on what it does and doesn’t have on the back of the box, because the true greatness lies in the bizarre antics that will play out organically as you set out on an adventure. Maybe a troll will join your game and you vote him into the brig, then purposefully sink your ship. Watching water raise up around the ankles, then neck, of a toxic player cursing you as you sip your in-game booze and play him a song is simply not possible anywhere else, and for that reason alone Sea of Thieves is a success.
The thrill of jumping from ship to ship, getting into an (admittedly clunky) swordfight is unparalleled, and stealing a treasure that someone spent time deciphering a clever riddle to find is almost more satisfying than finding the treasure yourself. It’s an experience. Something that hasn’t been done this well before.
But for some, the $60 price tag is steep, especially with a clunky interface, or an inability to have friends hop in and out of your boat’s game sessions, thus making any sense of permanence moot. Did you collect 100 cannonballs? Cool, they’re all gone because Johnny is online now and we have to start a new game. It’s things like this that keep the game with one foot in the past and another far into the future.
Ultimately, Rare and Microsoft have set out to make a pickup and play gem that instills a sense of discovery into every player. There’s very little holding of hands in the game, and players giving each other tips, teaching each other how to tack sails, use your sword boost to fly across the water, and work together to unload a ship efficiently is the most fun I’ve had in years. Of course, the nagging little “where’s the content” question is constantly in the back of my brain, but then I get distracted by a new adventure, or meet a new player who has explored a certain island and knows where to perfectly drop the anchor. Or a Skull Island is discovered and I’m battling for riches beyond my imagination.
Time will tell how long this will keep up, but simply as a beautiful sailing simulator, which I am happy to have with my friends, there are hours of content here. It’s up to each gamer to decide beforehand if this is what they want, because it’s not for everyone. It can be a grind if you look at it as such. This is where Xbox’s $9.99 per month Game Pass comes in. You can hop in, try out Sea of Thieves, and not feel burned if the games relatively obtuse nature isn’t for you.
But for those who are looking to the horizon, yearning to “yargh,” this is the pirate’s life they’ve been waiting for.