Sea of Thieves codes went live today (March 19) for the press, allowing us to experience our first playthrough of the full game. With this being one of my most highly anticipated games of the year, I was looking forward to finally taking to the seas without the restrictions of its various betas, and seeing what Rare had stored in its treasure chest. After sinking a few hours into this ship, I'm pleased to report that I have mostly been impressed by what I've played, though I still have a few concerns about its replayability.
In the 4-5 hours that I've spent with Sea of Thieves, it has tasked me with completing more-or-less the same set of objectives albeit in different circumstances. There are three guilds to accept quests from, with the Gold Hoarders tasking players with finding treasure chests, the Order of Souls sending you off to an island to kill some skeletons, and the Merchants Alliance asking you to ferry livestock. In the early stages at least, each of these guilds' quests follows the same pattern, aside from them increasing in difficulty as the game progresses.
Your rewards grow more plentiful as you complete their tasks, while your standing with each guild increases when you cash in their respective missions. Each guild offers its own set of rewards, such as the Gold Hoarders' extravagant compasses or the Merchants Alliance's shiny new spyglasses, so working up your reputation with each is advantageous if you're into your cosmetics.
Sea of Thieves Pre-Review: Progression and Cosmetics
Progression in Sea of Thieves is entirely cosmetic, which is understandable for a game with an online emphasis in order to maintain parity across different skill levels, though it could also prove to be off-putting further into Sea of Thieves' lifespan. The lack of stat-based items to unlock may make the game more welcoming for new players and ensures that they can team up with crews of any experience level, though with little to strive towards outside of earning a nice new jacket or makeover for your ship, this will likely prove to be off-putting for players who aren't too concerned about cosmetic unlockables.
With that being said, I'm also of the belief that far too much emphasis is placed on progression in games these days, and not enough attention is given to the experiences they provide. Rare has certainly placed these experiences at the forefront of Sea of Thieves, and a barrage of surprises was thrown up by the game within its opening hours.
With the game not having been officially released yet, the world that my crew occupied was mostly barren, though that didn't stop a number of exciting moments from cropping up in our play session. A particularly stormy sea sent our compasses swirling wildly into opposing directions, while our ship careened over enormous waves and the planks keeping it held together broke in half, flooding our vessel as we desperately tried to piece it back together. Then there was our first encounter with a skeleton encampment, signaled by an ominous glowing skull in the clouds, firing cannonballs at us from the distance and causing us to hastily retreat into the far-reaches of the map.
Player encounters are where Sea of Thieves really picks up speed. We were only confronted by one enemy crew, though the battle saw us taking our 2-person Sloop — a nimble but weak ship — up against their mighty, 4-person Galleon. While raiding one skeleton hideout for treasure, the game's use of proximity communication ensured that we heard them through our headsets before they saw us. Soon enough, my crewmate and I were greeted by the sound of gunshots, as our pirate rivals had boarded our island while we were huddled in a cave. We stealthily tried to jump them in order to defend our ship, though after our disastrous plan was prematurely foiled, my buddy decided it best to attempt to talk his way out of it. They agreed to his initial plea of "we've been working very hard for these chests, so please let us go," though it wasn't long before the pirates started behaving like pirates again and they'd killed us both, our ship sinking as we died.
Sea of Thieves Pre-Review: Pirates Life For Me (and You)
These interactions between players should ultimately make Sea of Thieves stand out from the crowd, and I hope that as the game progresses it encourages more versatility in its encounters. It'd be a shame if every time you confronted another crew the only logical solution would be to kill them all, as there's room here for a lot of funny, friendly communication outside of shooting someone in the back with a Blunderbuss. I can't say how Rare will achieve this, though the inclusion of larger battles with AI enemies is reportedly intended to have multiple crews working in tandem, though as I have yet to experience such an event I can't judge whether or not this is the case. Still, fighting rival crews is a lot of fun, and ship battles can devolve into hilarious chaos when the cannonballs start flying in.
The real highlight for me, though, is how stripped-back and organic Sea of Thieves feels. Understanding its world isn't restricted to clumsily fumbling through reams of text or navigating a cluttered UI, but rather taking note of your surroundings and making logical conclusions. If you run too far away from your crew on an island, you will lose them, because there's no mini-map to refer to and the player names above their heads disappear when you aren't in their immediate proximity. You angle your sails in the direction that you can see the wind is traveling in to gain more speed, and when you want to find buried treasure, you hunt for the X that's marking the spot rather than idly following a waypoint.
It also has the best water effects I've ever seen in a game, making sea travel equal parts enthralling and terrifying; when you fall off the boat in Sea of Thieves, there's a part of you that feels like you've literally just fallen off a boat. With the Kraken confirmed to make an appearance, I'm wondering what other horrifying creatures Rare has let loose in its vast ocean. I guess there's only one way to find out...