Sea of Thieves officially released on March 20th of this year and within the first two days had gained an incredible and, for some, unexpected popularity. People all around the world wanted to know how it feels to be a pirate, to feel the ocean breeze blow against your hair as you frantically try and make a sharp turn before crashing into a rock. Between eating unpeeled bananas and slashing through skeletons, the game has a brilliant charm to it that really manages to possibly be the closest a game has ever captured piracy and its wonders. However, the game is not at all perfect, and I will be getting the major cons and noted complaints out of the way before getting into why this game is still worth playing.
After its launch, the game was flooded (get it?) with players and the servers were struggling to catch up. Even the developers were surprised at the influx of players and were working hard all day to try and battle matchmaking issues, with some efforts at a solution forcing the developers to prevent newer players from playing for a short period of time. As for personal experience, my friends and I had difficulty getting into a lobby together for a little while but once we got into the game, things went very smoothly aside from the small moments of lag and the delay in rewards being delivered upon turning in loot. It was time to set sail.
Almost immediately, in the midst of figuring controls out, we were attacked by enemy players. A major angle of this game was to provide the opportunity to still have those epic battles on the high seas between giant ships, cannonballs galore and hijacking for the other ship’s loot. However, there are no safe spaces and you can only hope that no one is waiting for you at one of the main outposts in order to ambush you. This happened to us only the one time, but many players have complained about PvP not being restricted enough in specific areas. Aside from a lack of non-PvP zoning, the mechanics of fighting an enemy ship while on the water seems to work fairly well. Sure, it might take a panicked minute to turn and run or readjust the ship to angle your cannons again, but it cannot be said that it isn’t a realistic interpretation of how that would go. There is that satisfying blow when you successfully aim your cannonball directly into the side of the enemy vessel. Or, if you’re like me, you can quite literally get headshot by an enemy cannonball. It’s a thrilling experience! Close-quarters combat needs improvement since it feels a bit clunky, especially in regards to PvP, and lacks a bit of variety. But it’s still very exciting to blast a skeleton or enemy player to smithereens with a blunderbuss.
The notion that Sea of Thieves is not exactly new-player friendly is fairly accurate. From the beginning, there isn’t a very clear direction on what you’re supposed to be doing and how you’re meant to do it, let alone if you get ambushed right away by players who have probably had a little more time to play. If it weren’t for the fact that I had watched a few hours of gameplay from the beta, I would have had to look up what we were supposed to be doing right from the start. There are essentially three factions: the Gold Hoarders, Order of Souls, and the Merchant Alliance. The Gold Hoarders are essentially treasure hunters and provide players with the classic “X Marks The Spot” style of looting that one would expect from a traditional seafaring lifestyle, allowing them to sail to an island and dig for buried treasure in order to return it and sell it for a precious sum. The Order of Souls is more combat oriented in that its quests are centered around going to the island that a skeleton boss was last seen, and defeating it and its minions before returning a skull back for money. Lastly, the Merchant Alliance is basically a delivery service where players are asked to go out and capture chickens and pigs before delivering them to the client. These factions provide you with the main content of the game: quests, known as voyages, that earn you gold and help you achieve higher ranks in each individual faction. There are some chests that can be randomly generated and found on islands or in shipwrecks, if you’d like to stay from your quest for a bit. To this extent, it is understandable to feel that the replay value of the game is limited in its repetitiveness of randomly generated but all-too-similar voyages. Currently, the only two major non-voyage events available in the game are the Skull Fort and Kraken, but we will not be covering those for spoilers’ sake.
However, players should look optimistically toward the future of this game. Rare, the developer behind Sea of Thieves, has put three years of work into this game and, honestly, it shows. Although it is not rich in content quite yet, the beauty of this game is outstanding and it has the best water physics and design that we have seen in any game to date. The waves look incredibly realistic and even get violent as you’re passing through a storm, possibly breaking parts of your hull that you will need to repair and scoop water out of while the captain at the wheel tries to navigate through lightning as the ship dips deeply into the ocean. The sunsets are breathtaking as you play a somber tune from your accordion on the docks, watching the sun descend while the water reflects its orange glow until the night sky turns into a star-filled aurora borealis. It’s so real how the sunlight of a cloudless day peeks through the openings of the deck, casting bright squares of light onto the map below deck as you determine your next island of interest.
Sea of Thieves is a lighthearted experience that is worth having, especially when the potential for Rare to add more content, with time, is very high. Drink some grog until you puke all over your crewmate’s face or dance away while your friends play you a nautical tune on their hurdy-gurdy. It is possible to play alone, but the repetition of most multiplayer games often feels less prominent when accompanied by friends who help make your experiences a bit different every time.
Because it has its fair share of issues, this game is receiving a 3.5 in this review. However, do not let that deter you. If the developers consistently communicate and update their community, future patches are likely to roll in with improvements and extra content, especially when the game has showed such promising popularity. If you have an opportunity to play this game with some pals, free or by purchase, then give it a shot. With more positive developments and fixes, this game could easily be one of the most fun multiplayer experiences in recent years.
That is, if you’re willing to risk getting scurvy.