I’m not sure about you, but Xbox has been making me nervous. With game cancellations, the first party line up was looking barren, fortunately one of the games that was sailing on the seas of hype, has been released, Sea of Thieves. Now what needs to be answered is whether it is worth checking out.
Sea of Thieves starts by setting you up with a pirate, then you choose the size of boat you would like to embark on, and you get thrown straight into the game. This makes for a rough first hour or so while you try to figure out the controls, and more importantly, how the game works.
If you are lucky your first moments will be with a team of your friends, or a team of helpful randoms. My first game paired me up with two patient Americans and a lovely Australian who were happy to give instructions, so I could contribute. The problem is with no tutorial or even a screen of controls, I was trying to follow instructions, without even knowing how to pull up my item wheel to find the bucket.
The only reason this game is so annoying is because there are so many interesting nuances to the game, so knowing how to do these early on would have made the game more accessible and less frustrating in the early hours. A quick 15-minute tutorial upon launch would have made for a smoother and more fun experience, but it is what it is.
The gameplay loop is a fun one. You pick up missions and venture out to complete them. They are as simple as collect the skulls of Skull Captains or find buried treasure. But it’s not always that easy. Riddles may get in the way disrupting its ease, but more so is the use of the map. Instead of being able to pull up a world map, you need to go manually check a map in the captain’s quarters. Using the map, you need to find yourself, where you are going, and figure out your bearings.
The number of manual tasks in the game is what makes it special. Having to regularly check your map is one thing but sailing in a direction isn’t always as simple as checking the compass. You need to observe the direction of the wind, and then raise or lower your sails, and point them in the right direction to have any chance of getting anywhere with reasonable time.
Manually changing the sails where they are tied off, dropping or raising your anchor by turning a wheel, and repairing your ship is all a part of being functional at sea. If NPCs or other players blast holes in your ship, you need to patch it up with wooden panels to avoid being sunk, and you will need to bucket the water out manually. These tasks can be overwhelming at first, but when you have a good crew working together in a good rhythm it becomes immensely satisfying.
The biggest weakness in the game is the other players. If you are dropped into a group not using voice chat then the games fluency is lost, and the whole thing becomes a chaotic mess. The other issue is with other players on the seas. The ability to be attacked by other players is entertaining, but it can easily become impossible to complete a quest if you hit some griefers who want to annoy you.
Thanks to the proximity chat, you can speak to players who aren’t in your squad that are in ear shot. This means you can broker piece and an option to split the loot, but it also means griefers can fill your ears with more profanity than a Jay and Silent Bob movie. Thank you, internet.
Once you have completed a few quests, most of the game becomes repetitive. Large open seas can be a bit boring to navigate, and the combat is bare bones, like your opponents. But this isn’t an issue if you are with a good crew that produces quality conversation as you navigate the waters. Thanks to the game being cross-play with PC, and what must be some perfect netcode, this is possible as I played with people around the world and never saw lag.
Unfortunately, Sea of Thieves has plenty of time offline, meaning nights I was excited to get home and dig in, I found myself face to face with a Kiwibeard error, meaning server logon issues. This is normal for online games these days, but it still sucks when it happens.
The other issue is you can play solo in a small vessel, but between other players, and trying to beat large waves of enemies on your own, this mode is way too difficult and frustrating. Not to mention the benefits of a fun team are all lost when you go solo.
Sea of Thieves is ultimately a shallow game once the nuances of ship faring are mastered. On your own it is too hard, and with the wrong team it can be painful, but if you have a great crew, or a group of friends, there is a lot of fun to be had in Sea of Thieves, as ultimately other players make and break the experience.