Ahoy, me hearties! Ready yer sea legs and leave the landlubbers behind. Gather ye round to listen to a tall tale. A tale about a video game called Sea of Thieves. Sea of Thieves is a pirate action-adventure title for Xbox One and Windows 10 from giants Microsoft and Rare. My big brother has been hassling me to play the closed beta with him for aeons. He was addicted; he played it every night, even lugged his Xbox around with him so he could keep playing on weekends. At the time, I didn’t see the appeal. On the surface, it looked like a pirate version of Borderlands. That all changed once I played it myself, however, and I can now definitely see what his deal was. It is a highly addictive, completely unstructured, chaotic game, and we were able to preview a glimpse of gameplay during the closed beta. Without a major commercial success in the last 10 years, could Sea of Thieves be Rare’s major comeback? Yo Ho, will it be a pirate’s life for ye? With the full release scheduled on 20th March 2018, time will tell.

Sea of Thieves is a game lets you embody your inner pirate! It’s an action-adventure cooperative multiplayer experience which fully immerses you into the life of a salty sea dog. Players take to the high seas on epic voyages to unravel puzzling riddles, engage in ship-to-ship battles, and discover the treasure of a lifetime. You can choose to sail the seven seas solo, as an agile two-man sloop, or a formidable four-man galleon. You can decide what kind of pirate will be; humbly searching for treasure or to pillage another’s plunder.

Sea of Thieves is also kind of a cross-platform game; technically it’s “cross-play.” The “PC” platform uses an atrocious Xbox app, only available on Windows 10 from the store. The app seems to be in the early stages of development and is horrible to use. This might sound harsh, but the first hour of my gameplay (yes, I actually was timing) was spent trying to join my team via Xbox live using this heinous app. Immediately, I was not impressed. To add to this, they were having copious server issues, so I spent most of said first hour looking at the loading screen, then getting kicked. Unfortunately, this was not uncommon throughout the rest of my gameplay; we would often get kicked or experience very long loading times. I pray to merciful Poseidon that they were just stress testing the servers and the full release is smooth sailing. I can see where they’re going with the Xbox app, because it allows simultaneous transition between your Xbox and PC, but the app is borderline unusable. Overall, I experienced quite a few bugs with movement, especially during rough weather and combat.

In terms of actual gameplay, the controls are intuitive, as is operating your vessel. There is no forced tutorial, which means you are completely left to figure it out, which adds to the fun. The main objective is to sail your ship and navigate to islands which match your treasure map. Navigation is below deck using a world-map and compass, and you must relay the bearing to the captain at the wheel. Once you have your course, hoist the sails, and sail off to adventure! At your destination, you’ll engage in combat with skeletal-buccaneers and find your booty! My first voyage was a disaster. My partner and I sailed straight into the blackest of storms, Calypso herself could not have left port. This couple of landlubbers had no idea what was going on, the compass was spinning out of control, we ran aground, got hit by lightning, and we went straight to Davey Jones’ Locker. It was one of the most terrifying gaming experiences of my life. We didn’t even get a taste of combat.

Speaking of combat, I have a major issue with the one-on-one in this game. In the beta, there was only two enemy types, the aforementioned skeletons, plus sharks in the water. The scallywags are absurdly good at dodging gunfire, but useless at dodgin’ me cutlass, which is very unbalanced. In addition to frustrating AI, the auto-aim is terrible; it wildly flings around your point-of-view when fighting, which is very disorientating. All-in-all, the hand-to-hand combat needs polishing, and the enemies need to be smarter and more diverse. The most beautiful aspect of this game is the emphasis on multiplayer interactions, both co-op and competitive. For a sizable galleon to run, you need to communicate with your crew members to hoist the sails, set the course and alert them to ships spied with your spyglass. It’s awesome to have a crew with voice chat, but if you don’t have a mic fear not! They have a comprehensive text emoting system built-in, which works surprisingly well.

It’s no secret that I’m not normally a fan of PvP. But shiver me timbers! The pirate battles in this are a lot of fun and super addictive. It’s quite eerie, keeping a weathered eye for sails on the horizon. During ship-to-ship encounters, it’s quite realistic. You have cannons on the side of your ship, aim to “broadside” the enemy ship and fire away. Controlling the ship during a battle is quite difficult and can be very drawn out if you are both landlubbers. The different ships are balanced; the galleons have more cannons, and the smaller ships are agiler. Another, less common, tactic is boarding; you can load yourself into a cannon and shooting yourself over, or simply ram the other ship and engage in hand-to-hand combat. You can even be quite the scallywag and hijack another’s ship and make them run aground.

Overall, however, my experience with the PvP was mixed. On one hand, the teamwork with the crew is just flat out fun – assuming you don’t have a lazy crew or a really bossy captain. A majority of players in the closed beta were experienced and raced through every quest, so I didn’t get the chance to find any treasure or sail the ship. The upside is that these old salts find a lot of doubloons! And, of course, I had another quintessential terrible PvP experience. One morning, after wading through numerous server issues, I logged in. I started loading my ship and got ganked immediately, for no reason. I hadn’t even left the outpost yet, and it was really frustrating. But that’s the game! I think that if there are too many players on a server, this will happen too often, but if too few, it will be boring. I am interested to see how Rare balance their servers after launch. Hopefully, in the full release, there will be unwritten PvP rules with unofficial PvP zones (i.e. the middle of the map). Although, I have to admit I still did have positive PvP experiences. It’s just that, most of the time, being hostile, while fun, is very time-consuming and is never really worth the effort.

With such a big emphasis on PvP, there isn’t really room for a storyline. The unstructured nature is one of the highlights of the game. There are no tutorials, so you are left completely to your own devices. The “quests” are also very open, where you are given a parchment with either a map or a riddle. However, a problem was that the chests themselves only contained gold. There was no special loot or unique weapons etc. And the only thing you could buy with the gold was cosmetic clothing or more quests.

This is the major issue I have with the beta; there was a lack of player progression and overall lack of content. As it currently stands, there is no real endgame. You go out on quests and earn gold, and do more quests and get more gold. A crew mate of mine said he was “already worn out from the beta.” Another disappointment is the lack of weapon diversity; there is only a generic rifle, pistol, shotgun and the classic pirate cutlass. It would be nice to see weapon rarities and unique effects. Ditto with gear, I’d like to see buffs and a bit of a story. This game has the look and feel of Borderlands, so I’d like to see the weapon and armour follow suit. I have a large wish list which I am praying will be added to the full release, including NPCs, fleets, factions, and sanctuaries. Hopefully, they are holding 90% of the content back. There are reports from the technical alpha that eased these concerns; the full release will have an endgame, progression and customisable ships.

The game’s colour palette is more vibrant than many modern games, with the graphics of players, ships and islands being simple and quite ‘cartoonish’. Where they clearly directed their graphical efforts is the ocean; the ocean graphics makes this game absolutely beautiful. I’ve spent a lot of time at sea, and the realistic ocean mechanics make this game truly thrilling. The sunsets and sunrises are truly spectacular, especially during storms. However, what really got me were little pirate-y touches – my favourite was the error messages (of which I saw my fair share). All the error message codes were something-beard. I.e. CinnamonBeard is a server error. The music takes it to the next level, and don’t we all love a sea shanty! A popular pastime with any crew is the musical instruments; players can play shanties together on concertina, fiddle, or hurdy-gurdy, and players who are drunk on grog play out of tune. This music adds to the atmosphere and tops off an incredibly fun game.

Final Thoughts

Sea of Thieves is a ridiculously fun and addictive game that truly embodies living on the high seas as a pirate. With an emphasis on player interaction, both cooperative and combative, players can sail a ship solo or as part of a crew in search of plunder or in search of a fight. It’s a very open game, with no structure or narrative – but it’s also not without issues. From my experience, the game can be prone to rage-quitting, with frustrating server issues, unwanted PvP, and uncooperative crew mates. I also have major reservations going in as the closed beta had very limited content. There’s so much scope for the full release, and it looks promising, but I would think twice before shelling out full price if there isn’t a substantial amount of content added at launch (which apparently, there will be). Overall, I found there’s still a lot to be desired, but I nonetheless find myself strangely addicted and counting down the days until the full release.

Ellen Boylen

Ellen Boylen

Staff Writer at GameCloud
Ellen is an aspiring teacher, as well as a coffee-fueled gaming addict. When she’s not combing the beach with her dog Zero, she’s escaping reality with her Oculus Rift. She thinks that VR gaming is the way forward, and the closest she’ll ever get to being a Jedi Master.