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Sea of Thieves [Review]

Overall Feeling: 

Sea of Thieves is as much fun as the friends you're playing with. With a solid group of like-minded people you can share some of the most story-worthy experiences of the year, however the actual content of the game feels lacking and if you're in a group or two or flying solo you may experience some serious lack of content.

The Pros: 

+Beautiful art style and accompanying graphics
+Unique 'playground' style gameplay with a nautical theme
+Simple mechanics that pretty much anyone can pick-up quickly
+Surprising amount of attention to small details (like catching your own vomit in a bailing bucket)

The Cons: 

-VERY repetitive core gameplay
-Lack of content
-No real reason to buy the game, thanks to Game Pass

ShogunGamer.com Rating : 
6

Generally speaking, the idea of a "playground game," which would be how I define a multiplayer sandbox that focuses on the players themselves making the most interesting gameplay, is a genre I haven't had much interest in. Sea of Thieves is fairly light on content, which means it is definitely a game that lives or dies based on the friends that you're playing with. It's a double edged sword where most players who don't have a regular group, or were intending on playing this game single-player may feel slighted by the lack of core content.

Personally, I was hoping than (from the single player perspective at least) this game would end up being something super casual/chill to allow me to appreciate a little high-seas adventure and cruise an open-world setting, with the occasional plundering and combat to mix it up.

What it has become, unsurprisingly to anyone who has ever played any kind of an online game solo, is something a lot more grief-based. As a solo player, you will get constantly harassed by bigger ships rocking full crews who serve as the primary antagonists in the game. Those chill explorations on the waves will constantly be interrupted by players looking to collect your hard-earned loot via a severely lopsided PvP system.

Ship-to-Ship Combat

Of course, the flip side of that is that if you can get three of your friends together and form a proper crew on the much larger and more impressive galleon, you have the ability to flip the script (or simply progress through the core content more easily).

At the moment the core gameplay revolves around the concept of gaining favor with the three factions: Merchant Alliance, Gold Hoarder, and Order of Souls. Representing trade missions, chest hunting, and PvE combat missions respectively.

When you start out, and run through the first few levels, the missions are fairly simple: Merchant will have you collect a resource and deliver it to a merchant at one of the outposts. Gold Hoarders will give you treasure maps, where you find the island, follow a classic red-X location on the map, then dig up a treasure chest. Order of Souls is similar, but when you get to the marked location instead of digging something up you'll fight off a couple of waves of skeletons to bring out their captain and bring him down for a bounty (skull) which can be collected and returned.

While all three offer different flavors of quest, they follow the same cadence: get information on what you need to collect, collect the thing, bring it back to an outpost for the reward.

Drinkin' at the Pub

As mentioned, this is where things get rough on solo players. All of the items you collect have to just sit out in the open somewhere on your ship while you sail from point A to point B. At any point during your return trip, you could run into combat where those loot pieces could be stolen by another player, or your ship could sink. Either way means losing all the work you put in to the initial quest.

 

It have feel a little monotonous even when you aren't being constantly raided for your loot and everything goes to plan, but the missions do eventually become more interesting/complex as you progress. Every 5-10 levels gained in the individual factions will net you new, higher level quests. In example, with the Gold Hoarders you will go from "find the chest at X" to "solve a riddle" and "take ten paces from X towards the South West" which does add a bit more flavor, though the core mechanic is still in play.

Honestly though, the single player and the core mechanics of the game are a hard sell. Most people that have any level interest in that will get their fill of the game with the Xbox Game Pass promotion which allows you a free two-week trial (assuming you haven't used it before). Even if you have already run your free trial, you could play for a month with Game Pass for about $12 (CDN). Which means buying this game outright at $80 is a real tough sell.

Set Sail

For the amount of content the game has currently (and yes, there will be more stuff added down the road) an easier to swallow price point would have been somewhere around the $40/50 price-point.

As mentioned at the start of the review though the game is mostly about the people you play with and that experience can change dramatically with a crew of like-minded individuals as they learn to properly sail the ship and get into some of the more advanced mechanics and strategies of the game.

In keeping with the traditions of the site (and my personal writing style) I'll give you any anecdotal snapshot of one of my favorite experiences in the game so far, which serves as a king of "best case" scenario when the game is doing what it should be: keeping fairly simple concepts interesting by presenting your crew a platform for adventure.

Our adventure started, as most will, with the crew collecting a series of various quests from the outpost (which is where you will always start out when you first jump into the game). Everyone can carry three quests, so we made sure to have the highest level players from each faction pickup three of their quests so the crew as a whole could choose what we wanted to do next while we were out and about. Threading the fine line between collecting as much loot at once for return and not overloading ourselves too much where if we get raided we will end up rage quitting the game forever.

A Massive Haul

We set out on one of the Order of Souls missions (they generally require a team at the higher levels as the waves and the bosses themselves can be quite tricky solo). Not long after setting sail we wound up bumping into another set of four out on their own adventures. As is the general playstyle of the game, we attacked. This lead to a half hour fight that included launching cannonballs at each other, multiple boarding attempts, launching each other out of cannons at the enemy ship, and bailing water INTO their boat to try and sink it. The fight tapered out and they let us go... before I turned the ship around, headed straight back into them and finally sank their ship. All of this, of course, for nothing more than pride as neither our ship nor theirs had any loot on board at the time.

Further along our voyage though we spotted a giant thunderstorm, with a skull imbed in the clouds. This is a signal that one of the pirate forts is active, a high-level quest that involves attacking a small island with numerous AI-controlled cannons and then a fight on-land with many, many waves featuring all the various flavors of skeleton troops before a final showdown with the Pirate King boss that yields a one-of-a-kind key and opens a treasure room with a ton of high end/rare valuables that you can then sell off at an outpost.

After about 30 minutes or so clearing wave, after wave, after wave, and having assumed we missed some kind of window on how long you have to attack the fort and the challenge was now over (we were just about to leave) we finally got our fight with the Captain of the fort and knocked him down. The loot was... impressive. It took all four of us a good five minutes running back and forth between the store room and the ship to get everything. Needless to say, we were riding high.

We decided not to press our luck with another objective and plotted the quickest route to the nearest outpost. We had decided if we even saw sails at the outpost that we would just turn around and head to the next closest. But everything was clear sailing, the outpost was empty and we were free to come in and unload... that would have been the case if we weren't suddenly attacked by the kraken.

The Kraken

The dock in spitting distance and we end up having our first fight with the kraken. Unfortunately, we didn't know how to fight it proper and ended up losing our ship (along with all that loot we'd stored).

Thankfully one of our crew remembered where abouts we sank, so on the respawn with the new ship we set sail immediately for where we'd went under. Hopes weren't high though, we figured everything would have sank by the time we got back. Luckily, not everything was lost, and we did manage to salvage about half of the hall.

All of this to say that the game can be a rollercoaster of emotion. We experienced a bit of everything in a single night play, about three hours total sailing the high seas and we got a taste for just about everything the game has to offer. We suffered loss, we rode the high of a couple of wins, and we got to see the rarest creature in the game (though it was to our detriment).

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that when it's good, it's really good. It's just a real hard sell to suggest buying this game at full price when you could get those experiences and fell accomplished over the course of a free two week trial. If you needed more than that, you could get a month with it for $12. $80 all in is a real tough sell.

Lesser Loot

Another thing I should mention, as this was the first true test I had of the feature, was the Xbox Anywhere service.

I think this is easily the best part of Sea of Thieves, for my money, in that it was something I could play at home on Xbox and at work during my breaks via the PC. Not only that, but I was able to play with a number of friends, who aren't Xbox gamers, across-platform and everything worked pretty great. Joining up, the voice chat, everything was smooth and easy and we all had a blast.

While this might not yet be the killer app for service, it was a great proving ground for the idea of it that actually improved my overall experience.

That said, I have to admit that I think the only people I could imagine getting into this are those looking to play it as an MMO. A dedicated group that wants to meet up in the regular and foresees playing it for at least a year and keeping up with the updates and hopefully being rewarded with end-game-content somewhere down the line. As it stands right now, even if you and your friends were going to play for less than a year, the monthly game pass is a better price offering for this game.

Review is based on a retail version for Xbox One, provided by the Publisher.

Sea of Thieves
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Rare
Platforms: Xbox One (reviewed), PC
Release Date:
March 20th, 2018
Price: $79.99 (CDN)