*Reviewed on Xbox One*
A Sinking Ship
I was searching for a treasure with my crew on a small island. After many minutes sailing the seas, we finally found the location where the buried treasure was hidden. As we started digging, the scripted waves of skeleton fodder began to attack, not wanting us to take their booty. Things were going well until a rival crew showed up, and as you might guess things didn’t go as well as you think. The rival crew totally demolished up, taking our treasure; sinking our ship, and last but not least sinking our ship.
Although most of my time spent with my crew was wonderful – especially acting like pirates – I was nevertheless frustrated that all the hard work that went into looking for the treasure was thrown out the window. This, in a nutshell, is Sea of Thieves. After choosing your character based on generated pirate looks, you are immediately loaded into a pub where you can drink with local crew members or just chill. The pub is one of many different locations found in small villages known as ‘outposts’. There are a handful of outposts situated on islands throughout the sea.
Outposts are essentially your go-to place for picking up items and quests. There are three main sets of voyages you and your crew can partake in. There’s the Merchant Alliance, in which you are required to go out and collect a shipment of animals, spices, and other assortments of items. Gold Hoarders, tasks you to seek out treasure chests based on treasure maps, and the Order of Souls quests requires you to hunt skeleton captains and collect their souls for gold.
The three voyage options also become more rewarding in the long run. As your end-goal is to attain the status of ‘Pirate Legend’ (a status which I haven’t attained as of yet). The voyages have their own level progression resulting in new commendations, rewards, and higher level quests. A downside to acquiring new quests, however, is that you have to pay a small fee just to get a new quest, which in turn gets costly later on. Another thing that can become costly is the assortment of customizable items you can buy from vendors for your character or ship. Such silly things as beer mug’s, compass’, ship sails, weapons, and more.
Sailing by yourself works as expected, but the true way to play this game is with a group of friends with voice chat enabled. This allows a clearer communication with one another; there’s also random matchmaking. This, however, can be troublesome, as I found during my random sessions most of my time was spent locked in the brig (jail cell below deck) thanks to the crewmates voting to lock me up.
When you’re not being locked away in the brig sailing the seas can be fun. Thank’s to the game’s Pixar-like animation and graphics, Sea of Thieves is a gorgeous, whimsical experience every time I played it. Every voyage I took part in relied on teamwork and communication. Depending on if you choose to sail in a sloop or a galleon, both boats feel very different to control. The sloop is agiler, yet can take more damage. The galleon, however, is more durable yet less precise compared to its counterpart.
My time spent on boats felt very much like a micromanagement mini-game at times. There are a lot of factors that play into sailing a boat, as well as fighting. Boats come pre-equipped with wooden boards – used to patch-up ship damage taken by cannon fire, or crash damage in case your crew was a little late dropping the anchor -, cannonballs – ammunition used for naval combat -, and bananas – for replenishing health if taken damage. More of these items can be collected by finding barrels at the initial spawn, or throughout the world. Combat during player and NPC battles feels somewhat clunky. During sword combat you have a heavy and light attacking option; as well as a block. For your sidearm, there are three options; pistol, blunderbuss, and sniper. Each firearm packs its own level of punch in order to deal the most amount of damage.
Sailing truly is a job, as communication is key. Thankfully the game utilizes a dialogue menu, including another menu for emotes to enable simple communication with other players if your microphone isn’t equipped. One really neat thing about the dialogue wheel is that certain items have their own dialogue choices once the player equips it. Case-in-point, if I pull out the compass and bring up the dialogue wheel, my different dialogue options will correspond to the compass with commands calling out the cardinal directions.
The teamwork aspect comes in handy when angling each sail in just the right way to either slow or hasten the ship. If your fellow crewmates arent on the same page, then managing a ship can be somewhat difficult. Teamwork is also very important when taking on a few other challenges. Such as the Kraken or tackling skeleton forts that feel like mini raids. Thanks to the cross-platform matchmaking; PC and Xbox owners can play together. I found there wasn’t any hindrance to this experience.
Sea of Thieves is at its most fun with a group of friends. It’s charm and good intent almost make up for the game’s lack of rewarding progression.