Rare’s pirate adventure has been a long time coming, both in its launch and in the company shipping a “real” game after so many years. Unfortunately, the seas have been choppy since the game’s maiden voyage. Server and technical issues have hampered the experience early on, but Sea of Thieves’ larger issues require more than just a patch.
Upon starting the game, the lack of a character customization immediately took me aback. Instead of designing a swashbuckler from the ground up, Sea of Thieves offers randomly generated presets. None of these choices lit my world on fire. Thus, I spent way too long refreshing the line-up before the game spat out a character that only somewhat aligned with what I wanted. Looking at similar shared world titles like MMO’s or even something like Monster Hunter: World, I can’t understand why Rare wouldn’t let players craft pirates from scratch.
Another red flag was how Sea of Thieves fails to explain any of its major systems. After spawning into the world, I tried finding my ship with no luck. I wandered the tiny starting island looking for something that should easily stand out for almost ten minutes. Fed up, I took a shot in the dark and swam to a merman wading in the sea holding a smoke signal that I noticed early on but ignored. Turns out that creature warps players to their ships but the game never states this in the early going.
The same vagueness applies to quests. I set up my first task, some sort of shipment delivery, but had no idea what to ship or where to bring it. That’s because for a good while, I couldn’t find where the actual mission details were; it’s not as simple as opening up a quest log. You can indeed view these details, but doing so, along with activating quests in general, requires an necessary number of steps. A friend playing with me had to school me on the process because, say it with me, Sea of Thieves neglects to do so.
For all of those annoyances, the lack of a sailing tutorial might be the most egregious oversight. Controlling a ship requires a level of involvement that can be frustrating if you don’t know what you’re doing–especially if you’re going solo. I’m not asking for a dense manual of how boats work. Arrows pointing out important points (anchor, sails, etc.) and leads players in the right order to do things would have been very welcomed.
After sailing for about five minutes, I crash-landed on an island after forgetting how to drop the anchor. I inspected the damage and found one small hole; a simple fix, I figured. I belatedly dropped the anchor, dived into the water to swim ashore for wood, then turned back in horror to find my ship halfway submerged. Before I knew it, my first boat became just a memory. As I waded through the water flabbergasted, a shark attacked and sent me to the briny deep. To really kick me as I was down, the game’s network crashed and jettisoned me back to the main menu.
I’ve yet to play with a full crew but I did spend a few hours gallivanting with a buddy. Having someone to pal around with definitely provides more enjoyment and allowed Sea of Thieves’ better qualities to shine through. It’s novel to steer the ship while the other person navigates/keeps an eye out for danger. During our session we unearthed buried treasure, battled skeletons, and explored mysterious islands. Despite sharing a ton of laughs, the activities themselves had a pervading element of shallowness to them.
The real fun and unpredictability lies in encountering other players. Spotting a rival ship in the distance always created an exciting sense of unease; you never know how others will react to your presence. Unsurprisingly, nearly all interactions were hostile.
While turning in quests at a port, another crew sailed by and obliterated our docked ship just because. A galleon once relentlessly pursued us into the lethal maelstrom that is the edge of the map. One dire naval battle forced us to fruitlessly ram the much larger vessel head-on in an attempt to board their ship from the water. It failed miserably, but we had a great laugh from the absurdity of it all. I wish crews were bound together more tightly, though. We often died and respawned in separate places on the map. Still, playing with even just one other person makes Sea of Thieves’ otherwise scant offerings exponentially more entertaining.
So should you play Sea of Thieves? Well, if you’re a Xbox Game Pass subscriber, you have automatic access to the game so go for it. Even if you’re not, it’s only $10 to sign up which means you’d be getting the full game for a fraction of the price (which is what I did). However, I can’t see this being worth the full $60 price tag unless you have a reliable crew of friends to regularly goof around with and even then it’s a stretch. I haven’t played since the session with my friend as I have little willpower to jump back in alone.
Right now, Sea of Thieves’ feels like a neat idea wrapped around shallow design with technical hiccups on the side. Those setbacks can and hopefully will be addressed in the future, which could make for a better game down the road. An undeniable novelty carries Rare’s experience, but depending on your friend situation, that might not be enough.