Yar-hargh-me-matey and stuff. If the title didn’t already give it away, this is our Sea of Thieves review, a game that I have been hotly anticipating since announcement. For those who don’t know it’s the new action-adventure game from famed developer Rare. If you have no idea who Rare is, then perhaps you know of their games, Donkey Kong Country, Banjo-Kazooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Perfect Dark just to name a few. Needless to say, they know their stuff and know how to create endearing experiences. So with that said, is Sea of Thieves all smooth sailing or are there rough tides ahead?
Think of it more as a sandbox pirate adventure game in which you can go at it alone or as part of a crew. There is no set story or narrative, which leaves everything open to interpretation. The inclusion of a campaign would have been a nice addition, something to go through whilst friends aren’t available perhaps etc. However, I feel the focus and intention was to have the players create their own stories and share them with each other. There are so many possible scenario’s that can occur during any play session which makes for the perfect ‘”water-cooler” type of game. Play, experience and share, quite a beautiful loop.
Player choice is at the core of everything, you do what you want or at least try to without coming across a disaster that could strike at any time. You have a few different types of voyages to go for, treasure hunting, captain killing and animal delivery. Not to discredit these missions at all because they are all genuinely fun, but in terms of quantity and variety, there just isn’t enough. After several hours of grinding the same thing, it becomes tedious and stale. Even just one or two more voyage types would help prevent this or if not at least prolong the enjoyment. At least voyages aren’t the only thing do though.
Perhaps the most rewarding encounter is the skull cloud fort. Picture this, your sailing along, downing tankard after tankard of ale when suddenly, off in the distance you see a cloud take the form of a skull. This signals that one of the many forts scattered across the ocean is active. Head on over and be prepared for a fight. The enemies are skeletons and they will do what they can to end your journey. Get onto the island and fight wave after wave of baddies, do this enough and a boss will appear, once he is slain you will get a key that allows access to a treasure room, filled with, you guessed it, treasure. During the fight I remember thinking that it was going on for a longer than I would like, but after obtaining the loot and cashing it in at the nearest outpost I felt that it was so worth it, with a sense of we earned that.
Aside from the voyages and skull cloud forts, everything else you come across by chance. Storms occur throughout and if your boat is caught up in the middle of it, then be prepared for it to tear ‘ship’ up. Another destructive force to be reckoned with is the fear inducing Kraken, it terrorizes and does the same thing as the storm, it wants to force you into the depths of the ocean. What I love about these is that time and risk is now a factor in everything you do. Having five chests and then risking those and more by trying another few voyages before heading back to the outpost is adrenaline pumping. You run the risk of losing everything by being potentially too greedy. Storms and the kraken are no joke and require skilful team-play to overcome.
General gameplay is complex, running a ship can be hard work, there are various different roles that need to be filled which is why I feel playing with less people just isn’t the way to go. The steering wheel, sails, cannons, repairs, navigation and anchor are all duties that need to be dished out to the crew so each member has their role to play. I love the tactical teamwork involved and if you wish to succeed, all players must pull their weight. There are two ships available with the smaller Sloop, being available for 1-2 players and the Galleon for 3-4 players. I feel this is best played as a four-person team, but the two-person Sloop is a decent substitute. A three-player team puts more strain on each person and kind of ups the difficulty but is bearable. For me personally, going alone is the last thing I want to do. Larger teams need to be a thing in the future to allow for more possibilities.
Gunplay is limited, there are only four weapons to choose from, the Cutlass, Pistol, Blunderbuss and the Eye of Reach. The third is a shotgun and the last is a rifle with a scope, so you have everything from melee, to short range and then long range weaponry. The good thing however about the limited variety is that its been fairly balanced, no one weapon is necessarily better than the other, they have trade-offs.
Playing this with friends is without a doubt one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences I have ever played. Being a pirate with your mateys, drinking ale, playing some jaunty tunes, shooting at skeletons, looting treasure and sailing the seven seas is the dream that Sea of Thieves recreates to perfection. This can’t be emphasised enough, the fun level is off the charts.
A levelling system is in place that takes the form of a reputation type meter with three different groups. Completing voyages from each group will gain you experience and then levels, the higher your level, the chance for more rewarding quests become available. This provides the incentive to play and to complete these voyages. The rate at which you level also seems to hit that sweet spot, where it isn’t too fast, but isn’t such a drag either.
The other incentive to play and do things would be the plethora of vanity items available for purchase. These include clothing items, hairstyles, item skins, weapon skins and even boat aesthetics. The options are both varied and plentiful allowing for players to create their own unique look that sets them apart from the rest. I love me some vanity items. Being able to show off your style or lack thereof is great for getting into the pirate life.
So PVE isn’t the only action route to take, enemy ships also sail the vast ocean creating the opportunity for some PVP (Pirate Versus Pirate) shenanigans. With my time in the game, I found PVP to be more of a chore than something I would actively seek out. But that all comes down to who you are and who you come up against. I generally prefer PVE in games like this anyway however, PVP is something forced upon you quite often. I also don’t like losing, so when we die to same ship multiple times even after having the surprise advantage, it loses my enthusiasm. Some battles can be over quickly, and others can take longer, dependent on the number of enemies and how good they are in general. Coming out the victor is sweet especially if you can score some booty in the process. It’s solid by design and the team that works best together will usually prevail. PVP much like the kraken and storms, create this tense, risk-filled environment.
One of the greatest positives, is the truly stunning visuals you are subjected to. Without a doubt some of the views are breath-taking. Watching the sun rise, make its orbit and set is time consuming but damn is it worth it. The ocean is beautifully detailed with effects that to my knowledge have no rival. The artstyle makes for a more charming game and charm is what Rare are incredibly good at. Even with the cartoon-like aesthetic, it really is a visual marvel, both the world and characters look fantastic.
Audio plays a huge part in immersion and helps deliver an experience that feels authentically pirate, or at least close to what we would imagine, in stereotypical fashion. The best aspect from sound design is the music that sounds off when playing the musical instruments, which is made even better by having your crew mates join in to create this symphony. You haven’t lived until you’ve sailed along the ocean with everyone playing ride of the valkyries.
Sea of Thieves is everything a gaming, pirate enthusiast could want in terms of providing an escape into a pirate world with your friends. The only worries being some skeletons, other players, terrible storms and monstrous sea creatures, just to name a few. The overall presentation is pure entertainment, the gameplay, audio and visuals combine together for an addicting laugh out loud venture. Unfortunately, much like many pirates, it’s a peg legged horse in a longevity contest. With not enough content to keep you hooked, I worry the game and myself may just drift apart.
OVERALL: 7.5/10 – GOOD
Reviewed by Rhys Baldwin.