Published on March 27th, 2018 | by Hugh Mitchell
Sea of Thieves Review
Summary: Sea of Thieves is a multiplayer pirate adventure game, rich with unrealised potential that isn't worth your time in its current state.
Lost at sea
A few months ago when I got a chance to try out the Sea of Thieves beta (read about that here), I left feeling excited and optimistic about the final product. The beta version showcased a brilliant framework for chaotic adventures on the high seas and it seemed clear that with a few obvious, additional features, the final release of Sea of Thieves would be an incredible experience. Now that the final version is here, I’m disappointed to report that not only are these seemingly ‘obvious’ additional features sorely missing, the final product resembles more of second phase beta version than a final 1.0 release.
If you didn’t read my Sea of Thieves beta write-up, basically Sea of Thieves is an online multiplayer, open-world, first-person, pirate adventure game. You start the game by selecting a pre-generated character before being released into the wide open world (a map that takes 10 minutes to cross, shared with around fifteen other players) with your own ship to take part in what boils down to essentially three different activities: tracking down buried treasure, hunting skeletons and delivering cargo.
Searching for buried treasure is the most engaging and interesting of the three activities. You’ll either be given a small map of an island with an ‘X’ marked on it, or a list of clues leading to a chest buried on an island somewhere. It’s up to you to locate the island on your world map, plot a course and sail there to retrieve the loot. There’s no quest markers, no arrow pointing where to go and no fast travel system – just you, your boat, your map and your compass.
If you opt to hunt skeletons, you’ll be given the name of an island to track down and visit. Upon setting foot on the island, you’ll be swarmed by dozens of skeletons that need to be slain in order to draw out the captain whose skull you need to take back to the quest vendor. These quests put the spotlight on the goofy combat mechanics that feel imprecise and dull, and really aren’t much fun to engage with.
Delivering cargo most often requires you to track down wild animals from a surrounding island and deliver to a specific destination within a time limit. An example would be to deliver two black spotted pigs and a white chicken to a neighbouring outpost to the west in two days time. Catching and delivering these animals is fun, however it can be frustrating having to sail to multiple islands simply because black chickens keep spawning and you only need a white one.
Completing these quests rewards gold and reputation with the faction that offered the quest. Raise your reputation with a certain faction high enough and you’ll be able to purchase a few faction-exclusive cosmetic skins for your items or aesthetic upgrades for your ship. And unfortunately, cosmetic skins are the only things you’ll be buying with your hard-earned plunder in Sea of Thieves.
There are no stats to improve and no new equipment or tools to purchase. Everything you need to play the game is given to you at the start. Which in some ways is a good thing – you’re always on an even playing field with other players in your world and you can participate in every activity from the beginning. On the other hand, you can see everything the game has to offer in just a few hours and the allure of having a red sail on your boat is hardly enough motivation to make you want to keep repeating the same three activities over and over again.
The only thing that keeps the moment-to-moment gameplay fresh and interesting is the people you’re playing with, and Sea of Thieves greatest strength lies in it’s multiplayer. Each of the three activities can be done alone or with up to three other people, be they friends or random players the game has paired you up with.
Joining a game with friends or queuing up to join other random players is quick and easy. There are a variety of group management tools to allow voting on activities and booting disruptive players (or sending them to the brig for a timeout). There are also a number of communication options available ranging from pre-scripted chat wheels to emotes, though voice chat is heavily encouraged due to the cooperative nature of the gameplay.
One of the greatest commendations I had for Sea of thieves coming out of the beta was the game’s aesthetic design, and that praise still rings true in the final version. The game looks gorgeous on both Xbox and PC. Rare’s unique cartoon aesthetic is perfectly blended with some impressive ocean physics and picturesque lighting details to create a truly stunning pirate world that you’ll want to get lost in.
Sea of Thieves has the potential to be a fantastic gaming experience, but in its current state it’s simply not worth the cost of entry. The game looks gorgeous and the sailing mechanics are great fun, whether you’re working with a few friends to sail a galley or scoot around solo on a sloop. But the thrill of adventure wears thin rather quickly when you realise you’re digging up yet another chest on the same island you were on a few hours ago, just to save up enough coin to buy a blue compass. I’ll be checking back in with Sea of Thieves in six to twelve months. I’m hoping the developers continue to support the game with more booty to plunder and more decks to swab.