After a few years of showing up at E3 and other similar events with very little to show, Sea of Thieves finally released about three weeks ago. Not only was the pirate themed co-op game in development for a long time, but it had been even longer since Rare put out a proper AAA title. Regardless of how little was shown of the game, I knew I’d be picking it up at release just to finally see what one of my favorite developers had been up to. But, is there more to the game than what was shown, or was the lack of information an indication of a lack of content?
Long story short, there’s not a lot to actually do in Sea of Thieves. There’s three types of quests (called “voyages”) given out by three different factions. You do this voyages, build up your rank in those factions, and then do it all over again but at a harder difficulty. At its surface, that’s all there is to this game, but if you look a little deeper, you’ll find the reason why it took me three weeks to finally write this review. That reason I simply couldn’t stop playing long enough to get a review out sooner.
The fun comes from the interaction with other players in the world. Whether they’re members of your pirate crew or aboard another ship threatening to take your treasure, every moment becomes somehow more intense and more hilarious at the same time.
Let’s start over from the beginning. When you start a game, you have a choice of either manning a small ship called a sloop, or a large galleon. The sloop can be used by one or two players, and the galleon requires three or four. Boating is a fairly complicated process and asks a lot of the players. You need to steer your boat. You need to raise and lower your sails. You need to position your sails into the wind. You need somehow keeping a lookout, since the sails often block the view. Sloops are set up with everything positioned pretty close together, making it far more manageable for a smaller crew.
So, you’ve got your crew put together and you’ve got the boat that fits the size of your crew, now you’re going to go on one of those voyages. The Gold Hoarders faction provides you with treasure maps or sometimes riddles, both leading to treasure chests. Simply go where the map shows, find your treasure, and bring it back. The Order of Souls has you killing pirate skeletons and returning their skulls to them. And finally, the Merchant Alliance has you searching for goods to deliver to a specific outpost.
All pretty basic stuff, but you’ll learn pretty quickly that the game gets interesting when you run into other ships. None of those treasures you’ve collected are nailed down, so if another ship finds you, they can choose to hunt you down and try to take whatever you have. If they get your stuff and turn it in to the quest givers, they get the reputation. This means that if you’re out on a voyage and you see another crew, it could be in your interest to try to mess with them.
This has led to me being kind of a jerk in the game, but not really caring about it. I’m a pirate, I’m supposed to be a jerk! One time, my crew was leaving an island and we spotted an unmanned sloop, meaning one or two people from another crew had to be out on the island. I jumped off our ship and immediately boarded there’s, but couldn’t find any treasure. At this point, I could have just left and no one would have even known I was there, but instead I raised their anchor and lowered their sails, leaving the boat floating towards some dangerous looking rocks. Was that a mean thing to do? Yes, but it was fun and it made me feel like a pirate.
Most of the time, interactions with other players will result in a fight. Your ships are armed with cannons and you have a very finite amount of cannonballs. When you hit the enemy ship, you’ll blow a hole in it, letting water fill up and eventually sink it. Those holes can be repaired and the water can be bucketed out, so you have to hit them with a lot of shots and quickly as you can. You also want to shoot for the lower part of the ship, because that’s where water is and it’ll fill up much faster.
If you end up engaging another player or an AI controlled skeleton in closer combat, you have a few different weapons to choose from. You’ve got a sword, a pistol, a sniper rifle, and a shotgun. All of these function about how you’d expect, although you don’t have many shots with any of the guns, and can’t take extra bullets with you. The only way to reload is to find an ammo box, one of which is on your boat. This pretty inconvenient, but it’s not the end of the world. Everyone has to deal with the same issue, after all.
Every once in a while, a skull will appear in the clouds above an island, indicating that a fort raid has begun. At these forts, you’ll fight off tons of skeletons, with the reward being a key that drops and reveals a ton of treasure. The catch here is that anyone can show up, so it’s not just skeletons you’re dealing with, but lots of other players who all want to get that treasure. This often turns into a complete bloodbath, even after all the skeletons are dead as everyone scrambles to get as much as they can.
Okay, you’ve done all that, well to what end? Unfortunately, not a whole lot right now. You can eventually become a “Pirate Legend” which gives you access to voyages that combine all three types of voyages, and you can buy purely cosmetic items, but that’s about it. And really, that’s the part that’s disappointing to me. I’m having an absolute blast with the core gameplay, but it doesn’t really feel like I’m working towards anything in particular.
A lot has been said about the lack of content in Sea of Thieves, and those people aren’t wrong. The game is in desperate need of more things to do and more meaningful things to earn. That being said, the core gameplay is so much fun that I don’t see myself getting tired of it any time soon. At the very least, I think everyone should check the game out, and since it’s on Game Pass, you can do that pretty cheap. Some people will bounce off from the lack of things to do, while others will love getting into silly pirate hijinks. I’m definitely on the latter, but it’ll be interesting to see what the future holds and how much longer it holds my attention.