I’ve seen Sea of Thieves around in the Xbox Store and it’s one of those games that always grabs my eye. It could be because I just watched the Pirates of the Carribean series with my kids, or it’s the highly stylised art direction that makes me think of Fortnite. Or it’s just the clever cover that uses the elements in the picture to create a skull… or does it? It’s probably a combination of them all. Either way, I was pleased as punch when I was asked to review it.
I did a bit of research on Sea of Thieves beforehand so I could prepare myself and what I got was it’s an MMORPG like Warcraft, but it’s also a sandbox open-world adventure game like LEGO Worlds, but it’s also like playing a tabletop RPG like Warcraft… but it also isn’t…
I honestly did not know what the hell this game is supposed to be. One of the game developers from RARE described it as a “shared world adventure game” (or SWAG for short) and that kind of makes sense.
What they have done is create an ecosystem that allows you to create your own story and develop it in a dynamic way as you play. As far as I can tell, there is no overriding objective or campaign or end goal. It’s literally a world you can escape to, find places and people, and get into trouble and look cool doing it, much like the real world.
There are no computer-generated characters, as far as I could tell. Every character you encounter is an actual person, and the potential of this literally has blown my mind. It’s been tried before, but every other example still leaves you feeling like you are being headed in a direction, an inevitable end goal. However, in Sea of Thieves you get the feeling that you are just a person in a world where you can do anything you want for as long as you want and you aren’t going to run into an NPC at some point who ‘has been waiting for you’ to make the story progress. How you choose to interact with the world will dictate what your adventure becomes.
There is literally no storyline that I can tell. I was expecting to start the game, be introduced to the world and what my objective is and then do some ‘controls orientation’ type stuff, but the closest you get is a choice of three Trading Companies, which are like factions in Fallout or guilds in Skyrim. They send you on voyages and each has a different flavour.
There’s the Gold Hoarders, which is the x-marks-the-spot type treasure hunt and, my favourite, the Order of Souls option where you need to go and battle the skeletons of great pirate crews of yore. Also, there’s the Merchant Alliance where you build up an economic empire by capturing and shipping livestock. You can jump between these 3 options as often you want, so you are not locked into one style of gameplay.
Building your reputation within each forms the Sea of Thieves’s level system, unlocking more challenging commissions and increasingly elaborate equipment as you do so. Rather brilliantly, while there’s a level restriction to buy certain quests, there’s no such cap on who you take with you. Any crew member can suggest a voyage during a meeting in their ship’s hold, meaning a high-ranking pirate can drop a rare quest and take complete beginners with them. Rewards are shared equally at the end, and I guess it’s a nice way to help give a noob a head start.
So it’s an MMO without the shackles of the quest based system those games all have. It’s literally the countertop on which you build your own game and the reward comes from exploring and inventing and experimenting. That, I think, is unique but I’m not sure how I feel about it. I guess if building relationships with people is the reason you play games, it’s a quantum leap in that regard. But if I want to do that, I switch off my console and go find real people.
The tool wheel is a busy place and there are literally dozens of options crammed in there. It all seemed a bit pointless to me until I realised that nothing is there by accident and everything has a purpose. Figuring that out though is an exercise of trial and error and I guess some could find that part of the challenge.
Sea of Thieves is an RPG in that you need to customise your character and there is no shortage of options, for you, as well as your ship. New options get unlocked as you progress but, as far as I can tell, all of these are purely cosmetic and make no difference to the performance of your character and ship.
The main issue I have with Sea of Thieves is that, even though you can play it solo, it has obviously been designed to play as a group and that’s a problem for me. I got a tiny little single sail sloop to start with, but even that was really tricky to sail on my own. I should imagine the bigger three sail galleons would be impossible. I can see how piloting the ship, trimming the sails and weighing anchor could become a thrilling exercise for 3 players, while avoiding a reef and firing on a rival crew set on stealing your loot. However, for me, a more accessible single player option would really tip the scales. Add to that the fact that there is no way to find your friends online once they have started, a game will actually take a level of project management that I think is beyond most of us, which means you will often be playing with randoms. Given this game’s level of personalisation when it comes to playing styles, this is going to cause some tension. I know what RARE was thinking when they did this, but I think it’s a bit naive. People are not inherently nice.
This is where I need to mention all the negatives, real and perceived. Some people have encountered server issues and again, I need to stress, this is a personal gripe. The open nature of the game means you can spend hours and hours playing and never encounter certain content like the Kraken or find a certain island or even have a blow-out with another crew…
Sea of Thieves is also very bare bones at the moment, though I know there will be a ton of new content added over time. RARE has committed to developing content for the next few years. So over time, this game is going to be a very full and vibrant place to be. If you can coordinate with your team to the point where you won’t be playing with strangers and you can see that everything in this game has more to it than meets the eye, then Sea of Thieves could be the new king of the MMO/RPG/SWAG sea!
It’s a very humorous take on what is a pretty dark subject and has a ton of charm. Given that Sea of Thieves is going to develop over time, I have no problem giving this game a big thumbs up, though just not for me and people like me…