Sea of Thieves is a first-person pirate sandbox and player versus player game developed by Rare. It is available on Windows and Xbox One including Xbox Game pass. This review was conducted on a standard Xbox One by Joseph Pugh.
It has been a little over a year since Sea of Thieves released. I didn’t review it at launch but I mentioned it in my year end round up.
It has received several updates during that time, many of which are pretty game-changing. There has never been a better time to dawn a pirate hat than right now. Since Sea of Thieves is available to both Xbox One and PC via Xbox game pass and play anywhere. It is pretty easy to do so. At launch, the game had its fair share of criticisms, but even then I spent half of my playtime with it in tears of laughter. So after all those updates, how does it shape up now?
First, there is something that needs to be cleared up at the risk of hurting some feelings, and this dates back all the way to the launch of the game and is still relevant today. Not every game is going to appeal to everyone and there are, in fact, wrong ways to play certain games.
If you have fun playing a game “wrong” that’s great! It is just a game! But leveling criticisms at the game because your playing it wrong and want to have your own way supported are not valid criticisms. The game, at its core, is an open world do what you want, player versus player game about pirates fighting over treasure.
While there are some instances where two or more crews can team up, betrayal is possible even then. Every facet of the game exists to facilitate hostile interaction between crews. The quests you take are generally for treasure and are time-consuming for that reason. Every second spent on an island digging up treasure or fighting skeletons is a second another crew may try to take your pirate booty.
The threat of attack should always weigh on you, whether or not you waste time dropping off small amounts of loot at outposts or gamble it all sailing with a larger haul. The quests themselves would be uninteresting and repetitive without the threat of hostile pirates. Frankly, without that threat, I’d score Sea of Thieves quite low. The good news is, the PvP is very forgiving. If your ship sinks, you only lose the treasure and supplies you gathered. Your ship respawns and you are ready to jump back in instantly.
Furthermore more, there is no kind of power progression in the game. You earn titles, commendations, and gold to spend on cosmetics. The progression is that of self-achievement. Trophy and achievement hunters will likely find great joy in this aspect as they climb the ranks of the various factions, earn commendations and strive to become a pirate legend. This is a doubled edge sword though.
This means that the only difference between two separate crews is their own skills. Levels and loot has no mechanical bonuses. Everyone is on even ground except for how good they are at the game. This also means if you take a break from the game and come back in three months, you are able to jump right in and play on even ground again. This isn’t a system I’d want in every game, but for Sea of Thieves, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
So while you can try to avoid every ship you see, you can even play solo if you wish, you are really missing the spirit of the game if you do. Being chased isn’t all that fun and doing the chasing is rather dull as well. So load that cannon, man those sails and turn to fight those scurvy dogs!
The game is playable with three different ship types, a galleon that can be crewed by four players, a brig by three and a sloop by two. You can have less than the maximum amount of crew if desired and you may invite friends or play with randoms. Don’t be discouraged from fighting if you have a smaller ship, each one has their own advantages and disadvantages. Galleons are difficult to man for example and turn slowly but make up for it in durability and firepower. The sloop is nimble and easy to work, but fragile.
I’ve even managed to sink several larger ships completely solo, it takes a lot of practice and some crazy fighting. But it is doable. You and your crew need to manage the various aspects of sailing the ships. You have to release and trim the sails as well as angle them to catch the wind. Use the anchor, steer the wheel, man the cannons and harpoons while navigating with a handheld compass and tabletop map.
The ships have a detailed damage system. Holes in the hull will begin to fill the ship with water. If the damage is below sea level, water fills the fastest, while damage on higher parts of the hole only leaks water against big waves. Leaks grow larger on consecutive strikes. Water can be bailed with a bucket and holes repaired with boards.
The wheel, mast and anchor can all be damaged. In particular, a mast going down can be devastating, as the crew must grab the ropes and pull it back in place before repairing it. Combat is very emergent in the Sea Of Thieves allowing for a lot of creativity. You can fire the cannons and pick up special cannonballs. They vary in function, like as a grog ball that makes the enemy crew drunk, to a ball that prevents them from turning the wheel.
You can use a harpoon to latch on to an enemy ship (or environment for some nifty maneuvers). Gun powder barrels can be used as sea mines or taken on or under an enemy ship for a more personal touch. You can board enemy vessels by jumping on or swimming over to their ladders. Or if you are a daredevil, launch yourself with a cannon. The melee combat is simple, a three-hit combo, lunge, and block. But it still requires skillful use along with a combination of your blunderbuss, flintlock and sniper rifle.
There are also some neat tricks you can pull off, such as a sword lunge into water that sends you swimming very fast for a short time. Battles rarely play out the same way in Sea of Thieves. I have rarely laughed so hard playing a game. I have dozens of fantastic battle story’s, close calls and white-knuckled tension filled moments as my partner and I battled for treasure, stole booty or had our ill-gotten gains stolen from us.
The game does have a storyline quest line you can follow called Tall Tales which takes you on several quests and challenges to find the fabled shores of gold. You can also take on voyages for other merchant guilds, each one has their own ranks and obtaining level 50 in any three will grant you the rank of pirate legend allowing you to take on Athena voyages. The quests are varied, if repetitive, but remember, they exist to facilitate PvP. They give a reason for battle and piracy.
The Gold Hoarder missions will have you follow maps to islands with an X marks the spot and dig up treasure chests, or you might have to solve riddles to find where the loot is buried. The Order of Souls will have you hunting down skeletons lords to claim their skulls. The skeletons are the main PvE enemy in the game and come in several shades, each with their own weakness. Gold skeletons are slow but nearly impervious to melee damage. Lead them into the water, or splash some on them with a bucket and they rust, becoming vulnerable to gunfire.
The Merchants Guild will have you chasing down snakes, pigs and chickens to cage and bring back. Or you can haul precious cargo such as bottles that break easily, plants that need watered or silks that lose their value if they become wet. The Hunters Call will have you catching and cooking fish, or turning in the meat of Megalodons and Krakens. While the Sea Dogs are based in a completely separate mode called Arena.
In Arena, several galleons are placed in a small area with a time limit and told to gather chests and kill each other. Its novelty wore off for me pretty quick. It’s a nice way to get some instant action. But the time limit with the slow pace of sailing, docking and managing the ship doesn’t work too well and I much prefer the normal adventure mode.
These are not the only ways to obtain the treasure, however. You may simply find loot while exploring. AI controlled skeleton ships can be found on the open sea, if you sink them, they drop booty. Your ship may be accosted by a megalodon, a giant shark that drops loot upon death, or a Kraken that does the same.
If you are confident in your skills, you may take on a skeleton fort. A heavily fortified island with waves of skeletons, eventually a boss will spawn and drop a key which opens a door to a vast amount of loot. Alternatively, you may choose to take on the heavy skeleton ships identified by a ship-shaped cloud overhead. Follow the cloud and take on waves of large AI ships that drop a ton of loot when sunk. Both of these appear on the map over time and both are coveted by players. You will likely contend with other crews for them if you choose those paths, but the payoff is worth the effort.
There is also the Devils Roar region, voyages in that region are worth more. But it’s far more dangerous as you will contend with earthquakes, volcanoes, geysers, and boiling waters. Sea of Thieves was fun when it first released assuming you went in with the correct mindset.
But since then Rare has added the Devils Roar, AI skeleton ships, the various cannonball types, rehauled the ship damage system, added the three-person Brigantine ship and Arena mode. They added harpoon guns, fishing, new food, and cooking. They implemented rowboats, Megalodons, and a story based quest-line. Each addition has added value to the game and its better now than it has ever been before.
Sailing the seas is fun and beautiful to look at. It pays to have friends or make new ones, but if you do, you’re in for an experience that’s pretty unique in this gaming climate. Yes, the PvP is open and brutal. But its also forgiving, you lose nothing but the treasure you gathered and are ready to hit the open seas again within minutes.
The combat is incredibly emergent and a blast to play, even solo. Though you have a much better time with a coordinated team, even if its just one other person on a sloop, which is how I personally prefer to play. Taken alone the voyages are repetitive, but you don’t take them alone. They exist to facilitate the piracy in the game and they do quite well in that regard. With all the updates you also have numerous activity’s at hand to break it up.
There is cross-play between console and PC. Yes, PC gamers have a slight advantage but it’s much less pronounced in Sea of Thieves than it would be in other games. It would likely only come up in extreme edge cases where skills vastly differed. In this case, I find the tradeoff to be worth it. Thanks to cross-play, Sea of Thieves has a larger player base, and friends from different platforms can play together. It wouldn’t work for every game, but it suits Sea of Thieves more laid back nature just fine.
The one problem I do have however, is that after death I load in much more slowly than Xbox One X and PC players. This is a distinct disadvantage in some cases, though it didn’t ruin my experience.
In my opinion, Sea of Thieves was always a great game, if a bit bare bones. But after a year of updates, it’s now the fleshed out pirate game we deserve and more updates are in the pipeline. If you can reconcile yourself with what the game is, which is a game about piracy, you will have a wonderful time. It is an experience you likely can’t find in another game. If you’re looking to sail the seas in peace, you should look elsewhere. Now get out there and get that booty!
- The Sea looks and feels beautiful, the water system is fantastic.
- Lots to do between voyages; megalodons, forts, fishing, and AI ships.
- Pirate battles between players are intense, creative and fun.
- Progression is purely cosmetic and self achieved. If you put the game down for a month, you can hop right back in with no disadvantage.
- The in-depth damage system, cursed cannonballs, and harpoons add a lot of spice to the combat.
- Coordinating as a team is possible even without a mic due to context-based chat lines.
- Working together to run the many functions of the ship feels great when you pull it off, is often hilarious when you don’t!
- While PvP is brutal, the game is forgiving and allows you to get right back into the action with a fresh ship.
- Long load times and long death respawn on the standard Xbox One really bites.
- Sword fighting is simplistic.
- Arena mode is lackluster.