'Sea of Thieves' beta is a breath of fresh air on the open seas

Monday, 29 January 2018 10:00 AM Written by 

 

“Sea of Thieves” has a lot riding on it. It’s a standout title on a short list of Xbox One exclusives for the year, and it has the development team of Rare behind it. When it was first shown at E3 a couple years ago, this cartoonish pirate world looks like it could be a pirate-style Destiny. Now the beta has been in people’s hands for the past week and the gameplay offers so much more than that.

 

The beta drops you on your ship with no narration, no direction and no tutorial or waypoint. There isn’t some huge handbook that explains how to be a pirate, so this welcome is fitting even if it is a little unnerving as a first impression. It’s unclear if the start of the beta will be exactly the same as the beginning of the final game, but the discovery of the game’s many systems is part of its charm. If you opt for a four-person ship, you’re thrown right into matchmaking with other people looking for the same experience. There are also options for two-person ships or a solo ship if you want to play by yourself. I would recommend the four-person ship as working with your crewmates is the best part about “Sea of Thieves.” This is an online multiplayer game, so why not play it as it’s meant to be played?

 

Despite its almost cell-shaded look, “Sea of Thieves” is an absolutely gorgeous video game. Every bright sunrise and orange-tinted sunset and every cloud in the night sky that has a bright outline from the moonlight is captured in fantastic detail. The game is presented in 4K with HDR on the Xbox One X, and it’s difficult not to load up on screenshots during any given session. It’s just a great looking game.

 

The goal in “Sea of Thieves” is to go on voyages, find chests, sell them for loot, and get more voyages. The world map is littered with islands that are both big and small. Islands with outposts in their name have shops and voyage givers. Once you’re given your first voyage, your crew is on the way to find that sweet pirates' booty. This is where it becomes clear that “Sea of Thieves" is unlike any other modern game.

 

Modern games are obsessed with waypoints. Offhand, I can’t think of a single open-world game that doesn’t have waypoints. They aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but two minutes in “Sea of Thieves” shows you how dependant we are on them. This game has no waypoints. After embarking on a voyage, you’re given a map that shows a picture of the island you need to get to. You have to take that map down to the world map on your boat and find the island that looks like the one on the map. Once it’s found, someone has to take the wheel of the boat and steer the vessel in the correct direction. This is more than a one-person job. Someone has to keep an eye on the world map and say the correct directions. Another crew member should be on the looking for rocks or structures so the boat doesn’t run aground and take in water. The fourth crew member can manage the sails to control boat speed. Everyone has a job to do on the high seas and that harmony makes travelling from A to B a blast.

 

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Once you arrive on an island, your map that shows the island will have an X on it. That X is where the treasure is. Again, there’s no waypoint to follow, so you have to rely on landmarks to figure out where you are on the island and how you can get to the X. Once you have find the treasure, you bring it back to store it on your ship. You can then embark on more voyages or take the chest right back to the outpost to sell it for gold.

 

Voyages start simple with small islands that don’t require much exploration, but eventually get longer with multiple steps. Sometimes it’s not just finding and X, but solving a riddle. The voyages didn’t vary too much down the line, but I’m hoping they become much more unique in the final game.

 

Occasionally on an island you’ll have to battle skeletons that come up from the ground and chase you. This isn’t much more than an annoyance. You can take them out with your pistol, ranged rifle or sword. Everyone is equipped with the same weapons that deal the same damage, which makes for a more balanced experience. Through my time with the beta, I didn’t see any other enemies other than skeletons, but I’m sure there are more dangers waiting for us in the final game.

 

The main enemies in the game are other players. If you see another ship approaching, that ship has human players on it who are all in it to find more treasure. They very well could sink your boat and take all of your chests with them. It’s important to always be ready for battle and approach other pirate ships with caution.

 

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I was expecting “Sea of Thieves” to be yet another open world game where I’d be chasing waypoints to level up my character and ship and on an endless hunt to find the best loot for my character. "Sea of Thieves" isn't that. The beta gave a small slice of what could be one of the most fun multiplayer games to come out this year. I can’t wait to see what awaits on the high seas in the games final version when it releases on March 20.

 

 

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