Sea of Thieves has been a mixed bag of emotions over the last few weeks, with many players such as myself profoundly enjoying the exploratory grind-based structure while many others have been left disappointed by the apparent lack of piratey things to do. When you think pirate, you open up a world that is a lot more intricate and subtle than treasure and murdering fellow pirates. I am talking dice-games with the ability to ‘cheat’, fishing, roaming PVE guards that we have to avoid or eliminate and bounties for particularly notorious pirates. Just a few suggestions.
Sea of Thieves is, at its core, a game about pirates and with that comes an inordinate amount of time spent sailing around the gorgeously designed world. The sailing has that ever so popular mechanic of being easy to learn but hard to master and you will need every trick in your arsenal to combat rough seas, uncooperative winds, navigating through tight spaces and of course outmanoeuvring other sea-borne vessels. Sailing in Sea of Thieves, much like every other component of the game is designed to truly immerse yourself in the experience. This is why everyone on a given ship is required to take on a specific role in order to present a well-oiled front to the rest of the pirate world. The Galleon, which is the three/four man ship definitely promotes an extraordinary amount of cooperation with a pirate required in the crow’s nest to search for incoming ships and dangerous landmarks such as rocks, a pirate manning the helm to obviously keep the course straight and true and someone manning the map table to figure out where in the blazes you all are going.
The small ship is a lot simpler, allowing a maximum of two salty sea dogs to manage without too much hassle. The small ship, in fact, is designed with solo players in mind, with everything you need strategically accessible. On the top deck where the helm is, you are able to control the steering, alter the sail length and sail angle and lower the capstone with about one step in their general direction. Not to mention you are also able to look over the back of the sloop and see the map table clearly to ensure you are travelling in the right direction. Rare has put a lot of design thought into the sloop allowing it to be a strategic alternative to the galleon. Of course, the limitations of not having up to four total crew members can put some strain on gameplay but a determined pirate will make it work.
While sailing is obviously quite important in a game all about pirates it goes hand in hand with the exploratory nature of Sea of Thieves. There are innumerable hand-crafted islands scattered throughout the seas but the secrets that they hold are all open to be discovered. Messages in bottles hiding riddle quests or treasure maps poke out of the sand waiting to be found, treasure chests lay out in the open for whoever stumbles upon them first and capturable animals roam the sand and the forests of Sea of Thieves. The story is truly yours, free to do with as you will. If all you want to do is solve riddle quests and cash in treasure chests, you can but if you want to be an absolute nightmare on the seas and steal everything of value that option is there too. This open-ended exploration does have a negative, however, as it can lead to somewhat stale gameplay for many players who prefer having a story or proper objectives rather than simple fetch quests.
Personally, I enjoy playing solo, taking the game casually, solving my maps and transporting my loot as quickly as I can back to an Outpost in heart-racing fits of anxiety and paranoia. It is undeniable, however, the sheer fun someone can have while part of a crew. Whether it is two or four, the game reaches a whole new level of wackiness and enjoyability. If you sail with the right group of people, and yes that can include randoms too, you aren’t just sailing or living out a pirate fantasy, you are bonding with new friends and the assorted adventures that come along with that. Using a personal experience, I matchmade with a crew composed of entirely random individuals and we set out to try and build a fleet…it did not go well with most of our fleet mates betraying us. We still won. That is where Sea of Thieves excels, giving the forum for players to create their own stories.
This is effectively where the end game content comes into play, with players being able to encapsulate the image of a pirate legend, complete with additional customisation on the ships and a secret pirate hideout. The end game is something to work toward, a challenge that does get a bit monotonous with the only real way to generate experience coming from turning in treasure chests, caged animals and skulls. The only real challenge aside from the constant harassment of other ships (and griefers on occasion) are the Skull Forts. Skull Forts, which are playable horde-style challenges that will drag any pirate crews in the area towards it with the allure of treasure and renown. Skull Forts require pirates to defeat waves of tough Skeletons in any way you can, culminating in a Skeleton boss that will drop a special Vault key. There is something very intense about the moment after a Skeleton Fort is defeated, trying to deduce exactly what the other crews are going to do. Will they want to split the loot? Or just try to murder you and take it all for themselves?
Sea of Thieves is a game about pirates after all. That’s where some issues began to arise, especially close to launch, with a large portion of griefers and pirates who just want to harass other players for no gain. An example of this would be hunting down ships, even if they have no treasure and then just remaining onboard spawn killing the target in question. Aside from the spawn killing and blowing up my ship for no other reason than to blow it up, I personally have not experienced much of the griefing that drove many players to avoid play. A lot of the griefing issues came from the statement that there is very little to do in Sea of Thieves, and that remains a contested point.
This feeds into the understandable annoyance with the appearance of the Kraken. The Sea of Thieves Kraken was teased all throughout the game’s development and made its first fearsome appearance in an early trailer. Styled as a public event activity, the Kraken would be a random encounter that would attack ships with its deadly tentacles. These could grab players, crush them, throw them around and otherwise be destructive. The first issue came with the simple fact that the fearsome Kraken was in actuality, a series of eight rendered tentacles without the body of the beast. Literally, there was no body. The next issue came with the fact that there was nothing really significant to defeating the Kraken, no rewards, special loot except for a punny Sea of Thieves achievement.
Now don’t get me wrong I understand why there are limitations on the loot that can be earned or dropped with the entire world being a shared experience. However, it seems to cheapen the accomplishment on what is effectively one of the very few forms of end game content. Cosmetic only items present a way for players to acquire awesome loot without breaking the game or becoming too powerful in a game world that has no safe zones, or any non-PVP areas.
Sea of Thieves needs to add more functional content to the game that truly encompasses the pirate way of life. Chained cannonballs, cooler variations in the weaponry and more public events/beasties to discover and defeat. With the encroaching arrival of the Hungering Deep update, we may see the arrival of many new challenges to face on the high seas. This will be a great thing for the game as, while it is beautiful and a truly fun experience solo and in a group, there are still areas it needs to improve in.
Because it is important to get the fact out there that Sea of Thieves is not a game for everyone. The game, at its core, revolves around grinding through basic quests to purchase cosmetic upgrades for your tools, clothing and to gain access to harder quests. That is why the sailing and social aspect is such an important one. Rare stated innumerable times that Sea of Thieves is about exploration and players creating their own stories through their exploration and the bonds formed and severed through the course of the gameplay. For me, Sea of Thieves is incredibly entertaining and I have happily spent hours trying to master every aspect of sailing that is possible within the confines of the gameplay but it still seems to me to be a more casual-paced game.
That being said, Rare has crafted a truly unique adventure with Sea of Thieves and while it may have its fair share of problems, it is so much fun. The sailing is delightful and I may not have mentioned this yet but the way the ocean is rendered and the way it moves is mindblowing. Sea of Thieves allows for great moments to be had by solo pirates and crews of all sizes (well, up to four) and some pretty intense moments offset by strategic manoeuvres that can help you escape trouble or dominate your foes.