As I write this late review for Sea of Thieves I can’t help but feel the need to justify myself. I really wanted to love Sea of Thieves, I think it’s a fantastic concept that could truly grow into something special. But as I kept playing it, I was waiting for more to present itself to me. More to do. More to find. Unfortunately, after many long hours with the game, and some server issues (that have since been fixed) I’ve decided that I’ve had enough time with Sea of Thieves. In short, it’s not a game for everybody.
Sea of Thieves throws you into the world with little to no fanfare beyond a brief introductory cutscene. You’ll be on your own to work out what it is you want to do in the world – choosing your own character and being given your own ship. There’s a little bit of exposition at the beginning, setting the scene, but there’s no story or campaign per se to play through. Rather, Sea of Thieves feels like a pirate simulator of sort, giving players a wide-open playground to mess around in either solo or with their friends. It’s an interesting concept, but one that is barely sustainable.The crux of the game has you completing missions for one of three factions. Each faction has a “type” of mission they offer your player, and completing these missions improves your reputation with them. Some require you to track down a certain type of animal, others require you to defeat a certain type of enemy while others just have you looking for a good old-fashioned treasure chest. That’s really it, and while it’s fun the first few times, most will struggle to maintain their interest beyond a few hours.
When you’re not scouring an island for treasure or one of your targets, you’ll be sailing the high seas. Sea of Thieves offers a small ship and a big ship, which ideally scales depending on the size of the crew you’re partied up with. I expected Sea of Thieves to have a simplistic system for sailing but it’s surprisingly complex. You’ll have to adjust your sail length and sail angle to take advantage of wind directions, and the incorrect configuration can be the difference between smooth sailing and catastrophic disaster.
What I love about Sea of Thieves is how it encourages teamwork. When you crash into an island or some rocks, your whole team will rush to the bottom of the ship to repair it. Most of the time these moments can be overwhelming – there’s several holes in the hull of the ship and it’s filling with water rapidly. One crew member must board up the holes while another must drain the water from the ship. It sounds like a simple process, but it will only work if every member of the team is working together.
Once you complete your contracts, you’ll be given treasure of some sort to escort back to an outpost. Outposts are basically shops, allowing you to sell your wares and use the gold you receive to buy new equipment, new weapons and clothing for your character. This is the only real sense of progression in Sea of Thieves, but because the quest design is so ho-hum, you’d be able to complete quests without ever once visiting a shop.When you are carrying precious cargo, the stakes are inevitably higher, as any other player could easily sink your ship and take your treasure for themselves. Speaking of which, the combat in Sea of Thieves is simplistic yet effective whether you’re attacking or defending yourself on foot or on ship. More impressively, firing cannonballs at an enemy ship has to be done with a sense of strategy if you want to be successful. Aiming high will damage their hull, but it won’t sink them as quickly as a well aimed shot at the lowest point of their ship, which would allow water to flow in quicker.
While the gameplay loop is simple and mildly repetitive, most of the fun in Sea of Thieves comes from the moments that’ll emerge while you’re playing with your friends. I’ve previously affectionately referred to Sea of Thieves as an anecdote factory, and it really is. Whether you are just mucking around on the high seas or having to divert resources to battle an incoming enemy, Sea of Thieves rarely plays out how you want it to. And that’s a good thing as it’s unpredictable.What isn’t a good thing, however, is just how light on content Sea of Thieves is. I mentioned previously that there are only three types of quests to do, and that most might as well be randomly generated. But it doesn’t stop there either. There’s only one type of enemy – skeletons – and each of the five or so variants have their own characteristics, but it gets boring fighting them day in and day out. Similarly, now, there’s only really one major battle and that’s the Kraken. It happens at random, and it’s fantastic, but it takes the total event count from three to about four or five when including the forts.
As a full-blown purchase, I don’t think Sea of Thieves is quite worth it at whatever price you might purchase a physical copy at retail. On the flipside, Sea of Thieves has the potential to grow into something great too – and as such it feels like a bit better value when offered as part of the Xbox Game Pass rather than being purchased separately. Buyer beware, however, as I just couldn’t enjoy this without playing with friends and I’d imagine most would fall in that boat too (pardon the pun).I’d be remiss to not mention how phenomenal Sea of Thieves looks. While it employs a heavily stylized artistic direction not unlike something you’d see in Fable or Rare’s previous games, Sea of Thieves is one of the best-looking games I’ve ever played on a console. The water is incredibly detailed – there’s realistic spray, foam and waves that give the water a real sense of weight and presence. The lighting is truly otherworldly, with sunsets and sunrises in particularly looking breathtaking. While the world may not have a lot to do in Sea of Thieves, it’s been built with spectacular attention to detail to really create a sense of time and place.
THE XBOX ONE VERSION OF THIS GAME WAS PLAYED ON AN XBOX ONE X FOR THE PURPOSE OF THIS REVIEW. DIGITAL REVIEW CODE WAS PROVIDED BY THE PUBLISHER.
While Sea of Thieves is one of the best-looking games this generation, it unfortunately fails to live up to the expectations of most players. Incredibly fun with friends and designed to encourage teamwork successfully, Sea of Thieves just lacks the content or the staying power to be worth it. The foundation here is solid, and I’m sure it’ll grow into something remarkable as time goes by, but in its current state, the state it’s being offered in, it’s hard to recommend.