'Sea of Thieves' review: an open ocean of possibility

Tuesday, 27 March 2018 08:00 AM Written by 

 

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“Sea of Thieves” is the new ambitious Xbox One and PC exclusive from the legendary developer Rare. It’s been highly anticipated since appearing at E3 two years straight. But, even after two lengthy stage presentations and a handful of open beta tests, nobody was really sure what type of game “Sea of Thieves” would be. Would it be Pirate “Destiny” or like a family friendly “Black Flag”? It’s neither of those things. Even now that it’s out, it seems like Rare is still on a quest to find this game’s identity.

 

The best part of “Sea of Thieves” is also probably the best thing about being a pirate: the discovery. The game gives you no direction or tutorial. Pirates are thrown into an outpost with their ship and crew and no waypoint or goal. This open sea is a pirate’s oyster. So what exactly is there to do? The loop is a simple one: grab quests on outposts, head to a location to find treasure or goods, return them to an outpost, receive gold and experience which unlocks more involved quests. Also, gold can be spent on cosmetic gear. On paper this doesn’t sound like particularly riveting gameplay, but “Sea of Thieves” is all about the journey. It’s not just the journey that makes “Sea of Thieves” memorable, but it’s the journey with your crew of pirate misfits.

 

This is a game that’s built for multiplayer. It’s online-only that encourages jumping on a ship with others from the opening menu. There’s a reason for that. There are options for two types of ships: a large ship that’s built for three or four or small sloop ships built for one or two. Even the smaller ship requires teamwork to set sail. The larger ship is the more enjoyable because every member of a four-person crew is active when on the open sea. Two people can man the three sails to make sure they catch the wind just right while one person mans the captain’s wheel. Since it’s impossible to see what lies ahead of the boat while the sails or down, the fourth person can climb up to the poop deck to scout for rocks or can head below deck to take a look at the world map. A successful sail is like an symphony that’s not terribly difficult to execute, but is oddly satisfying. The game has no fast travel, so most of the time will be spent on the sea.

 

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Once the ship arrives at the destination, it’s time to find treasure. “Sea of Thieves” has no waypoint system. Instead, players must rely on communication and the map of the island. A red “X” shows the treasure’s location, but it’s up to the crew to use a compass and landmarks to find exactly where that is. Once found, that chest can then be returned to the outpost for gold. But beware the treacherous seas. Pirates are ruthless, and other crews can find you and steal your chests before you make it back. This is all part of the game’s open structure. There are no rules on the open seas, which is oddly fitting for a pirate game regardless of how cartoonish it seems.

 

Treasure missions are one of three voyage types. There are also the mostly boring merchant quests that require the delivery of goods like chickens, cannonballs, pigs or other randomly found goods to outposts, and the combat oriented quests that send you on a path to battle undead skeletons. The latter could’ve used some more development, since the game’s combat is quite simple.

 

Each pirate holds two weapons. This can be any combination of saber, pistol, shotgun or sniper rifle. Guns can only hold five shots before having to be refilled on a ship or at an ammo box. There’s no leveling up of weapons or skills, so everyone is on an even playing field. Basically, the combat consists of wailing away at skeletons with friends until they parish. Combat quests are slightly varied later when different types of skeletons rust when they hit water or only become vulnerable in sunlight or when a lantern shines on them, but that’s the extent of it.

 

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This is “Sea of Thieves” in a nutshell. It’s a gorgeous game that has fantastic presentation. It takes one journey in the sunlight with a four-person crew as you all work together to battle the waves and wind to become sold on the idea of this game. It’s a unique, smile-inducing good time. But, after a while, crews need more to do than just going to the same islands to find more of the same treasure or battle the same skeletons.

 

“Sea of Thieves” mostly delivers what was promised in its past previews. It’s a large open world where friends become pirates, but even pirates need something to do. That’s not to say the first dozen hours or more aren’t fun. They are, especially when playing with friends or friendly random players. In that sense, “Sea of Thieves” is more of a beautiful, high budget chat room than a game. Even so, conversing with friends with the occasional activity can be the most satisfying of experiences. Does that mean “Sea of Thieves” is a great game? I’m not sure. It certainly could grow into something great. For now, it’s a wonderful social experience that kept me wanting to see more. And when I wasn’t playing, I was looking forward to returning to the open sea.

 

8.25 out of 10

 

 

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