Where I once had to find my own fun, now the game provides, at the very least, a metaphorical compass to point me in the right direction. Players who want the structure provided from campaign-like missions now have something to grab onto, along with little details like fishing to fill out the world.Jaw-dropping lighting works in harmony with the deep, rich waves of the open sea as clouds puff in and out of existence. Kudos to Rare for capturing that adventurous and uncertain feeling of being out to sea with all the beauty of radiant sunrises and sunsets.
sloop or four-person galleon initially feels like a grand adventure. Something as simple as a flock of gulls could lead you to a shipwreck, which holds a message in a bottle with a riddle, which leads you to buried treasure. When each surprising discovery leads to another, Sea of Thieves nails that feeling of pulling on a thread to unravel a mystery. You and up to three other players have a ship waiting at the dock and very little direction as to what to do. Raise the anchor and unfurl the sails and slam into a rock if you want. As the water below deck reaches your neck, you’ll either drown or discover that you have to equip wooden planks to repair holes, and then your bucket to scoop up and heave the seawater back to where it came from.
Ocean Blue To say I was excited for the launch of Sea of Thieves would be an understatement. When the title was originally announced exclusively for the Xbox One, that was the game that actually made me get the console even 3 years before it finally…With three chests and a mysterious glowing skull to sell, the idea of more gold jiggling in our pockets in the very near future was a tantalising thought for the GamesRadAARGH crew. There were no other ships in sight, and a good wind at our back, so we thought we were home free.
But then, the waters around us started turning black. We paced the decks, wondering what was going on, but before we could even mull over some ideas or just sail away. It’s taken nearly two years, but finally, as part of its new Christmas-themed update, Rare has given its nautical multiplayer sandbox a proper tutorial – and, quite unexpectedly, it’s an absolute delight.It’s immersive, but it’s also perhaps a bit too ahead of its time. Sometimes I crave a simple sentence superimposed on the screen telling me what to do next.It just feels good be out at sea, and the more you sail, the better you’ll get at it. When combat erupts you’ve got to steer, repair holes, bail water, fire cannons, and be sure to get back to those sails because this ship has to turn hard to stay in cannon range! It can be demanding to orchestrate, but when our crew successfully conquered an imposing Skull Fort, we felt like the pirate kings of the world.
By yourself, it’s either slightly ponderous and peaceful, or frustrating as groups of two-to-four hound you, killing you or sinking your ship just because they can. With random crewmates who silently drop your anchor in the middle of the ocean for no reason, it’s obviously a complete wash. But with friends or a good group from matchmaking—I’ve been matched with a couple fun crews, though plenty of assholes, too—the first five or so hours of Sea of Thieves gush with discovery and surprise and jovial stupidity.You begin alone, with a single crew member or as a squad of four, and then you’re out into the world, taking on jobs for the seafaring organisations that set up tents at every outpost. For the Gold Hoarders, you’re looking for buried treasure; for the Order of Souls, it’s the skulls of defeated foes;
for the Merchant Alliance, it’s ferrying goods – mostly animals – from one place to another. Zoe was ripped from the lower deck by a rogue tentacle, while JJ attempted to work the cannons. The next thing I knew I was hoisted into the air from behind the wheel into some kind of mouth, and despite much cutlass waving, all three of us were in its grasp and we were watching our precious ship – and all our treasure – disappear down into Davy Jones’ locker. There’s a bit of a neat twist in that players can forfeit their presents in the spirit of giving for additional rewards, but it’s certainly nowhere near as exciting as November’s fire/new Tall Tale double whammy.Perhaps thwarted by my cries of “Stop! I’m weak!” over the mic, the players then left me alone on the next try.
The Order of Souls asks you to find and kill undead captains. And the Merchant Company just needs you to capture and deliver animals. This is your primary progress through Sea of Thieves – besides finding random loot out in the world to turn in, or stealing other players’ loot – and that’s its biggest weakness. The irony of earning Legendary Pirate status only after dozens and dozens of hours working for these companies is ripe, and the grind to the endgame is just too long.There’s nothing in the UI to help you determine where the red X on a treasure map is in relation to yourself, or how your sails work. Learning all of Sea of Thieves’ little tricks and techniques—how best to orient myself, or where to find chickens or pigs for deliveries, or how to squeak between rocks safely—made my first several sessions wonderfully fulfilling. These are intense encounters, cannonballs flying, crew members sneaking aboard each other’s vessels to cut down foes with swords or pistols, treasure chests being spirited away, hulls bursting open and taking on water (which you can then drain by the bucketload). Sometimes there are bigger events: the tentacles of the Kraken erupt from the foaming seas, or a skeleton fort opens up,
its treasure room loaded with booty. To face these challenges you may need more than one boat, so uneasy alliances form. It lives in the moments of “I can’t believe that just happened…” and “Remember when…?”, because there’s nothing quite like getting a crew together and just casting off, not knowing quite what’s going to happen next. The stories you create as a group of friends – whether it’s just getting totally grogged and vomiting on each other, giggling away down the mics, or taking on the Skeleton Fort and coming away with the loot – are what’s going to keep you coming back for more. Once players have roused themselves and taken in their beautiful tropical island surroundings, they’re walked through the basics of combat, treasure hunting, and more, all in a neat little mini-quest.Gold Hoarders missions give you a treasure map with an X marking the spot to go and dig at, while the Order of Souls want the glowing skull of an undead pirate captain and the Merchant Alliance work by trading animals and rare goods, including chickens, pigs and snakes.
I just have to roll a server with players who aren’t interested in sinking my ship. Those are the limitations, of course, of a fully player-versus-player environment. There are no safe zones and everything’s always at risk, depending on whose spawned in your sea.Level-25 Order of Souls quests might require you to visit four different islands, and slay up to four bosses on each. Sure, they’ll throw hardier gold-plated skeletons at you that need to be splashed with water, or fast-moving shadow skeletons that can be stunned with a lantern, but it never fundamentally changes the dull fetch-and-kill quest routine. All they can see is a compass, while in the map room below another player must tell them if they’re on the right course. Other tasks include adjusting the angles of the sails to catch the wind, raising and lowering them to move faster or turn more sharply, and peering through a spyglass to spot other player ships.In a way, this is a good thing:
everyone enters the game as an equal, whether it’s their first time or their 1,000th. But the bigger problem with Sea of Thieves is that the islands, little knuckles of sand and grass jutting from the waves, are all extremely similar, and they all feel empty. There are little tasks and secrets hidden around the world, but not enough that you can just set sail and find a surprise.