In what surely won’t be the last time in my illustrious pirate career, I once again find myself governor of a random little spit of sand and palms as my sad ship tips and slips beneath the waves. It’s in these moments of quiet contemplation where I start having a thought. Just like the titular sea my loot is bobbing up and down in, Sea of Thieves itself is a vast, mysterious experience with a very deceptive appearance and a wealth of treasures hidden just below the surface… and more than a few sharks waiting to rip it apart. I’m more than happy to plot a course straight and true through this review, with a big X marking the spot where I recommend the game (spoiler?), but there are a few stops to make on the trip and things to be said. So with that all savvy, what say we dive in, eh?
“I be wonderin’ if it’s too late t’grab me hat…”
To say I was excited about Sea of Thieves would be a sizeable understatement. I remember coming out of Pirates of the Caribbean at the cinema fifteen years ago, buying another ticket and going right back in, that’s how much I loved that sort of thing. So now, having a game where I can make my own pirate stories, I mean, come on. As soon as I loaded into the tavern and heard the jangly pirate music humming through the room, I was already smiling. So with that, let’s forgo the usual water-cooler as the hub of our conversation and focus on a mug ‘o grog, because if I were in a tavern, you can bet your doubloons I’d be chatting about Sea of Thieves right now.
Even though I usually steer away from multiplayer games, I’ve had some of the most enjoyable experiences with other people in this game. As there are no safe-zones and no way to identify if someone is going to be hostile or friendly until it’s too late, interacting with other players is a risky proposition, made even riskier depending on how much loot you have in your hold. I have no shame whatsoever in declaring I turn keel at the first sign of a sail approaching because no one is getting my booty. There is a lot more to it than treasure though. Without any narrative at all and no specific direction other than faction missions, the open-ended aspect of the world and the utterly random nature of the game provide some fertile ground for personal storytelling.
“Ye can bet ye boots half o’ this here shine’ll be spent on grog!”
Take for example the time my sloop was being chased through the rocks in a storm near the Isle of Last Words, only for the pursuing galleon to misjudge the choppy waves during a turn and plough headfirst into an outcropping. The sea claimed the ship, sharks claimed the crew, and I doubled back to claim the loot, which turned out to be quite the haul! Or perhaps the time I was moored up in Smuggler’s Bay, digging around for treasure when another unfriendly chap sailed in and sank my ship, only for me to return the favour with a cannon on the shore. As we both fished our stuff from the bay, we could see each other’s chosen hiding spot, and it became a race to return from wherever our ships respawned on the map to claim the prize. It turns out I was closer, as I snagged both stashes and was far away before another sail even appeared on the horizon. There are many stories like that and more where I was not so lucky, losing everything to the deep or in a raid by some total scumbag players, but no matter how you look at it, it’s the stories that define Sea of Thieves.
What would your story be though without the ship that takes you there? From the small sloop that can easily be captained by a single player to the impressive galleon which is best with a few more bodies, control of the ships is a precise and satisfying art. From trimming the sails or turning full tack to catch the wind to spinning the wheel hard over and dropping the anchor for the pirate equivalent of a handbrake turn, every aspect of your ship is under your direct management. Simple things like turning lanterns off make you less visible at night and help you lay low, while hurriedly fixing holes in your ship and tossing buckets of water over the side help you survive. You even have to manage your supplies of cannonballs, planks for repair, and barrels of bananas, so if you neglected to stock up the last time you made landfall, you might find your situation turning bad faster than the weather does.
“Aye, ’tis a fine tavern for drinkin’, till ye be stumblin’ outside an’ find the quick way down to the docks…”
That brings us to the last star in this show, the world. More specifically, the water and the weather. Oh my, that water. I kid you not, I have gone off course and missed the islands I was heading to multiple times because I was mesmerised by the sea rolling around my ship, or I’ll go where a storm takes me as the compass and my wheel spin wildly and waves crash across my deck. Even though the game opts for a more cartoonish, exaggerated art style for the characters, noticeable when you first start the game and pick a body, the presentation of the world is in a whole different class, wrapping the entire affair up in a genuinely gorgeous package. There have been a few nights where I didn’t exactly feel like doing anything, so I just picked a direction, set a casual, slow sail and played my accordion while drifting aimlessly. I think I might have found my new relaxation game.
So in a game that encourages personal exploration and user-driven narratives, what is there to do on the proper side of things? Well, there are the three factions who operate in the Sea of Thieves, namely the Gold Hoarders, the Order of Souls, and the Merchant Alliance. You’ll find most of your journeys start from one of these three groups, though again, you can ignore them altogether, only interacting with them when it comes time to sell your booty. Each group is relatively self-explanatory, with the Hoarders seeking shiny things of any kind, the Order sending you on bounty hunting missions for undead skeleton captains, and the Merchants delivering stuff from port to port, which you usually have to find first. All in all, fairly basic stuff. I can see in other reviews people lamenting the simplistic, often repetitive nature of this part of the game, but as I said above, these missions act as a platform for you to start a new story. They provide a rough direction to head in, with whatever happens as soon as you raise anchor entirely up to you.
“I swear on me booty, t’was like this when I found it!”
The other major complaint (from other players, not me) could be that the game doesn’t have much to do at the moment. The consensus seems to be that Rare dropped a pretty, shiny looking package on us, which turned out to be all fluff and no substance and then charged full price for it. While to some that may be the case, I have had no issues with what I’ve gotten so far. Add to that the recent announcements of upcoming content set to bring more and more things to the game, beginning very soon and with no end in sight, I’m happy with the package I got. If you want to wait for when you believe the game will be “complete,” then you may be waiting a while as Rare has planned updates clear through until the end of the year, and hopefully, beyond.
While we’re talking about updates, I might offer a few of my suggestions, because even though I love this game as it is, there is a lot I would like to see changed or, at best, tweaked. Take for example gun boxes. Each ship has a weapon box and an ammo box below it, but there is only one. On the sloop, one container might not seem so bad, but on something as big as the galleon, it’s downright criminal. If anything, I’d suggest a few extras across both ships, or at least one on the main deck and maybe one up in the crows nest. There’s something odd about a frantic firefight between vessels being interrupted by both crews having to run away to reload. Following on from that, I don’t get why I can only have five shot at a time. If I can hold ten cannonballs in my inventory along with everything else in there, I can carry a pouch that contains more than five little metal balls.
“Aye, ship of the damned, I get ye, but if ye could be dropping me jus’ over yonder, that be where me loots a floating…”
Those are little things, though. On the bigger scale, I’d enjoy seeing a bit more character customisation. While Sea of Thieves cleverly maintains a universal constant across all players, with everything you buy only being cosmetic resulting in every player being equal, it’s still a bit odd seeing almost identical versions of myself from time to time. I’m not asking for a full-blown character creator, but a few extra options when we’re picking our body or a magical place we can visit to tweak our appearance in exchange for a chunk of our loot would be an improvement. Lastly, some way to parlay would be right on the money. How many times did Jack Sparrow or others in Pirates run that trick? Who knows, but I’ve lost count of how many times some random ship has sailed in, all guns a blazing, and I’ve lost hours of play. Let us run up a white flag, or have a particular set of colours to hoist that indicates we’re open to negotiating. Pirates are all about surviving and profiting at the same time, so I feel this needs to be an option. These are just a few suggestions, of course, and I’m not the only player with them. I guess we’ll just have to wait for the updates and see what happens.
I could go on all day about the things I enjoy in Sea of Thieves, and even the things that get my blood boiling, but, suffice to say, I’m happy the game is as good as it is even with such a long journey ahead of it. As future months of content begin showing up, from new AI threats, to what sounds like another ship type, more mission types and even weekly events, I’m fully committed to updating this review to reflect the changes. I’m hoping Sea of Thieves hangs around for a while to come and continues to shine as bright as the golden age of piracy it calls home. Weigh anchor, set the sails! All aboard for adventure and for booty!