Sea of Thieves Review

Posted March 26, 2018 by Sean Capri in Video Games

Developer: Rare

Publisher: Microsoft Studios

Release Date: March 20 2018

Platforms: Xbox One, PC

Iceberg! Dead Ahead!

Firing your friend out of a canon is one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in gaming. Firing a friend out of a canon for the second time is also quite exhilarating. For a third time, it starts to wain. And after the fourth, you sort of can’t believe you had so much fun with it to start with. That’s Sea of Thieves in a nutshell, folks. Rare has certainly created a beautiful world to explore. I thoroughly enjoyed laughing with my friends as we crashed into shallow shores and pointy rocks, patched breaches in the hull and bailed out water, and smashed our shovels into buried treasure. Yet, at the risk of sounding a little spoiled here, Sea of Thieves has failed to keep pulling me back in. Worse yet, at times, it actively pushes me away.

Can you hear me now?

Technically, Sea of Thieves does not require you to have a mic or use voice chat, but it might as well. In and of itself, this is not a knock against the game. Rare encourages players to use voice chat to enhance the experience but there are a couple instances where this goes a little too far.

Dropping the sails catches more wind and accelerates your ship but it means the person at the wheel can’t see. Equipped with only a compass at the right, the pirate at the helm must rely on the team – perhaps stationed up high in the Crow’s Nest or keeping a watchful eye on the map in the mid-deck. This gives (mostly) everyone a job while traveling across the vast, vast ocean. You can get by with one at the helm and another navigating but to get the boat really moving, the others should be on the sails. Angling the sails ‘just-so’ is one of the most satisfying experiences in Sea of Thieves as they burst full and the boat really gets moving.

One of my favorite experiences with Sea of Thieves is raising the anchor for the first time. With the anchor down, the boat is locked in place. Walking about feels as solid as the seaside. The second that anchor comes up, you are at the mercy of mother nature and her chaotic tides, waves, and winds. This isn’t a RT-Acceleration, LT-Brake type of vehicle. Weather and atmosphere are the two greatest aspects of Sea of Thieves. By far. The wind gusts are intuitive enough to catch with the sails. The waves, at times, genuinely tied my stomach in knots. And in case you haven’t heard, this is the best water in any game ever.

We Built This Sea on Accessibility and Multiplayer

Sea of Thieves is marketed to be accessible for all. But in my experience, this only applies to the lack of any competition. So if accessibility means little-to-no competition, mission accomplished. However, I believe accessibility means opening the experience to gamers of all experience levels. So why is it so difficult to get started? The opening feels more like a daunting survival game such as Ark or The Long Dark than a for-everyone experience. Starting off in the Pub/Tavern makes no sense, really. Finding Voyages for the first time, or even understanding that Voyages are the trigger-point for the entire game is not clear. Starting a Voyage through a voting process, not clear. How to set sail. Etcetera. This, and many other complaints I have about Sea of Thieves can be rationalized with an apologetic “the game doesn’t teach you things that other players can guide you through.” 

For an online-only game, the multiplayer aspect is also frustratingly convoluted. This is a game best played with friends, second-best with strangers, far-worst solo. Still, some strange design choices funnel players into undesirable and limiting multiplayer experiences. Starting the game, you’re asked if you want to have a large boat or a small boat. With a small boat, you can play solo or with one other player. With a large boat, you can play with a three or four-person crew. The problem with this is starting a four-man session with only three players automatically opens the door for a stranger to wander in. A common complaint is that solo players joining a crew are instantly locked up in the brig. The three players didn’t want a stranger so the intrusion is frustrating for everyone involved. This is an example of many well-intended friendship-building ideas that simply don’t work in practice. This is easily solved with a Public/Private online session option that we’ve seen in countless party-based games.

Other, current-gen multiplayer games allow for large online sessions with friends, then small groups can set out on a quest. With such a strong online focus, the community experience in Sea of Thieves leaves much to be desired. 

Fool Me Once

Sea of Thieves is completely open to explore. It’s huge. But it’s empty. Sunken ships have little more to loot than a couple bananas. Anything more is incredibly rare and equally disatisfying. It didn’t take long before I stopped exploring them – it never seemed worth it to drop the anchor, jump out, try not to drown – only to come back to my boat empty handed. Completing Voyages doesn’t feels rewarding, either. With such small gold rewards and an underwhelming “Voyage Complete” notification, my crew was often asking “did we finish it?” 

The rest of the world is to be populated with strangers. With such a large map, it is rare to run in to other pirates but when it happens, tensions run high. Will they fire? Should we fire first? Do we even have the cannons loaded? Firing a cannon is insanely satisfying. The explosive sound, the recoil, the impact. In fact, everything on the boat is excellent. Sailing, sight-seeing, combat, commandeering, dropping anchor, and having sweet hangs with your crew.

Finally, enemies are flat and boring. Snakes are laughably bad. Skeletons are repetitive. The Kraken is a supreme disappointment. Save for sharks and enemy pirates, fighting almost anything in Sea of Thieves is shockingly mediocre.

Final Verdict

Sea of Thieves is great fun for a short while. Setting sail with friends is one of the most unique and hilarious experiences I’ve had in gaming. Upgrading my ship, customizing my character, and finding some sweet loot are all things I want in a game. Frustratingly, the only way to go about that is to cycle through three basic classes of Voyages for pennies on the hour. Inevitably, one of the four people in your crew will become tired of the repetitive nature and the entire experience dwindles from there. Content is coming but apparently in the form of micro transactions – which Sea of Thieves seems to be banking on. All-too-often, I heard my enthusiastic mates try to convince me “more content is coming.” That may be true, but the game is released now. This is the game. And it’s pretty shallow.

About the Author

Sean Capri

I am a beady-eyed Canadian. I play video games and feed/walk my three dogs.