I don’t really know how I should feel about Sea of Thieves. It first hits you over the head with its beautiful art style and then with the general charm of this pirating universe. Then, like an anchor sinking to the depths of the sea, it hits you with a dose of reality: Sea of Thieves is actually pretty shallow and boring.
I’ve been waiting to play this game for some time. Back a few years ago, it was the one highlight I took away from Microsoft’s E3 press conference. I can remember thinking how jealous I was of all the Xbox people after watching that first trailer. You and your pirate friends, working together on a ship, plundering booty and fighting other pirates. Seems cool right?
Well, over the next few minutes, I hate to do this, but I have to dash your impressions of this game. Sea of Thieves really makes me wish I could return the sixty bucks I plunked down on it. At its core, this is because the tasks and variety in the missions are really lackluster.
I was lucky enough a few months back to build a new PC that’s more than capable of playing pretty much any game on the market these days. This is good, mainly as it keeps my ear to the ground for other games and I wouldn’t normally play outside of the Playstation ecosystem. Sea of Thieves was the first multiplayer PC game I wanted since building my computer. Heck, it has pirates so it pretty much won me over with that alone. Unfortunately, pirates alone, cannot save this game.
Gameplay, Presentation and (Story?)
Where to start with this game? Well, on the pro side, if you have ever wanted to micromanage a pirate game, especially if you play by yourself, then this is the game for you. And have you also thought to yourself, “I want to play a video game, but I don’t want anyone to explain anything to me”. Then this also, is the game for you. There’s virtually no story to this game outside of figuring out what each faction in the game wants from you. And, as it turns out, all they want you do to is to go get things for them, and they will in return, provide you with gold. Yay, a gold chasing game. You heard that right, the goal of this game is to buy cosmetic items.
To start, players will choose their favorite likeness from a randomly generated circle of pirates. Online sessions are based on the way you want to play, either with a crew or by yourself. You’ll have the opportunity to choose from a few different ships, larger ones require a four person team while a smaller ship can be manned alone. On the PC, I never had any real issues connecting, outside of the first week of play. However, as with most online games, the real issue arises when matching with random players. In a lot of ways, this reminds me so much of why GTA Online was also a struggle for me. Sea of Thieves and GTA Online share the issue of “without a good crew, it’s no fun to play”. So suffice to say, I have had nothing but bad experiences playing this game with other players. Unfortunately, most of my friends are not PC gamers so this creates a problem with actually giving this game a fair shake. I have had a few good interactions with other Sea of Thieves players, but again, this happens less often in a universe that is constantly about screwing other players over. This becomes an issue with the use of a brig on the ship. Players can individually vote to place another player in a locked jail cell in the base of the ship at any time. Only another player in your crew can release you from the brig. Suffice to say, I have spent way too many games locked away in the brig while other familiar players play on. I get the point of this from a gameplay standpoint, I get it, it’s a troll-y type tool to mess with your friends. FUN they said. At first, it is a bit funny, I mean, how stupid is it that you can lock another player away? If I can communicate with my friends when they are doing this, it’s all in good fun right? Maybe for like five minutes, then, it becomes a problem. When you play with random players, all that happens with this system is abuse. Players who know each other will immediately throw an unfamiliar player in the brig and will proceed to leave them there while they collect treasure. Now here’s the stupid thing, I’m fairly convinced that a lot of the players in Sea of Thieves think that using this technique is somehow preventing the jailed player from reaping any rewards. But even when you thought this element couldn’t get any dumber, it turns out that even if you are locked away that you still get rewards for what your crew turns in. It makes it a lazy ride for one player, and all work for the the other players. So essentially, the brig is moot and completely stupid. I personally think this should have been something that could be turned on and off, or at least, give someone in the brig something to do. And because Rare implemented this cage in such a stupid, short-sided way, they failed to realize that this is mainly used by other players to ruin someone else’s experience for no good reason. GREAT. GAMEPLAY. So to make a long story short, until I have a good team, I’m playing this game alone.
There are other parts to managing your ship, once you get a good crew, or if you decide to go it alone. At first, I found managing the sails, patching holes in the hull, setting my anchor and steering my ship to all be a bit much. Especially when playing by yourself, it feels like a lot to take on when the game isn’t really telling you to do much specifically. It’s even harder still when you get with a group and find that no one has a headset but you. I say this, because there is a certain level of cooperation that you need out of your crew mates just to progress to the nearest island. Many times when playing with a group, I found myself barking orders at players not doing anything and ended up dropping the sails, raising the anchor, and steering the ship to the next location before my two crew mates invariably threw me in the brig. Now, once I got used to everything on my own, traveling from island to island wasn’t too hard to manage. And truthfully, there is this Castaway type feeling to this game which can be fun when playing by yourself. It can get tedious to have no on screen map and to only be able to access the main map from one central location in the ships hull, but I understand why this was done. Managing everything on your ship is done manually, so it makes sense your map is only in one place. That being said, it still means that figuring out where you are and what direction you are going can be a pain in the ass. Ultimately, a lot of this fails for me because of the lack of any explanation for these systems in this game. I for one think hand holding in video games has gotten a bit crazy over the past few generations. But when you think about where Sea of Thieves starts you, and what direction it actually gives you, it feels like this mission system was just slapped together, or rather, not expanded at all. I really can say that I like managing all the parts of my ship, but over time and after hours of playing, I’d rather have a team that works together than struggle alone.
Now here’s the thing, playing this game by yourself (a game that was primarily developed to play online with other players mind you) is actually pretty fun. If I were to compare the feeling of playing this game by yourself to another game, I would have to say it matches closest to Minecraft. To me, Sea of Thieve plays just like the survival mode in Minecraft. That being said, single player is completely boring. There’s a real lack of direction in telling a story in this game (in that there barely is one), and now that I have played it for some time, I can now see what it actually is: a long term cash in. Look, you don’t have to go far these days to see the Battle Royal-ification of all video games. PUBG did it, Fortnite did it, so why can’t Microsoft have their own multiplayer game with the same strategy? Now this isn’t a true Battle Royale type game, but it tries so hard to sell you on the gameplay that everything else seems like it was slapped together after a few betas. I say that, because the mission structure didn’t change much from the first and last beta to the final product. If you’re looking for varied missions, this game does not have it. Missions just straight up suck and are too familiar. Players can choose up to three missions, either all from one faction or you can mix them up. Accepting a mission in your ship will reveal either a clue about a goul you need to take down, a location for buried treasure, or an island where you need to drop off supplies. It’s almost like someone who used to design missions for PS2 games joined up at Rare and was like “Hey guys, you know what players really love to do in games? They LOVE to go get things, and bring them back so they can get gold to buy a new hat”. I say all this jokingly, but that is actually the only goal to this game. Work for any of the three factions, it doesn’t matter. All they want you to do is to go get them something, then bring it back, then they’ll give you gold. Sure, I’ll bite, a new hat would be nice, hey, how’s about some new sails for my ship? What? You say I can’t buy any of those items without sinking a significant amount of time in this world all while repeating the exact same go-fer type missions? Wow, well imagine that!
Suffice to say, many of the items that are purchasable with in game currency are for the most hardcore of players. I don’t think I can sink enough time into this game to actually get enough gold for a new captains hat or sail, or new weapon. The motivation to do all that just isn’t there. In other words, the risk is not worth the reward.
Okay, so I spent pretty much all of this review trashing this game. Secretly, I’ve been hoping for a game like Sea of Thieves for so long, that being on the opposite end of it is nice for a change. It’s actually really fun to write about something I don’t like as opposed to something I do. But even with all the crappy parts of this game, there is one thing that I can’t knock this game for, and that’s it’s lovely art style. The low poly, weathered and sharp edged look is carried through every piece of geometry on screen. From the top of the captains wheel to the top of the crows nest, there’s no denying that the look and feel of everything is this game works. This also comes through in the wonderful environment system. The wind that flows through your sails feels real and the hectic out of nowhere nature of the storms in this game is something that needs to be seen. And considering that you’ll be spending the majority of time on your ship, looking out at the rough and tumultuous seas, it is quite beautiful. But that’s pretty much it.
Sea of Thieves seems like something that should be a smash hit in my book but when it comes down to it, there’s not a whole lot to do. I can say this and that about how pretty this game is, about how unique and fun the sound design is, but I can’t say I’ve been having much fun. I’ve been slogging through it, completing missions on my own because I feel most players, are there to mess with you. I’ve also received some push back from other players via Twitter telling me that I should create a Discord account to find other viable players. I did. All it did was add another unnecessary layer to something that should be easy: play with players who want to play. This also speaks volumes to me about something I had yet to confirm, and I hate to generalize here, but Xbox players are mostly trash. And look, I’m not above a bit of tomfoolery in my video games. If you’ve been watching Games and Gimmicks content over the years, you’ll see that generally, me and my friends like to mess with each other. But playing a game who’s only goal is to “get cool shit” and “troll other players” is to me, the epitome of why I chose to typically play single player games. It’s also the reason why I avoided Microsoft and Xbox and chose Sony and the PS4. The people I care about are on PS4 and that is where I’ll chose to play my games. In the meantime, I hope that Sea of Thieves sees a huge content update in the future. Rare recently posted that they have big plans for 2018 with more to do in the coming year. I’ll leave with a “wait to see it” sort of attitude. The way I see it, as someone who is wholly unsatisfied with the final product, Sea of Thieves has some rough waters ahead.