First revealed at Microsoft's E3 2015 press conference, Sea of Thieves is the latest innovation from UK developer Rare (Perfect Dark, Banjo-Kazooie). A shared open-world adventure game, teams of pirates play with and against each other to do... whatever it is they want to do thanks to the freedom that Rare's most ambitious project (and best game ever according to Microsoft executive Kudo Tsunodo) to date offers.
While not much has been showcased from the new IP in over half a year, we do know that user-generated content will be a key selling point of Sea of Thieves alongside the game's ability to great memory-driven, fun-focused moments. And that's what Microsoft and Rare doubled down on at the E3 2016 Xbox showcase when showing a new gameplay trailer featuring real players jumping in together for the first time.
That Sea of Thieves experience can be viewed up top but that teaser represents only one small slice of the game. Only a select few items are shown in the trailer with players using wood planks to board up leaking holes in the lower decks of their ships or having a drink which makes them drunk in-game. In the full game there are swords and other weapons, treasure chests to find, skeletons to battle, mermaids under the water, and islands to explore but most of the game currently remains a mystery.
The core mechanics on display in the Sea of Thieves E3 2016 player trailer however, are something we had the chance to play with hands-on at the Xbox Media Showcase and from that we can say Sea of Thieves might be one of the most exciting and fun games to look forward to. It's as creative and fun as the video makes it out to be.
Taking elements from games like Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag and multiple ship games like Guns of Icarus, the ship-to-ship portion of Sea of Thieves being promoted at E3 2016 let us join a game featuring three teams of five players each (with a developer helping on each team). Players start the demo together on an island with their ship docked at the shore. Since this demo is focusing on ship-to-ship battles and we can only play for as long as our ship remains above water, we immediately sprinted to it.
Once aboard, players control everything. The sails must deployed and the anchor raised. Someone has to pilot the wooden behemoth and takes the wheel while others can jump into the crow's nest high in the sky to locate enemy vessels. Once approaching enemy ships the fun begins as players shout out locations of the two enemy ships (again, both controlled by other players sitting across from us).
We angle the enemy vessel on the starboard side and available players jump onto the four cannons that have the best angle, continuously firing as our ship takes damage itself from enemy volleys. One our players, and the one most interested in drinking and fooling around goes below deck to desperately board up holes where water leaks.
Meanwhile on the top deck we pass the enemy ship and the developer on our team suggests we drop the anchor for a fast turn and we do so which spins our ship around readying our port cannons on the enemy in range and we blast away again.
The banter between our players, the role-playing of our wildcard player, and the fun of controlling our destiny on the high-seas in this beautifully rendered environment is unlike any other.
And the best part is we lost our ship, quickly grabbed another, and it got sunk too, and we still had fun the entire time. We had fun failing at being bad pirates.
The game is very forgiving in that players can fall from high distances without taking any damage and survive trapped underwater without limits in the demo, and all of the controls of the ship's system are easy and intuitive as can be. It's accessible in that anyone can jump in.
It's unclear at this point when Sea of Thieves will release, but our top questions boil down to what else the game offers. Are their other ships? If we jump into the water and board another ship, what then?
There were no weapons that the pirate players could use in-hand for instance, and certainly no time to explore any of the small land masses, so the focus was on discovering the ship and battling it out in the simplest of ways this time around. If there's more variety there and a game built around this, then Sea of Thieves is shaping up to be something special. We just don't know how big and featured-loaded it really is at this point.
As a demo Sea of Thieves impresses, and when the full game debuts it'll support cross-play between Xbox One and Windows 10 PC.
Sea of Thieves releases exclusively on Windows 10 and Xbox One but does not have a release date yet.
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