Sea Of Thieves is perhaps the most difficult game I’ve tried to review throughout my 30+ gaming years. From its many highs to its many lows, this is one game that is sure to be controversial. Sea Of Thieves is finally out in the wild and gamers get their chance to play the final game. After all the alpha, betas and scale testing that has taken place since the very first one at the end of 2016, we get to experience the final product. For me, I’ve been waiting for it ever since I first started waking up at 4am to play the alpha and see if the game was worth my time. There are two points I would like to make before I get into the bulk of the review.
Firstly, Sea Of Thieves is an amazing game, from the beautiful water and gorgeously colourful graphics, to the way the ships steer and manoeuvre, to the social aspects and the fun to be had when teaming up and playing with others. It is fantastic, impressive and a world that many gamers will simply enjoy existing in. Secondly, Sea Of Thieves is not much more than this. As it stands now, it is a shallow experience that lacks many features and aspects of other RPGs, with minimal questing options, complete lack of story & a different level of customisation & player progression than many other RPGs and MMOs have at the launch of their games.
Sea Of Thieves is a game that I see dividing the gaming community. Some players love the openness and lack of hand holding whilst others are craving some sort of purpose to playing the game – especially if they paid full price.
One aspect of Sea Of Thieves that is so impressive are the technical aspects of the game. The cartoony graphics are beautiful to look at and make the world so colourful that I just wanted to exist within it. The style that Rare has chosen was a great choice in my opinion, as the game evolves over the months and years, the style and design of the graphics will age well and will almost have a timeless look about the game such as games like Zelda: The Wind Waker or Limbo. They work well with the lighthearted tone of the game. The game’s water is a thing of beauty, the way it’s calm around the islands but as the player goes further out to sea, the waves pick up, the water becomes choppy and it’s here that the water physics truly are an amazing sight to behold. This is the water that other games water will be compared to. It becomes even more impressive when storms show themselves and really show off the weather systems and brings the world to life. For a pirate game, the water and environment are a crucial part of the game and Rare have definitely delivered here.
Sound in the game is also very impressive. Often you’ll be alone with your small crew without a lot happening but you’ll hear the wildlife on the islands, the sounds of water as you walk through it or it laps up against your ship. The music is memorable and really suits the tone of the game well. Sound effects sounds great, from the clashing of swords, hearing skeletons crumble when you take them down, how the storms sound and the meaty sound that the ships cannons make as they get fired onto an enemy.
Firing your cannons onto enemies is a major gameplay component of Sea Of Thieves so its good to know that its satisfying to take part in these battles as they are exciting, even more so if you are carrying any chests on board as the cost of failure can really get the adrenaline pumping. But this is also a downfall of the game to. Venturing into the Sea Of Thieves as a solo player can be very difficult. It was in the testing of the game before release and nothing has changed in the final release. Being by yourself on a small ship only to get repeatedly taken out by a larger vessel is not something that will be seen as fun by many players. Stories of solo players being griefed constantly could do enough damage to turn them away from the game for good. Being a part of a crew is the ideal way to experience the game and the fun to be had goes up tremendously when you’re teaming up with friends. But not everyone has the time to commit to organising long play sessions with multiple people so Rare need to implement some changes so the game caters to these players as well. Going to an outpost to sell a chest only to be killed by a group of players simply waiting there is just not fun. Yes, its part of being a pirate of course but, just as I don’t want my driver to die when I crash into a wall in a racing game, perhaps this is one element of realism that can be changed or modified.
With Sea Of Thieves, the game is literally as wide as an ocean but it has the depth of a puddle. Apart from engaging in battles with other players, activities mostly consist of doing fetch quests for one of 3 factions – The Merchant Alliance, The Gold Hoarders and The Order Of Souls. The Gold Hoarders will find players locating certain islands with a treasure map, finding where ‘X’ marks the spot is, digging up the chest and selling it to the faction. The Merchant Alliance will ask players to collect certain animals within a certain time frame whilst The Order Of Souls gives players the task of killing certain skeletons for certain special skulls. This gameplay loop is quite fun especially when you’re part of a crew but I found myself growing tired of it after a few hours. Being no stranger to ‘the grind’ in other games, I just felt like this grind of Sea Of Thieves was dull and repetitive. This maybe due to my time already spent in the alphas, betas and scale tests since the beginning of 2017 but I couldn’t shake the feeling that Rare should have launched the game with more variety in the quests than this. Ranking up the various factions will grant you more quests but they are similar in nature.
These quests are broken up by the Skeleton Forts scattered around the game world, noticeable by a large skull cloud that hovers over an island. These are dynamic public events which give players something else to do. These become even more enjoyable when multiple crews all come to the island with the same goal in mind to take out the skeletons and their captain. These are a good diversion but I’m hoping for Rare to include more types of public events within the game world and to introduce more enemy types which they are already discussing. Players will also come across the Kraken whilst sailing around, a large tentacled creature that can throw players around and wrap its tentacles around the ship. These encounters are great and, again, become even better when multiple crews all take part. This is where Sea Of Thieves is at its best, Rare just need to include more content in future updates that facilitates these great moments. I’m sure Rare have many ideas as to what they can do with this and similar features, one already being updating the krakens behaviour.
Customisation is something that has been simplified in the game to whereby players choose a character based upon randomly generated choices. Eight characters are shown to the player, if the player doesn’t like these options then they can choose for another eight choices and so on until they find one they are happy with. For me, I prefer the in depth character creation systems of other games where I can tailor the characters appearance to exactly how I want. Customising the character comes about through the many items that can be earned and bought in game like clothing or accessories such as hooks, peg legs and beards.
As I mentioned in the opening of my review, this is perhaps the hardest game I’ve needed to review. Rare have constantly said that Sea Of Thieves is a game where the players create their own stories within the game world on their way to being a pirate legend. To an extent this is already true, but Rare need to include more diverse game mechanics, quests and gameplay loops so players can create these stories in this pirate world. Without this diversity I fear many players will give up on the game due to growing bored of it. Reviewing the game is made even more difficult when I think that the world of Sea Of Thieves is stunning to look at and a joy to be a part of. I could easily see myself coming home from work and sinking an hour or two in the game each day just to simply exist in this world that Rare have created. But I need more things to do. Other players love the freedom and lack of clear direction that the game offers and for them, Sea Of Thieves is a breath of fresh air in gaming. But how fresh will that air be in a month from now? Or two months? Or a year? Rare really need to have a clear roadmap and open communication with the gaming community to what other content Sea Of Thieves will receive.
The best move Microsoft made was including Sea Of Thieves in Game Pass as that is where it belongs. Were this to be a full priced game only then the launch could have been a catastrophe. Even with it being in Game Pass, what has all the development time been spent on if not for content, quests, missions, locations and public events? Its almost as if Rare and Microsoft created this amazing world and forgot to fill it with things to do. The launch of the game should have introduced more features that really separated it from the testing stages that came before.
But with no story, no meaningful questing system, limited NPCs, the repetition, limited customisation and the difficulty present for solo players, the game is a shell of what it should be, even at launch. I’m hoping content comes soon to the game. For those who have gotten this far in the review, you may feel that I don’t like Sea Of Thieves at all, but that’s not true. The Sea Of Thieves as it exists now is a fun, open world pirate game that is beautiful to look and thats great to play for hours with friends. But I want the Sea Of Thieves a year from now. A feature rich, entertaining, open world where I can grind for hundreds of hours. I want this as I’ve been playing a stripped out Sea Of Thieves already for over a year. Many people have already expressed their opinions that Sea Of Thieves will grow and this isn’t what the final game will be in a year and thats true. But as a reviewer, I can only review what is released and presented to me. In a years time I may do another review on how it has changed. But as of now, what MAY come later does not make up for what is missing now.
The puddle currently may be shallow, but it needs to fill up, and fill up fast. If a steady stream of meaningful content can get released regularly then this game could truly fulfil its potential and have a large and robust community supporting it. I believe this game will be entirely different in a years time and if it can include whats needed, could be an amazing experience. Until then, I feel many players will drop their anchor until it does.