The team behind Banjo-Kazooie and Conker’s Bad Fur Day are back with a swashbuckling adventure years in the making. Aiming it’s cannons at the under-represented pirate genre, Rare have created an open world for players to set sail and explore to their heart is content either alone, with a team of strangers or their friends. The bold move to release Sea Of Thieves on Microsoft Game Pass has ensured a strong launch, with cross-play compatibility with PC gamers seeing a large amount of crews already and a number of gamers taking a shot at the game when they other wise wouldn’t have. A week after launch, I’m still setting sail with a full crew of my friends without any real issues and even the crews I’m joining randomly have, for the most part, been quite happy to play along. That’s not to mention a few issues- a team waiting for one of their friends kept abandoning me, while another continually locked me in the brig and apparently kept on muting me from their chat. This seems to be the most apparent flaw with Sea of Thieves, though. At it’s best, it’s an exhilarating joy of a game, but at worst, it’s a bit of a trudge.
The meat of the game is the voyages. These are offered to you by one of three different factions. Gold Hoarders will offer you “x marks the spot” style treasure hunts. Merchant Alliance set you timed fetch/deliver quests and the Order of Souls will give you bounties of skeletons to take on in order to collect glowing skulls. Each of these quests will result in gold and reputation with your chosen faction. I personally find myself drawn to Gold Hoarders as getting the treasure map and figuring out which island you have to get to, along with the riddles of where the chest is buried feels most genuine. The other two factions are fun too, however the random placement of objects and animals can lead to a little bit of a wild goose (or chicken, or pig) chase. Two hours was spent trying to find an island with chickens on it for a delivery, so my reputation with that company is only really growing when I find their loot on the voyages and sell it to them as a little side profit.
The real excitement of the game comes from getting this plunder back to an outpost. Other crews, forts full of crack-shot accurate skeletons, weather and sharks will all prove as difficulties in your journey back to safety, which only ends when you collect the gold. In my experience so far I’ve been mugged by another crew right at an outpost, I’ve had to hide on an island guarding loot while my crew hi-tailed it from a pursuing ship, in the hope they could return to me to secure our goodies once they had decided we had been vanquished. I’ve had to down anchor to empty water out of my cargo hold for 15 very real minutes as a storm battered my boat. I’ve lost thousands of gold coins in theft, sunken ships and shark attacks, but I’ve also made so many with downing sail, leaping over board with a chest and swimming for my life while my crew held off advancing ships, running every inch of the way and it was all absolutely exhilarating. There’s nothing quite like a full crew all singing from the same shanty-sheet, it’s one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve had in gaming for a long time. There are two sides to every coin, though. Paired with players who can’t really be bothered, or don’t want to follow advice, it’s torture. The lack of real variety is apparent at this point and proves Sea of Thieves is only really at it’s best when you have set up the group to play yourself. You’re also only doing all of this for new aesthetic items at this stage as well. New cutlasses don’t add to your attack, buying items doesn’t make the game any easier. This is good on the one hand, where naval battles are theoretically always an even affair, but on the other, it does beg the question about what the grind is for.
Thankfully, the world your exploration takes place in is absolutely breathtaking. The water is maybe the best I’ve ever seen in a video game, with the seas acting and looking perfect regardless of whether you’re sailing on quiet waters or battling through a storm, with your compass going crazy as you’re battered by lightning. The level of detail is insane as even the North Star is present, so losing your bearings in a storm can be rectified by finding the brightest light in the sky. Despite the characters looking quite cartoony, it all works. It’s a delightful game to look at, and I don’t think I’ve taken this many screenshots. The sun setting behind an island with the rays bouncing off the waves is a sight to behold. The draw distance in the game is massive, with you able to spot enemy ships and lights from miles away, with ability to even use lanterns to communicate by light between islands, should you dedicate yourself to learning morse code. Quiet seas, a group of friends and no enemies in sight make Sea Of Thieves hugely relaxing at times, with great laughs to be had sharing a virtual pint of grog and drunkenly trying to play instruments.
Right now, Sea Of Thieves is an ocean of untapped potential. As they add content I’m sure the game will grow into something quite special, much like the original Destiny or Rainbow Six Siege but as it stands, Rare have created something I can’t with good conscience rate higher than I have, but I’ve loved every minute of it. With time, Sea of Thieves could very well rule the seven seas and while it currently stands as a beautiful, albeit slightly empty experience, it’s an experience like no other and is so far, the most fun I’ve had with a video game in 2018.