Three years after Microsoft’s announcement at E3 2015, “Sea of Thieves” is finally here, but it doesn’t totally feel that way. Though the game enjoyed a long-term stay in its alpha and beta stages, some would argue it still hasn’t reached the level of content one would expect from a large title, especially with its $60 price tag. Still, there’s something wonderfully fun about the gameplay.
Developed by Rare, “Sea of Thieves” is a pirate-themed online, open-world game for Xbox One and Windows. Though there are some bugs and other issues, the game is worth checking out, especially with the two-week free trial on Xbox.
The gameplay features most things you’d expect to do as a pirate, from stealing to drinking to digging up buried treasure. Lacking any structured narrative, the game offers a quest-based romp through the high seas on one of two ships, a small one- to two-player sloop, or a massive four-player galleon.
The game has you collecting fetch missions and visiting islands in search of treasure. There are three main sources of quests, each offering a different variation of finding an object and returning it for money, which can then be spent on cosmetic upgrades.
One involves delivering cargo to other outposts, one has you fighting skeletons and returning their skulls and the last offers you the classic pirate trade of using maps and riddles to locate buried treasure. Beyond that, one could find missions in bottles, raid skeleton fortresses or try their hand at player-versus-player combat.
Combat is the truest of the classic pirate activities. If the honest life of taking missions and finding treasure bores you, “Sea of Thieves” gives the alternative of fighting others for their goods. Half the work to every mission is returning your treasure to an outpost to claim the rewards. As soon as an item is found any player has the ability to snatch it and claim the reward themselves.
While this is fun, and ship-on-ship combat is a challenging and thrilling experience, the mechanics of the game tend to create much more frustrating encounters. Suppose all is said and done, you’ve vanquished two scallywags and looted their ship for all its worth. Unfortunately for both of you, it almost never stops there.
As ships are damaged, they leak and begin to take on water. Unless the holes are patched it will eventually sink completely, but not before allowing its crew to respawn multiple times. Although there is admittedly no easy way to fix this, it can lead to the attacking crew being chased by a relentless and vengeful army of the dead, or the victim being trapped on their ship, murdered again and again by enemies waiting aboard.
The latter was solved by an option to sink one’s ship from the menu, although it is still a frequent way of harassing other players. Should the ship sink, the losing crew will find themselves less than a five-minute cruise from their attackers, leading again to an endless assault.
These problems may all be temporary, however, as the developers have begun to roll out the first of their bug fixes and updates.
Despite the low content, “Sea of Thieves” is an experience unlike many others in recent history. There’s something about the motion of the blue-green waves and the adventurous soundtrack that keeps me coming back. I never had much of an interest in pirates as a kid, but this is a game that makes me feel like a child at recess. It’s as easily enjoyed alone as in a group, but when you find the right crewmates you can make a typical quest into a voyage worth writing home about.