It has been a month since Sea of Thieves, the latest release by Rare and Microsoft’s flagship exclusive for 2018, launched. The game has been mostly well received, but it has been a notable topic of controversy. While some players are enjoying the game’s open world, beautiful art and wonderful water physics, some are disappointed with the game’s lack of direction and repetitive quest system. I will explore both sides of this argument during this review as well as recount some of my own experiences. I purposely waited this long to review Sea of Thieves in hopes of getting a full experience of what the game has to offer. And now, after playing for one month, in all ship configurations (1-man, 2-man, 3-man, and 4-man,) and leveling up my factions profusely, I believe I have the experience to accurately give a fair review of this game. Let’s get started.
The first thing you’ll notice when you start is the lack of information. You spawn into the world at a random Outpost on the map (more on that later.) While I found this interesting, many people found it troublesome, and it is easy to see why. You just exist in the world. The game doesn’t tell you what to do, how to do it, or even where you ship is. For someone like me, who has been following the development of this game, this added to the immersion. I already knew what to do and the lack of game tutorial made it feel like the doors were wide open to do as I please. But for someone that may have just purchased the game, it can be annoying. You don’t know what to do and you are left to explore and find everything out for yourself. I agree that there should be some form of, at least, optional tutorial that teaches you how to purchase items, scavenge chests, buy voyages, and utilize your ship. It doesn’t have to tell you everything there is to know about the game (let you figure some stuff out on your own) but a basic overview would be nice.
The game begins with your character spawning at a random Outpost. There are several in the game and they serve as a base of operations for your crew. Evey outpost looks different, but they all have the same basic things on them. The tavern, where you can drink with your crew or other pirates. It is also where the Mysterious Stranger hangs out. He/she is a secretive pirate who demands you max out the reputation of all three of your factions before granting you a special reward. (I, unfortunately, have not unlocked this reward yet.) Aside from the Tavern there are also several shops where you can peruse different items. All of these items are currently just cosmetics. There was some concern about the lack of variety of items in the shops, although after playing the beta and seeing what privileged players who bought the blunderbuss could do, it makes sense that all gear and weapon upgrades are purely cosmetic. The outposts also contain the camps of the three different factions. From them you can purchase voyages and turn in items for rewards. On the dock, near where your ship is parked, there is also a ship merchant who can sell you ship paints, sails, and crests, which you can use to customize your ship to your liking. The one thing I dislike about outposts is that they are not safe spaces. While they are clearly supposed to be a more social and planning area, there is nothing stopping other pirates from killing you, stealing your items while you are delivering them, or simply griefing you and sinking your ship. This is a change I think needs to be made. It is unfair when you have spent all of your time collecting items only for someone to steal them while you are unloading them. I hope to see this change in the future.
Once you’ve figured out how to set sail, the fun really begins. You see, Sea of Thieves has three main voyages, or quests, that can be completed for each of the three factions. Each of these quests are unique and offer different rewards, however the outcome is the same. You will be ultimately collecting an item which you will required to hand into the faction’s leader in order to gain gold and reputation with that faction, unlocking more difficult and complex voyages and unlocking special skins for your tools and weapons. The Gold Hoarders love gold, and they are willing to pay handsomely for it. Collecting a voyage from them will send you on a quest to find buried treasure. There are two kinds: One will give you a map on an island. You must find this island and dig up the treasures marked with a red “X.” The other gives you a riddle to solve. Discovering and performing all of tasks on this riddle will award you the location of buried treasure. The Order of Souls sends you out to defeat skeletons. You will be given a bounty which will tell you what island to go to. There, you must find the location where the skeletons are hiding and defeat them, then you will collect their skulls as a reward. The Merchant’s Alliance wants you to capture animals. Speaking to a merchant will give you a cage and a list of animals to collect. You must go out into the world, find these animals, and deliver them to the correct outpost within the correct time frame. You can also find chests, skulls, and trade items randomly on islands and in sunken ships, allowing for more opportunities to earn gold and reputation. But that’s not all there is to do. Every now and then, a Stronghold will open. This is signified by a glowing skull in the sky, alerting all players that it is time. Upon arriving at the Stronghold, players will be met with waves of opposition and special skeletons as well as fighting other pirates that wish to steal the treasure. Strongholds are difficult, but completing them awards you with over 13,000 gold and lots of reputation for all three factions. These quests are fun, with the Treasure Quests being the most interesting and well-thought out. I do wish there was a bit more to these voyages, however. It would be neat to see you having to deliver supplies as a merchant ship, with special flags telling other pirates you have supplies, making the imminent danger all that more real.
Which brings me to my next point. The most dangerous part of this game are the other players. While you are exploring the world, other pirates are doing the same and they can and will engage you. The ship tot ship combat in this game is beautiful, with the cannonball and water mechanics making for some interesting fights. Your ship can quickly fill with water if you aren’t careful and cause a small, fast sloop sink in seconds. But, if the members of the large, slow galleon aren’t careful, their lower and upper decks may fill with water, making their demise almost certain. But as good as the ship-ship combat is, the player-player combat needs work. It is clear that you are supposed to use the cutlass as a main fighting weapon, but the slow attacks, inconsistent damage and useless block make it useless. The guns aren’t much better, the blunderbuss can one-shot at a seemingly different range each time, the rifle is inaccurate and the pistol has terrible sights. But on top of that, player hitboxes seem to be uniform despite the varying body types and players can move so fast while jumping, that it makes hitting anything impossible anyway. Luckily, player-to-player combat isn’t something you see too much. It happens a lot, but not as much as ship-to-ship, at least in my experience. But the biggest issue with the Sea of Thieves PvP system is the incentive. There is no reason to not attack people other than death. There is nothing in the game that deters you from attacking each other. If someone isn’t carrying treasure, they can and will likely attack anyone because there is no penalty for failing. There was originally going to be a small death cost implemented for PvP deaths and I thought this was a great idea. It would make those who just want to greif have to weigh the options of death. But that change was cancelled due to feedback. I have mixed feelings about the PvP system. On one hand, doing an hour of hard work only to die and lose it all because someone felt like it is terrible. On the other hand, “We’re pirates! Who cares? Let’s destroy everything!”
But even with a janky combat system, this game feels so good to play. There has been a lot of talk about content recently regarding Sea of Thieves. Some people believe that the game is severely lacking in content, going so far to call it early access. If by content they mean game driven objectives, then yes, the game is lacking. But to me, content is so much more than just quests and objectives. The content in this game comes from the visuals and physics. The way the sun glistens off the water, the way the ship accurately rises and falls with the tide, watching the waves crash over the ship and seeing the water run in between the boards. These things are what was focused on and what creates the immersion that players love so much. It is clear to me that Rare did not set out to create a complex and deep pirate game. They set out to create a dynamic and engaging pirate game, and add the deep and complexities later. A game that makes you feel like you are standing on a ship feeling the wind in your hair as you look out over the horizon. Exploration is just as important in this game as collecting treasure is. And with a detailed roadmap leading into the summer and beyond, as well as a dedicated team who want this game to thrive and want the community to help them build it, the “content” everyone is looking for is right around the corner.
While writing this review, I wanted to give a fair score and this game has been difficult. On the one hand, I wanted to validate those who have legitimate criticisms with the game, even if it doesn’t bother me, and on the other, the game is so much fun, that I want to rate it high. But I think I have come to a safe score, at least as the game sits at the time of this review. The biggest complaint I saw was the game’s price point and I agree; this game might not be worth $60. However, it most definitely is worth the $10 a month with gamepass. That is a fantastic deal for not only this game, but fifty or so others. I guess I can boil this game down to this: If you are the type of person that needs a constant goal, something to always work toward and to be validated and rewarded of that every step of the way, this game is not for you. You will feel bored and feel as if you are repeating yourself over and over with no reward, which you kind of are. But if you are like me and want a beautiful game with a great development team behind it, vowing to make the game even better with free content and updates. A game where the visuals and moment-to moment adventures keep the game new and exciting, despite not actually having anything deep to do or say, then you will adore this game. Every time I pick up this game, I have fun, especially with friends and I cannot wait for what the future holds.