– A visually beautiful and fun game, even though
there are still a couple of rough edges in places.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Last year the world was introduced to Sea of Thieves a game about sailing the open seas, digging for buried treasure, and sinking pirate vessels. As a concept, it looked like a great idea, and I watched a couple of streamers like Stephanie Bendixsen have a lot of fun on the open ocean. However, while it looked like a really fun game the price point was just too high here in Australia for me to be able to dive into it myself, something that has only be amplified by being out of a job for four months. Recently the game released its one-year anniversary update which seemed to add in a lot of the features people mentioned were missing, so I was glad the game was getting continued support. But one day I opened up my email to find a surprise, my friends had bought me a copy of the game. This meant that for the first time I got to explore the world and discover the highs and lows of Sea of Thieves.
So to set the scene, Sea of Thieves exists on the edge of the known world where adventures and explores have begun to set up outposts to make the most of this new world. However, like all new settlements law and order is an optional component as marauding pirates comb the seas. You and your crew have to band together to make sure you can get your ship to your quest location and back to an outpost intact. Which is easier said than done when there are sharks, skeletons, other human crewed ships, oh and also Krakens and Megalodons, all looking to take you down. Before we get into the review proper, I wanted to take a moment to thank Johan, Nic, and Ryssa for being the best crew in the game and the Pocketeers for giving me some really handy tips so I did not embarrass myself on that first voyage … well, I embarrassed myself less.
The first thing you see with the game is just how stunningly beautiful it is, and I mean this in the realm of this is one of the most beautiful games I have ever seen. You can get some sense of it watching streams, but nothing quite prepares you for that first time you just climb onto the bow of your ship and look out into the horizon. Here the artists have gone for an art style that mixes the hyper-real with cartoony elements, which is not something that should work but it does. I think why it does work is that there is a commitment to the style at all times, so even though it is this odd juxtaposition, it is a consistent juxtaposition. Special mention has to go to the water, water is one of the most difficult things to get look right because it has so many moving features, and it is also something we are all familiar with. However, here at every moment, the water feels real, the way the crest of the wave breaks just so, the way it looks from underneath, the crystal blue of the more tropical locations. If anything is a testament to how beautiful the game is it is that I would often get distracted taking screenshots.
When it comes to the game mechanics, everything around crewing and working your ship flows really well. My time in the game was all aboard the Galleon, and it needs all four of you working in tandem at times. You need someone in the map room giving the directions, someone on the helm steering the shop, someone changing the sails to keep them in and out of the wind, and often times someone looking out because the person on the helm can’t see where they are going because of the sails and does not know that there are rocks ahead. There are these moments during the big storms where you are all rushing to fill holes in the hull, bail out the water, keep the ship on target, and just generally not have it sink on you. It is a game that will really test your ability to work as a group, and I am not sure how it would work with randoms when voice chat is spotty.
While everything on the ship is this well-oiled machine, on land, it does not yet have quite the same level of nuance. While I am sure that there is some skill to the combat, you do have a block and strike, it never felt like it was a challenge. You just swing your sword until the skeleton explodes, and backtrack if there are too many of them. The guns also feel like they couldn’t quite find the right balance between how people expect guns to act, and how they actually acted back in the day. I’m not sure this would be much of an issue, but most of the on-land sections of the game just feel like that they are just filler to get back onto the sea. They have also seemed the land sections have not gotten as much improvement compared to the on-sea sections in the update bar the story campaign that we will get to in a bit and also volcanoes.
To add to this, I was playing this on PC with a keyboard and mouse and it clearly evident that at least the UI is optimised for the controller. It took a long time to get used to if you want something from the radial menu, you don’t click it, you hover your mouse over it and then let go. This is such an odd choice for a command and it has led to the constant awkwardness where instead of cooking a chicken leg I would accidentally eat it raw and then get food poisoning. It happened so often that when someone else did it they would call out that ‘they Brianed it”. While there is this oddness in the UI, there is also this weird attention of detail in other factors of the game. Like how you can get drunk and vomit, but when you are sick you can get the bucket you use to bail out water, puke into that and then throw it on other players. I would love to be have been a fly on the wall of that meeting when the idea was floated.
However, while there is the silly there is also the beautiful. You can see this in the way that they have programmed all the musical instruments in the game. If someone pulls out their Concertina and starts playing and someone else gets out their Hurdy-Gurdy the game realises this and syncs them like would happen in real life. This leads to moments when everyone gets out their instruments and jams on the open seas. It would be nice if they add some more songs in from time to time, but there is nothing quite like playing Flight of the Valkyries while clinging to the bow of a ship in the storm. Also, having people play out of tune if they are drunk, or having your character whistle if you are the only one playing the drums are really good touches.
With the ‘update edition’ came a lot of new features, like fishing, to keep things interesting while at sea. But another thing it added was a story campaign, something a lot of people mentioned was a glaring omission from the base game. Having played through it now, my thoughts were that it was perfectly fine but just fine. It was really nice to get a change up from the ‘go to an island, dig up a chest or grab an animal, and return’ formula. From hunting for treasures in obscure places, doing puzzles, to some platforming … and dying over and over again thanks to those Qu’vatlh spikes. It got to flesh out places on the map and incorporate aspects of the game like the Ferry of the Damned. One aspect where it didn’t work is in the boss battles which feel like a real slog for no reason. This is partly because the game does not give you a health bar, so you are never quite sure if what you are doing is actually hurting them, or if you are missing something. But also in the fact that they seem to act the same just with a different reskin. This is clearly apparent in the last two bosses that have the same mechanics, raise the dead, escape into another realm only to pop up somewhere else in the battlefield, and smash things together to send you flying. It is not a deal breaker, but it is a bit of a disappointment, also I did come across a bit of a glitch where someone was on the Ferry when we finished the long, long battle only that they respawned back on the boat not where everyone else was and so they missed the story part.
Though while it was good to see the team add in a new story campaign, for me thinking back to Sea of Thieves, it was not the stories that the game set up that were memorable but the ones that we made ourselves. For example, the first time I ever jumped onto an island, I was amazed by the beauty only to turn around and see a skeleton running at me with a red barrel and then bang I’m on the Ferry. Or when we were attacking a Sloop and only discovered when we got back to port that one of the crew had jumped off the ship snuck aboard and yeeted a lot of our bounty off the side of the boat. Or how when you have a load of treasure on your ship on the horizon becomes a threat to be concerned about, even though in most cases there is a friendly wave and hello, and even some music.
I think nothing else quite captures this like what happened in my last play session before writing this review. It was a session where we had all set aside some time and we were going to conquer one of the big new story missions. So for the next few hours we fought, we puzzled, we died over and over again to floor spikes (that might just have been me). After a brutal boss fight, we finally had the key treasure on the ship and began the slow trip back to port as the wind was not with us. It was at that point one of the crew (not mentioning names …) off handily mentioned in the group chat “wouldn’t it suck if we got hit by a Kraken and a Megalodon at the same time on the way home”. At this point it was past midnight and we are all too old to be up past midnight and we all suitably chastised the person for even bringing it up. Flash forward to five minutes later and someone on the poop deck cried out “um guys….!!!!” Yep, we were being attacked by the Kraken and a Megalodon at the same time. You can guess that it was probably not going to end well, but never the less we fought on, and when the ship sank we tried to grab the treasure and managed to get it over the ocean before we were killed. We spawned at an outpost nearby (the kraken could be still seen in the distance) and sailed out there again sacrificing our ship to the tentacles to give us time to kind the treasure floating in the ocean. As the ship sunk again two of us teleported back to port while one of us swam back with the treasure and the other protected them from sharks. In the end, the treasure made if back and we had a story that will always be one that we will tell when you talk about the game.
In the end, do we recommend Sea of Thieves? Yes, yes we would. It is a stunningly beautiful game, the ship combat is a lot of fun, and it really does fill that void of wanting to live on the high seas without all the scurvy and sea sickness. One caveat to this is that I really think that you need to play this with a group of friends, and people that you can have a clear voice chat with. Also as I mention it is still at a very high price point, and I know that could be a deal breaker for some and I completely understand that. Overall we have had a lot of fun sailing around the Sea of Thieves, and I’ll be really interested to see where they take the game next.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
Have you played Sea of Thieves?, let us know what you thought in the comments below, feel free to share this review on any of the social medias and you can follow us Here. Check out all our past reviews and articles Here, and have a happy day.
Credits – All images were created by the staff of Sea of Thieves
Game Direction – Gregg Mayles
Game Design – Mike Chapman
Game Design/Writing – Chris Allcock & Mike Chapman
Developer – Rare
Publisher – Microsoft Studios