After years of drip-fed glimpses into Rare’s cooperative shared-world pirate fantasy, the time to round up a crew and set sail on this persistent sea is finally upon us. Until today, our entire experience with Sea of Thieves has come from the extensive beta tests leading up to launch. And then, as if by magic, the servers sprang to life a day early. So, now that we’re in the world, this review in progress will unfold over the next week with regular updates, but to kick things off, here’s what I think so far.
It’s not hard to see Rare’s deft use of Unreal Engine 4 to bring this colorful pirate sea to life. Sea of Thieves’ gorgeous lighting explodes across the sky at sunrise and sunset, and pops life into what’s some of the best looking water I’ve ever seen in a game. But the impressive technical aspects of Sea of Thieves’ style work in harmony with the cartoon-ish style of its pirate characters, ships, and island outposts to create a lighthearted environment that both dazzles and amuses, like a gorgeously illustrated storybook.
There’s something to be said for standing aboard your ship, bobbing up and down on the deep waves of the open ocean as you get lost in the spray of the sea and the mysterious horizon. Though there’s so much we don’t know about Sea of Thieves, there’s an inescapable sense of adventure when all these systems are working together that has never failed to put a smile on my face.
In my first two hours with the proper game, I found a message in a bottle that started a quest searching for a lost treasure I eventually found. I don’t want to spoil any of the details, but these moments of lucky fortune and the ensuing scavenger hunt are exactly what I’m hoping for more of out in the open world.
I quickly started to reconsider the real value of seemingly straightforward items.
Mechanically speaking, Sea of Thieves is a showcase of excellent design where a foundation of systems that are accessible, and perhaps overly simple, hide a much deeper function with a little exploration. For example, I first thought my bucket was only good for bailing out water. Easy enough to grasp, right? But once I learned I could drink too much ale, put the resulting sick in the bucket, and then throw it at an enemy to disorient them, I quickly started to reconsider the real value of seemingly straightforward items.
Similarly, good pirates know that dropping anchor will stop their ship in place, but great pirates know dropping anchor with some speed can perform a 90-degree handbrake turn to get a quick angle on an enemy ship. There are loads of these little details that continue to impress me, and I’m eager to unlock them all.
My biggest concerns moving into the full game are how much structure and repetition is in store for us. The betas’ main progression loops were rinse-and-repeat fetch quests from one of two merchants to earn gold and reputation. While I’ve spent most of my time since launch doing quests for The Order of Souls (the third company), I’m anxious to see what happens after you pass the initial gameplay loop we were restricted to in the betas.
But even with the generous number of beta tests, we’re still left wondering, how much more is there to Sea of Thieves? Will we simply be running errands for a handful of merchants in order to become the greatest pirate of the bunch? What happens then? And what about cooperation? Is playing with others necessary to realistically progressing? How much of the experience gets lost if you decide to go it alone? And what’s up with George, the Mysterious Stranger?
Over the next week I’ll be sailing the seas and searching for answers to these questions and more so we can finally learn just what Sea of Thieves is all about.