For a long time now we could witness a hype about the release of the new title Sea of Thieves by the well-known British developer studio Rare which has been founded almost 33 years ago in April 1985. Rare previously held a partnership with Nintendo from 1994 onwards but was then acquired by Microsoft Studios in 2002 to work on titles for the Xbox and Xbox One, retaining their logo and brand because they are valued by the gamer community.
Finally it’s time to set sails
Yesterday, on the 20th of March, Sea of Thieves was finally launched and allowed gamers all over the world to embark on a voyage in best pirate manner. The experience is online-only and does not have a campaign or story to follow through. There isn’t much of a narrative and the newly joined pirates have to find their way around more or less on their own.
Newly arrived on an island you find yourself in a shady tavern with a few NPCs to talk to, and if you stay a while, you see other pirate players join the session just like you did. You leave the tavern, eager to explore the world, and might have some trouble finding your way around first but you’ll find everything – no worries.
Easy to learn, hard to master
When starting a session, you can choose between joining a crew on a large ship or on a small vessel. For reasons explained further below, I could only test the game on a big ship, but the smaller ship is said to be easier to handle for one or two players, while the bigger ships should be manned by four players.
I didn’t join the beta, and I didn’t have a preview version so when I started the game I didn’t really know what to do and how the game worked but it wasn’t hard to learn and everybody was really helpful and shared what they already found out. Also, I found that Rare managed to build an experience unparalleled until today. How the players team up and interact with each other is just amazing.
Teamwork is everything
Once all players of your crew have met up on the ship, which is patiently waiting for them at the start island’s harbor, they decide what quest to embark on and then the voyage starts. Setting the sails, raising the anchor, reading the map and taking the wheel, there is a lot that you need to do on a pirate ship, and one player alone cannot efficiently manage that. However, all of the crew is working together to make the trip work. While it might not be realistic, it’s still a lot more effort and a lot less comfortable to cruise around in Sea of Thieves than in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag for instance.
Once you reached your destination, you’ll need to fulfill the objective as outlined in your quest details. But of course, every pirate’s favorite is finding the treasure chest where X marks the spot and digging it up with your handy shovel before you carry it back to your ship. And so you carry on, quest by quest, to pile up treasure chests and other riches on the ship. Then, hopefully, before another crew wants to steal your goods, you go back to your home base and sell all your findings for gold, which you can then exchange for new clothes, weapons, or other accessories. And when you’re all done – you set sail once more for a new adventure.
Multiplayer like I’ve never experienced it before
The multiplayer experience is rather unique and has a really nice feeling to it. You can quickly witness strangers forming a functioning pirate crew which often, just like on a real ship, is led by a captain who barks the orders. Communication can be done via voice chat, text input, or contextually fitting pre-written text that can be selected based on what one is currently doing. That allows people that don’t like talking into a microphone to be an efficient part of the crew too.
Sea of Thieves is an online-only pirate adventure title that heavily relies on cooperative multiplayer gameplay. The game is somewhat “open world” but more like the open sea. I thought that the tiny islands that you visit should be larger than they are but then I guess the focus is really on the ship’s voyage itself and not as much on island exploration.
If you happen to meet pirates from another crew, everything can happen really. Maybe they ignore you, perhaps they are hostile and want to sink your ship, or maybe you meet up for a party with music, dance, and grog. There is a lot of freedom to the experience and similar the player behavior in Grand Theft Auto V, you can’t really predict how other players are going to react. Overall it’s a delightful experience to become a pirate in Sea of Thieves and if you’d like to see more of our adventure, feel invited to watch the recording of our Twitch stream below.
No character editor
I really like creating characters and spending time with adjusting the look of the person you’re going to play. In Sea of Thieves, there is nothing like a studio to build your pirate though. All you are provided with is a selection of pirates with mixed visual attributes to choose from. These are randomly generated and if you don’t like any of the “rolled” pirates, you can re-roll the selection and do that until you get a character that you want.
Apparently Rare was focusing more on cosmetic items such as clothes and accessories to let players customize their pirates, and we can only hope that this will not mutate into a microtransaction business. Some might argue that this isn’t important because you can’t even see the pirate who you are playing due to the first person perspective, but I think that’s no excuse. It didn’t stop the makers of Fallout 4 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim either to offer their players an extensive character creation studio.
All those beards and release day issues
I don’t mean to rub it in but I feel it’s fair to report that yesterday, on launch day, the service for Sea of Thieves went down. Until now there hasn’t been a clear explanation on why this has happened, but the result was that most, if not all, players could not log in due to errors such as Lavenderbeard, Cinnamonbeard, or even Kiwibeard. I was fortunate enough to play for about two hours before I got kicked out, unable to re-join.
We've got A LOT of eager pirates playing #SeaOfThieves right now and due to this some of you may experience issues. Our engineers are working hard to investigate and alleviate them. Thanks for your patience! Visit support for more guidance: https://t.co/qtuHXghul5
— Sea of Thieves (@SeaOfThieves) March 20, 2018
The outage went on for many hours and was only resolved today. Checking into Twitter and looking up #Lavenderbeard you can see a lot of angry gamers, from which some paid for the game up front in 2017 and those were really upset about not being able to play. Some took a leave day from work or made similar arrangements to have time to celebrate what they waited for so long. If it was a capacity issue, it might have to do with a lot of gamers joining in via Xbox Game Pass, which is a subscription service that lets users play games based on a monthly fee.
In my opinion, it was clear from the start that the load on launch day would be significantly higher than on any other day, especially if you’re allowing Game Pass users to join right from day one. However, the root cause remains unclear, and I am looking forward to hearing from Rare and Microsoft what they come up with and what they’ll offer the gamers to make up for all the frustration.
Sea of Thieves has been developed as an exclusive title for Microsoft platforms. This means you can play it both on PC and Xbox One but not on the PS4. You can buy the game for $59.99 or play it as part of the Xbox Game Pass service which costs gamers $9.99 monthly, including access to many other games in their portfolio. While the game is good fun in the little time I played, it’s unclear if there will be a hook that keeps the game playable over a longer period. Hopefully more content is heading our way.
I thought that Sea of Thieves is unlike any other game I played before and in that perspective, Rare managed to craft something genuinely new. It’s not Sid Meier’s Pirates! and it’s not Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Sea of Thieves gives you an excellent pirate experience and a good sense for comradery. Sea of Thieves does not try to be a simulation and does not try to be historically correct, but it’s a great fantasy adventure that gives you a feeling of how it could have been like back then.
Not entirely sure what you’re buying? If you missed our live stream on Twitch, you could check out the gameplay video below that we posted on our YouTube channel. If you have any thoughts or experiences to share, drop a comment below. Thanks for reading!
Update March 22: The game is accessible again but we wasted two hours playing because due to a bug no gold has been paid out when we sold our haul to the merchants. This game is certainly fun but perhaps it takes a couple of days for debugging now. If you haven’t bought it yet, I’d recommend you to wait some time until you buy to make sure it’s fully fixed before you play.
YouTube: ‘Sea of Thieves’ Review and Gameplay [No Commentary]
Photo credit: Rare / Microsoft Studios
Editorial notice: Review is based on approximately two hours playing Sea of Thieves on Xbox One.