In another year where the Xbox brand is in need of exclusives, Sea of Thieves represents one Microsoft's big highlights of 2018. Developed by Rare, Sea of Thieves is an original multiplayer pirate game that's designed to be played with friends. Players can take on a ship of their own, a slightly larger ship for two, or a heavy galleon for four players with friend and/or strangers as they venture on the high seas to explore islands, battle skeletons and pirates, and claim treasure.
Sea of Thieves was the game that impressed us most when we first got hands-on with it back at E3 2016. We tested the more recent beta versions of the game but these server tests weren't enough for Rare and Microsoft to ready the game for launch today where players are still experiencing disconnections and matchmaking issues. When launching globally last night early, the game was entirely inaccessible for many for hours. When trying to play today, on day one, we completed a few voyages and before we could redeem our loot for gold only to get disconnected with no way to return to our crew or to get back that treasure. This isn't fun. It's just disappointing. Rare however, is active on addressing the issues and in communicating with players online.
The beta period did raise concerns with us over how much the Sea of Thieves really offers in terms of content and longevity - the loop of grabbing a few voyages and then returning to grab a few more was boring in the beta, but we were told that was a small fraction of the game. So, how much more is there and is it worthwhile?
What to Do First in Sea of Thieves
It's not exactly clear at the beginning what to do when dropped into the word of Sea of Thieves. After choosing a random pirate avatar (Sea of Thieves does not let you customize your pirate avatar but you can customize their attire and gear [even prosthetic limbs!] through cosmetics), players will start in a tavern of sorts where they can enjoy a tankard of ale. Experience the effects of being drunk for a good laugh and then leave this starting building and explore the buildings and docks nearby to get a lay of the land and to see the three quest-givers and assortment of traders. It's this type of outpost island where players will return frequently.
Sea of Thieves vendors sell only cosmetic items allowing players to acquire many customization options not just for their pirate, but for their gear and weapons, whether you want a golden compass or a red and silver blunderbuss. It's all there and all acquired through in-game gold earned through completing quests.
Three of the NPC characters at outposts represent the quest-givers for the three factions of Sea of Thieves: the Gold Hoarders, Order of Souls, and the Merchant Alliance. The Gold Hoarders want players to seek out treasure chests and return them, the Order of Souls want skulls from assassination missions, and the Merchant Alliance want deliveries to be made. Completing voyages for each helps improve player reputation levels with that faction, unlocking more missions with higher value rewards. That's the loop, so talk to all three and pick up a few voyages to start.
Players can carry any combination of three voyages but it's not a bad idea to focus on one faction to start to quickly raise reputation level, then work on another, but it's up to you and your crew. Any crew member can then offer up the voyage in the Captain's Quarters of their vessel and everyone must vote on the one they want to activate it. Once they do, the voyage begins and players then have access to a map or clues to follow to complete. This is where the fun kicks in since players must work together to locate the island on the map and then navigate there, using all the intricate system of their ship - the anchor, raising/lowering/angling the sales, navigating with the map. All of these facets of mastering sailing the high seas involve communication and moving around different parts and decks of the ship. And this works wonderfully and is something that needs to be mastered in cases of combat with another ship...
Sea of Thieves Has The Best Water Effects
The visual style of Sea of Thieves is wonderful and charming, and most notably the game offers some of the best water effects ever seen in gaming. Amazing lighting and dynamic weather bolster the aesthetic of the game which will no doubt earn award nods for its art design.
The weather and water has an impact on gameplay as well, beyond interrupting sight lines. Rain can fill your ship up with water while lightning can put holes in it that must be patched, even sinking it. There are emergent events as well as another layer, including the much-publicized Kraken attack (more on this later) and Skeleton Forts. The latter players will find easily when seeing clouds form into the shape of a skull with periodically glowing eyes which signifies that there's rare loot to be found there.
Beyond the high seas, the island encounters and outposts seem rather lifeless though. There's nothing really out there on islands or at sea beyond the same slog of skeletons and barrels of additional supplies (wooden planks for repair, bananas for healing, and cannon balls for ammo) and the NPC characters at outposts don’t seem to offer anything other of value other than a link to a storefront interface. There's no story here, only the one players forge for themselves on their adventures in this sandbox game.
- Sea of Thieves (2018 Video Game) release date: Mar 20, 2018