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"Sea of Thieves": Piracy without Real-World Consequences

By Kelson Howerton
On March 29, 2018

Screenshots of "Sea of Thieves"
Courtesy of Kelson Howerton


The developers behind some of your favorite late 90s, early 2000s video games are back with a new original title. Rare, known for games such as “GoldenEye 007,” “Banjo-Kazooie,” and “Viva Piñata,” have always excelled at crafting games centered around the pure fun of play, and its newest offering, “Sea of Thieves,” is no exception. “Sea of Thieves” is a multiplayer game like no other, throwing you into a world of piracy, letting you fulfill fantasies of sailing, treasure-hunting, and canon-firing/cutlass-slashing without any of the horrible crimes of real-world piracy. 
Staying authentic to the cruel real world, “Sea of Thieves” throws you into its seas with little direction or instruction other than the knowledge that you are pirate. While many games today hold your hand “Sea of Thieves” lets you figure things out for yourself. Because of this, your first hours in the game are spent learning the ropes of sailing, fighting, questing, and grog-drinking. 
Sailing is where the game is at its best. Whether it’s the sound of the wind picking up on your sails, or waves crashing against your hull, no other game has effectively captured the sights and sounds of sailing the high seas. Married with a gorgeously colorful art style that matches even the animated work of Pixar,  “Sea of Thieves” is a joy to gawk at as you go on your treasure-hunting adventures. The act of sailing is a joy, providing a surprising amount of depth whether sailing alone or on the four-person crewed galleon. Sails must be lowered and positioned correctly to gain maximum speed and need to be raised in order to make sharper turns when sailing around rocks or islands. As the wind picks up, launching your ship off into the ocean, the sun sets off on the great blue horizon, and you and your buddies whip out your preferred instrument to play a sea shanty, “Sea of Thieves” provides an unrivaled joyous and pleasant experience of play.
“Sea of Thieves” is also jam-packed with fun and inventive gameplay moments that further raise its charm levels. For example, drinking too much grog will not only result in you getting woozy (possibly ending with you falling off the ship), but you may also start to vomit. However, with a bucket equipped you can vomit into said bucket, which can be used to toss on enemies or allies alike to cover their screens in the disgusting substance. Additionally, you can play sea shanties to not only charm your fellow players, but to charm hostile snakes on islands. However, if you play a tune while drunk from grog, your music-playing abilities are significantly worse, resulting in a grating performance of Richard Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” (Most of the funny game play moments are grog-related).
However, this is where the strengths of the game mostly stop. If you wish, you can spend your entire time with the game just sailing off in a random direction, avoiding other players, but the idea of the game is to complete quests to fill your pirate coffers with coin and treasure. These quests, or voyages as the game refers to them by, are offered by three different factions, and will all involve the same three basic tasks – sail off to an island to find buried treasure using a map or riddle, sailing off to an island to kill the game’s NPC skeleton enemies and collect their fancy skeleton skulls, or sailing off to an island to catch pigs or chickens. These quests start off as a fun way to learn the ins-and-outs of the gameplay, but quickly devolve into tedious fetch quests after only a few times completing them. 

While higher level quests offer slightly different experiences, you will still essentially be doing the same tasks, just on a larger scale. The only bit of thrill “Sea of Thieves” provides is with what happens after you complete your voyage and need to return your newly gained booty to one of the many outposts scattered about the game’s world where you can cash them in and earn rewards and reputation. 

Since the game is a free-for-all of player vs. player pirating with no safe zones, you and your crew could very well be intercepted by another crew of players seeking to sink your ship and steal your treasure. You may even sail all the way to an outpost with treasure chest in hand only to be ambushed by enemy players on land waiting for careless crews. While this can oftentimes lead to thrilling chases or tense battles, it may very well end with you loosing hours of progress to a rogue enemy ship looking to mess up your day.
On the flipside, there is little actual incentive to participate in PVP, other than the thrill of wrecking another crew’s ship, as the rewards you earn from boarding and sinking another player’s ship is entirely dependent on what treasure they happened to have onboard at the time. This makes even the PVP, which stands the most chance of remaining fresh due to the random behavior of other players, a tedious, unrewarding gameplay loop.
The game does offer up a few bits of variety to shake up the gameplay. Scattered throughout the game world are several skull forts where players can fight off waves of increasingly difficult skeleton enemies with the promise of some of the greatest rewards in the game. Throughout your journeys, you may even stumble upon shipwrecks with lost treasures or discover a message in a bottle that leads you down a longer riddled path to treasure. While digging up treasure chests, you may come upon a chest with a unique modifier, such as the Chest of a Thousand Grogs, which makes whoever is carrying it very drunk (If you couldn’t’ tell, there’s a lot of grog in this game.). Even rarer, your ship can become the victim of a deadly kraken attack, the massive tentacled monster of legend, but like most things in “Sea of Thieves,” this provides no reward outside of the thrill of surviving the attack. 
Perhaps the hardest pill to swallow is that to keep everyone on a level playing field, the only actual progression in “Sea of Thieves” are cosmetic items – different skins for your clothing, weapons, ships, and other items. And while my pirate’s shiny new coat and blunderbuss look nice, they are hardly a satisfying reward for all of the grinding it took to get them. 
Despite its numerous flaws, “Sea of Thieves” still offers one of the best pirating experiences in a game yet, perfectly encapsulating the pirate theme in a mostly family-friendly package. However, with the game being so light-on-content at launch (not to mention the numerous server issues since launch), “Sea of Thieves” begs the question of just how a $60 game released in this condition. Playing with friends will certainly extend the game’s shelf life, but “Sea of Thieves” is still a half-baked adventure best waited on until the developers have delivered on a few more of the promised features and additions on the horizon. In a sea of unfinished online multiplayer games releasing at the full $60 price tag, “Sea of Thieves” might just be the worst offender yet.



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