Review – Sea of Thieves
I’ve had a few friends say they’re disappointed by Sea of Thieves, the first-person pirate adventure game from Microsoft that hit Xbox One and PC this week, but an equal number are raving about their exploits on the high seas and can’t wait to get back on the waves.
What you’ll think of Sea of Thieves seems to depend on what you expected going in. Those that wanted a single player pirate adventure are bound to be disappointed by the relatively simple gameplay loop of going to find chests and returning to port with them, earning money to buy cosmetic rewards. Those looking for a multiplayer game with solo or co-operative play options are much more likely to be happy with what Sea of Thieves has to offer.
After choosing from a generous assortment of body types and facial features, you’re dropped into a pirate tavern and set free to learn the pirate life at your own pace. There’s not much of a dedicated tutorial, instead you’re provided an early mission or two to choose from and then sent off to your ship…which you’ll have to figure out how to sail on your own.
Fortunately, especially for the small one-man sloop, it’s not all that hard to puzzle out. Raise the anchor, spin the wheel until your ship points out to sea, then drop your sails and away you go. It’s possible to hoist the sails in increments, allowing you to slow the ship down – a key skill for docking at outposts later, as well as turn it side to side to catch the wind. On the solo ships you’ll have to accomplish all this by yourself, while on the four-man galleons it’s virtually impossible to manage solo. On those large ships, it’s crucial to assign roles to players: Player A mans the wheel, Player B hoists and lowers the pair of sails, Player C handles trimming the sails, and Player D mans the crows nest to spot dangerous rocks, shipwrecks to loot, or pirates to avoid – or engage.
There are missions to take on, ranging from finding buried chests using maps marked with the classic ‘x’ to make the spot or puzzling out clues written on parchment, to gathering up specific animals. Either way, you’ll need to get them loaded on board your ship and then make your way back to the outpost to turn them in. Dangers include skeletons that inhabit the islands, ranging from ordinary ones that can be easily dispatched by sword or pistol, to more exotic ones that need to be exposed to light (shadow skeletons) or water (gold skeletons) to defeat. There’s also the occasional shark patrolling underwater wrecks, so be aware when diving down to relieve the shipwreck of its plunder, and above the waves the most dangerous enemy of all – other players.
These free-form gameplay moments are what generate the most excitement around Sea of Thieves. Everyone who’s on board with the style of game it is has at least one harrowing tale of nautical misadventures to share, whether that’s taking on a skeleton fort and making away with tens of thousands worth of treasure, or the time they threw themselves into the ocean while being chased by enemies only to sneak on the enemy ship and drop its anchor so their friends could escape.
If all else fails, Sea of Thieves is worth a look for the graphics – especially for those with an Xbox One X and a 4K HDR-capable TV. There has never been better looking water in a video game, whether you’re above the waves or below them. Rare really did a spectacular job on the water, and the rest of the game has a stylized look that should weather the passage of time better than attempts at photorealism do. HDR has a huge impact on the game’s look, to the point it’s almost depressing to see the comparatively dull and colourless screenshots. This is a showcase for your new TV.