SEA OF THIEVES
More time will make this amazing
We’ve been waiting a long time to finally set sail on a ship of our own and embrace the chaos of a pirate’s life. Being so unlike any other game available, the expectations are phenomenally high for a game that just wants to let you have a fun little romp with your friends. The core idea is brilliant— be a pirate, find treasure, go on adventures, drink grog—but there also aren’t any set goals or boundaries, so the big question is: Does that bring
Sea Of Thieves freedom or make it feel aimless and empty?
To get your life as a free-roaming marauder started there’s a very brief tutorial on how to access all of your gear on the various dials, but mostly you’ll have to figure things out for yourself. There are a lot of items to get grips with, such as when to use planks to patch up your ship, and when to use the bucket to bail out water. You’ll also need to learn to compare the map in your hand to the islands on the map table, and how you use it to navigate. Your first few outings will inevitably end in failure as you find your sea legs and piece together how everything works, but when you get the hang of it you’ll feel right at home on the open ocean. You start to develop a rhythm as you lower the sails, raise the anchor, and navigate with your compass and map.
You can play the game solo in a little sloop ship, but it gets quite lonely. The real joy is in recruiting a group of friends to join your crew to work together and steer a giant galleon. While the sloop is easy to use by yourself and is much more maneuverable, it’s impossible to do all of the work yourself on a galleon— if you’re in charge of steering it’s difficult to see what’s ahead, so you need to reply on others telling you where to go. With voice chat and a communicative crew it becomes great fun as you fall into your roles and work together to find your destination.
If you don’t have a preformed group you can join a random crew for some high-seas hi-jinks, but you’ll also uncover a lot of Sea Of Thieves’ weaker points. Talking on mic is necessary to get your ship functioning well, but strangers on the internet are a lot more hesitant to talk, or you might encounter language barrier issues. There is a dial of phrases on the d-pad that you can use to communicate, and while they change with context (they’ll change if you’re under attack, for example) they’re very limited. When we played we encountered a French crew, and we couldn’t communicate at all—the phrases on their dials all appeared in French, which we couldn’t understand. We were under the impression that these would auto translate as they’re all set, but it didn’t work in-game. Perhaps it was
just a bug, but either way the options are still lacking. Adding a simple ‘turn left/right’ would go a long way.
Rare also seems to have forgotten that humans can be terrible. We thought we’d be able to make friends with other crews out at sea, but most of the people we’ve encountered so far have tried to blow us out of the water. It’s all part of being a pirate of course, so you’ll need to adjust your expectations, but we’ve also had someone spawn camp us or continuously chase us across a map even when we don’t have any loot. If that’s your first experience of the game then it can be incredibly off-putting. On the flipside we also joined a random crew of American sea dogs, and had an amazing evening trying to chase chickens in a beautiful beach cove. We were four strangers running down furiously flapping fowl like our lives depended on it, laughing together at the chaos of it all.
There are three different factions to accept quests from, each offering a different type of voyage. Gold Hoarders hand out traditional maps and have you hunting treasure, The Order of Souls has you killing waves of skeletons, and The Merchant Alliance gives you a list of items to find and then deliver within a certain timeframe. Occasionally you’ll also find messages in bottles that grant you additional quests, but pretty much all of them boil down to fetching stuff—it can feel repetitive if you’re playing for a long stretch of time. Getting to Pirate Legend status by leveling up all of the factions currently feels like it will be one hell of a grind, with the limited quest types currently available.
Combat is straightforward: You have a cutlass, blunderbuss, and rifle, but can also add cannons and barrels of gunpowder into the mix. The power of each of your weapons never upgrades, so everyone in Sea Of Thieves will have a level playing field no matter how many hours they’ve played. Most of the time you’ll be fighting skeletons on islands, but sometimes an ominous skull cloud will appear on the horizon marking the start of a skeleton fort challenge. These are absolutely full with boney bastards of various types, from golden ones that will rust in water, to shadowy ones that you can weaken with your lamp’s light. Manage to kill them all and you can unlock a room full of rare loot. They’re a fun, challenging event, but are risky as they can also draw in nearby players that you’ll have to fight off if you want the full share of rewards.
It’s a great way to get a massive amount of gold (as long as another group don’t steal it from you)
“It’s just not the same experience on your own or thrown in with strangers”
and offers more of a reward than most quests. However, the cost for a lot of things currently feels disproportionately high: New sails, for example, cost you 70,000 gold, but you start by pulling in a little over 100 gold per basic chest. There are a few other ways to get more cash to help, such as exploring shipwrecks, and finding rare goods like sugar or tea on random islands, but it still feels like a steep asking price to be able to customize your pirate.
All dressed up
Speaking of which, while there are clothing options in-game you don’t have much control over the way your pirate looks. Instead of a traditional character creator you can choose from six randomly generated pirates, and keep respawning them until you find one you like. It can take ages to find an okay one before you give up and settle on one that’s not entirely to your tastes. The thinking behind the approach is admirable—it keeps everyone looking different—but it’s disappointing in practice. The whole game’s progression system is about buying stuff to customize your character and ship, and yet your pirate isn’t really of your making right from the start.
We also encountered our fair share of bugs, including losing all of our earned gold, randomly teleporting a few feet, losing all of our equipment, and serious delays when handing something in. Nothing permanent thankfully, but these were all issues present in the various testing phases that should have been addressed at launch. No doubt they’ll be fixed over time and as the servers settle down, but it’s made early forays across the ocean a little frustrating.
And yet, despite all of these ridiculous flaws and the repetitive quests, we’re still having an unbelievable amount of fun with it. The core idea here of navigating this beautiful, if somewhat empty, world with your friends and having unexpected face-offs with other crews or finding hidden treasure is filled with joy. Everything about it is wonderfully silly, and for every encounter you have with horrible scallywags, you’ll have another bonding with friendly crew mates. There really isn’t anything quite like having the wind fully in your sails on a sunny day, almost skipping over the waves as you hop between islands while getting drunk on grog.
This is a hard game to review as so much of it hinges on having good friends to play it with consistently; it’s just not the same experience on your own or thrown in with strangers. When at its best it’s an utterly brilliant romp with your mates, but find yourself on a server filled with more aggressive pirates and your heart will sink just as fast as your ship. While it could do with some more quest types and activities (why can’t we catch all of those wonderful fish?!) there’s so much promise here. In another year’s time, after a few updates to add more content, this will undoubtedly be one of the best games in Xbox history, but for now it’ll have to settle with just being good—if a little flawed.
above Make peace with the fact that your character will be ugly. They’re a pirate, not a supermodel.
right If you rank up all of the factions you can become a Pirate Legend.
Right Customizing your ship is really expensive.
far Right Never let your guard down, especially if you have loot.
Left While the Kraken is incredibly dangerous, you’ll spend more of your time being afraid of sharks biting you.