More time will make this amaz­ing

XBox: The Official Magazine (US) - - FRONT PAGE - Daniella lu­cas

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.

Team up

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.

Pub­lic enemy

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.

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