Sea of Thieves Hands-On Impressions
Rare is a company with a long history of amazing titles and an equally long history of troubling ones. For all their legacy and its glittering high points, most fans can also recall similar valleys in the UK company’s storied output. Sea of Thieves will represent one of the first major steps in a new direction for Rare since the company was bought by Microsoft. The pressure is on, in other words. I recently had an opportunity to sit down with the game and between my own experiences and what I’ve seen of the Beta, things are looking pretty good for the upcoming pirate adventure.
You likely already know a bit about Sea of Thieves. You play a pirate looking to become a legend in the field. A Pirate Legend, if you will. Achieving this goal requires you to sail the ocean for loot, usually in the form of massive wooden chests or bounty skulls. Depending on who you’re acquiring this treasure for, your rank with that faction will increase. Maxing out your rank with all of the available factions will allow you to obtain the aforementioned Pirate Legend status. While I’ve made this seem a fairly simple endeavor, doing so will likely require many hours of commitment on the part of the player. Thankfully, the questing system is designed in such a way that you can see a lot of this content in no particular order, so long as one member of your crew has gotten far enough in the game. In addition, there are no levels or stats to worry about. Beyond the faction levels and the cosmetic unlocks that this affords you, the only difference between any two players is one of skill. This means that there are no barriers keeping certain players from teaming up with other players. Even if you decide not to get in on the action until days or weeks after all of your friends do, they can still bring you into the fold with no trouble whatsoever.
“The possibilities for treachery and backstabbing are almost limitless.”
Enough people have gotten their hands on the Beta that we all have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Sea of Thieves when it launches next month. There will be some things coming with the launch that we haven’t seen yet, however. Things like the Kraken. Of course there’s going to be a Kraken, right? Even if Rare never made a single announcement or dropped any hints, people would just patiently wait for the beast to appear in-game. Unfortunately, even my own hands-on time didn’t yield any Kraken sightings. Like the actual monster, this one will remain elusive until launch day. Another new feature will be animals. Not as pets, but as capital. As everything useful in the game is a physical object, there’s already a system in place for trading between vessels. Assuming you don’t immediately open fire on a ship, it’s easy enough to arrange a trade. Gunpowder, bananas, wood, and cannonballs are already tangible objects that can change hands. Soon, you’ll be able to trade chickens, pigs, and snakes as well. Of course, said animals have to survive until they can be traded. You can’t have them starving or drowning or exploding beforehand.
Another new object that will be able to change hands are the keys. Somewhere on the map is always a fortress, one staffed and guarded by an army of skeletons. Defeating this army will grant you access to a vault key. Inside this vault is a massive load of treasure. The trick here is that you can lose or steal or trade that key. The possibilities for treachery and backstabbing are almost limitless. In fact, even attending one of these vault/fortress raids comes with a certain amount of danger. Unattended ships can be sunk, treasure can be stolen and lives can be repeatedly lost. You may even conclude that this tempting treasure is absolutely not worth the effort. That’s fine! Unmitigated chaos isn’t for everybody.
My time with the game did yield some worrisome downsides. There’s a certain structure to the questing system that you have to follow. If you decide to strike out on your own, with no particular goal in mind, you will waste a lot of time. Without a quest in hand, the various islands are unlikely to give up anything juicy. I went exploring with no quest and found absolutely nothing. A handful of skeletons, perhaps. One or two lonely bananas in a single crate. But nothing beyond this. I found this somewhat disheartening. However, if you make an effort to stick to the loose script written by the quests and maps, you’ll keep pretty damn busy. I have high hopes that the time beyond the game’s launch will find players able to just pick a direction and start sailing. As of right now, it doesn’t really feel that way.
This problem may also be part of the game’s aggressively casual pacing. Sea of Thieves is all about the journey, not the destination. If you’re a goal-oriented player, the first few sessions with this game may frustrate you. Even the best pirate crew is going to get lost, crash, drown or get shot the wrong way out of a cannon once in a while. It may be some time before you get into the weird rhythms at play here. But, so long as you understand that the entire game is built around you progressing at whatever pace you can manage, you’ll really enjoy yourself. While you might not get rich every time you set sail, you can always have fun.
“Sea of Thieves is all about the journey, not the destination.”
I’m pretty excited for this game. A lot of the fun is tied up in whether or not I end up playing with a good group, but the failures can be just as entertaining as the victories. The progression system means that even Pirate Legends and total newcomers can go questing together. That same progression system seems like it’s going to keep people coming back for quite some time, as well. From what I’ve gathered about the future of the game, even the inevitable introduction of microtransactions won’t be enough to upset the balance between players. If and when (but realistically, when) they’re introduced to the game, they’ll be cosmetic upgrades only. When new factions and quests are brought into the game, players of all progression levels will still be able to sail together. Even the players who have been literally inducted into the elite grounds of the Pirate Legend caste will be able to bring others along for the ride. While I’ve noticed one or two items of potential concern, they haven’t been enough to dissuade my enthusiasm for the game. Sea of Thieves is one title you’ll surely want to look out for once it’s released next month.