The Crooked Look At Sea of Thieves [DUELING REVIEWS]

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Do I abandon the treasure or deal with the abusive nature of Xbox players?

Rare’s latest game has been unshackled from beta for a few weeks now, and lately, I have been trying to pioneer the PSVG Squad into playing more and more of this game to see what it offers. Some of our team members have also played the beta version of this extensively, and so they knew what most of this game offered from the get-go. Having only played it fresh from its official release myself, I have seen a metric crap-ton of what the game has to give and am now more than happy for me to give a quick judgment for you to see right here before we dig into the gritty details.

Should you buy this game at full price? No, not yet anyway. However, you should absolutely invest in GamePass for either PC or the Xbox One (if you never got this before, there’s currently a free 14-day trial to play this game absolutely free if you go here) and play it that way.

Is this a great game? Absolutely, given the right criteria is met and let me tell you: those prerequisites are a doozy to follow.

Why do I and the others recommend going cheap for this game, despite the odd misgivings of a review suggesting that this is an awesome game to play? Read on below as we set sail for the salty tale that is Sea of Thieves.

As soon as you set foot in the local island bar that is your typical spawn point, you are left to your own devices as to what the main in-goal is. The big idea is that there are three critical factions that you can grab up to three total quests from before hitting your boat- which, depending on your team size and tastes, can be a simple sloop or a massive galleon- and begin the calculations of seafaring. There’s also shops and barrels of loot just strewn about for you to visit and daydream buying from, as most of the stuff there is so horribly expensive that you shouldn’t expect to make a purchase until nearly the five-hour mark of playing. Seeing what most of what rewards the game has to offer in the stores piddled almost immediately, you are then ready to begin your voyage!

Unless, of course, the ship that has been waiting for you at the dock was lightly rocked into the wooden beams, caught a hole, and sank while you were perusing. True story, and a sad start to the game.

Thankfully sinking ships and being murdered by skeletons and other players currently have no major penalties beyond losing some of the loot you may have accumulated. It has been mentioned that player deaths that circulate natural cause with the game (and not PVP) will eventually cost a small toll to return off the ghost ship that is known as the Ferry of the Damned.

I like it when playing with others, but the issue is coordinating that. Other than that, the game has an identity crisis. It's nothing more than a side-quest generator.

Let’s say that never happened, however, and you (with up to three other people) are geared with bananas, wooden planks for fixing hulls, and cannonballs for no-particular-reason and are ready to roll. This is where it gets tricky, depending on who is on the ship and can lead from wonderful to disastrous results. A single person who wants to play by themselves is forced to plot a path down below on the sea map by comparing to the treasure quest map they got, raise the anchor, drop the sails and grab the wheel before they get careened into the nearby sea rock. A full set team of friendly and coordinated amigos can just dally about and call out which way to go, team up on raising the anchor, pick the sails, and help guide the navigator (who is blind to what is directly ahead thanks to the sails) past any obstacles.

That whole process, right there, can make or break the game immediately. A person who is choosing to play solo is forced to handle all the responsibilities meant for a group, and a group of people will either know each other and/or get along or are a bunch of random goofs that just want to sail in a random direction and t-bone the nearest sloop they find. Progress is determined through cooperation by both the team you are with and other teams that decide whether or not you look like you’re holding valuable goods. A ten-minute treasure hunt can take an hour if the guy who demands to steer has no concept of what “NW” means and somebody wants to see what happens if you drop the anchor at full speed. A person running by themselves to escape these issues loses efficiency by giving up cooperation entirely but then still has to deal with the random chuckleheads who want to do nothing more than to sink your ship.

In the golden line that is four people having fun while acting as a group on the ship in handling duties fairly, the game is the perfect lowkey party game that you can sink hours into without a moment of regret. That golden line is viciously hard to chase without a dedicated group of friends, however, and attempting to supplement friends with random anonymous players who think they should say every foul word in Urban Dictionary to be cool can lead to a salty taste in your mouth. There have been times where I wished I could sink my own ship when I dealt with poorly minded individuals who I got stuck with grabbing a treasure cache. Do I abandon the treasure or deal with the abusive nature of Xbox players?

Outside of the beta and the one time I played by myself, I don't have much to say. It's cool to play for a bit and cause some chaos with friends, but other than that, cosmetic progression just doesn't do it for me. I don't wanna turn chests in for gold or rep- I wanna crack open the chests for loot. Stronger weapons, gear with stats and abilities... I want power, damn it! Not the same rusty blunderbuss!

Sea of Thieves is everything I liked about Destiny before I played Destiny properly. Destiny was a single player experience for me in the beginning and that was good in its own right. I prefer Sea of Thieves for that as well. Let me roam the oceans, shoot up ships, jump aboard not for the treasure, but for the reward of competing against you as a pirate. This game does that brilliantly. I would give this game a 10/10 based on my enjoyment and love of the gameplay as a gamer. As a gaming journalist, it would be an 8/10. So the average for me is a 9/10. Hunt well sailors.

Let me tell you about an experience of riding that “golden line” of experiences, however, because that alone is worth chasing and experiencing in this whole sea of mildly disappointing times. I hooked up with three of the other PSVG crew- Jason, Josh, and Amanda- and we begin to do our usual running about, stocking up the ship with cannonballs and other important supplies. After an hour or so of random treasure map hunting and trying to chase down a vulgar duo on a sloop, we see it. The flashing skull cloud of death. We had spent the entire time since we started this session solely for that purpose and abandoned our hunt to sail towards it. I was nervous because it was a one ship reward that up to a dozen of other ships could see. We didn’t know who would answer the call or who would be ready like we were. Upon getting to the island this cloud was hanging over, we were met with computer accurate cannon fire and armaments that the Spaniard conquistadors would be proud of. We were ready for this, though, and we all knew what we needed to be prepared for. Jason was in charge of steering the ship out of the cannons’ gunfire while circling the island for Josh, who was laying down cannon fire like he was just given a demotion on Christmas day. Amanda was stocking up planks and prepping her bucket to bale any water off the ship and fix hull damage as needed, and I was sitting on the very tip of the ship’s bow, sword in hand and ready for infiltration. As soon as we got close to the first tower guarding the big pile of treasure on this island, I launched myself forward over a hundred feet like a torpedo, skirting just under the water until I reached the defensive platform. Climbing up the ranks of ladders, I was met with very hostile skeletons and began to duel them off in sword combat, taking a few hits before I could dispatch them all. Eating a banana and looting their barrel for cannonballs, I hijacked their own offensive artillery and began attacking the second tower, who was already taking heavy fire from Josh and was trying to outsmart Jason’s defensive flanking maneuvers.

After several minutes of trying to gain access to the island (which included a lot of gunpowder, deaths, and bananas), we finally managed to secure a foothold in the beach sand of their side door, where Jason and I began to fend off waves and waves of skeletons, coming in hordes and battalions. Josh and Amanda, ready with almost 200 cannonballs stocked up, began unleashing iron fury across the masses while the land team ran for their lives until the numbers could be whittled. Having run low on ammo to launch on the skeleton army, Jason and I had to scurry across the fort, grabbing what we could while dodging enemy assaults and maintaining supplies. With what felt like the longest time drenched with anxiety from the boney foes and potential competitors arriving at an unseemly span, the music began to pick up to heavy drums and brass as the skeleton captain arrives with his personal hard, resistant to cannon fire and swordplay alike. The biggest collective sigh of relief could be heard on the voice chat as the fortress finally succumbed to our assault, giving us the key to the vault below and granting us to the most treasure we have ever seen in the game.

Running back and forth like panicking, suddenly filthy rich lemmings, we loaded up the dozens of treasures that awaited us, worth more than three days worth of solid treasure digging. Suddenly becoming articulate on how we sail and anchor at the nearest outpost, we begin raving at the amounts of gold that came flooding in as each chest and goblet was turned in. Faction levels flew up, clothing became reasonable to buy suddenly, and we realized that two hours of teamwork rewarded us with one of the best times we could get with Sea of Thieves. That, my friends, is what it feels like when you get to ride the golden line. It was even recorded in the video below. (Adult Content, viewer discretion is advised)

Sea of Thieves, at least at this time of writing, will continue to be hotly contested in terms of value, offering, and reception. On one hand, Sea of Thieves is a gorgeous, colorful world that deploys a game loop that is sure to provide you and your closest friends hours of laughing & tomfoolery. On the other hand, if you don’t have a group of friends to play with you’ll find a challenging, maybe even unfair system to try and control solo when competing against others and repetitive mission loops.
Who’s right in this debate? Maybe more so than any other game this generation this answer is in the eye of the beholder. I think players that enjoy the competitive nature of multi-player vs. single-player games will find more enjoyment in Sea of Thieves than the solo player looking for that next adventure game campaign. As a blogger who’s closely followed the development of Sea of Thieves, I think its fair to question the suspicious amount of content a game like this should have on launch day. Even with that issue though, there’s no question that taking the seas with your best mates and bottle of rum is unlike anything you’ve done with a video game before it.
The beauty for everyone with this game is that the price of entry is only $10 with Xbox’s Game Pass service, so everyone has the opportunity to jump in and find out if Sea of Thieves is right for them. When the game undoubtedly receives a major content update, you’ll only need to part with another $10 for another chance to see if Sea of Thieves, at that point, is something you’ll enjoy. In fact, maybe the best thing about this game is that Microsoft, unlike any other “game as a service” provider, has cleared a path for Sea of Thieves to get a 2nd, 3rd, or 4th chance from consumers versus needing to earn that commitment on launch day.
Getting down to brass tacks– if you plan to play Sea of Thieves with friends have some good social fun, you’re going to feel great about this choice. If you’re a single player looking for 10+ hours of solo enjoyment with a rewarding narrative, I think you’ll be let down.

However, the golden line is sunk well below a plethora of less than favorable experiences, and having to depend on chance and circumstances to find enjoyable times is almost masochistic by nature. Seriously, a fun story like above was great, but the next time I played with “professional” players led to us contesting an island for two hours. The rest of my team then became master tacticians and began plotting a wild defense against an enemy two-man sloop, who for some reason decided the only purpose in this game was trying to kill and loot us while we busted our backs to get the treasure in the first place. It eventually lead to a quarter of our treasure being stolen, a long, fantastic speech about something that resembled Manifest Destiny, two people refusing to assist moving the ship because they were mad or otherwise getting food/marijuana, and the ship sinking at the outpost because no one wanted to steer at the last moment- the “captain” decided to jump off the ship with the most expensive item and left the rest of the team to rot, while the persistent sloop that was haunting us for four hours came up to pick up a couple more grand of gold worth in chests. So much for the healthy, friendly Sea of Thieves community (which if you do go for this game, there is a Rare-dedicated discord with 10,000 people looking for groups, joiners beware).

There was also another time, an hour later, that we were successfully clearing a skull fort when Rare decided they needed to shut down that specific server we were playing, giving us a ten-minute warning. That was kind of screwy, too.

I really don’t know the point of the game beyond a potential teamwork exercise and slapping fancy but limited clothing on your pirate, and potentially trying to become a “Pirate Legend” ala getting level 50 in all the three factions (although apparently if you’re popular enough people will just carry you and then complain about how heavy you are). Honestly, I personally should have quit the game already after sinking 20-30 hours into it, but I love chasing the dream of a good time with this game- I really, really want it to succeed. Where it’s that right now, however, puts it barely three steps above No Man’s Sky in terms of hype and the final product. It’s a Sea of Dreams and Otherwise Bad Moments, but hey- what else do you expect when you are in a gigantic world where anyone outside your ship is encouraged to make you miserable?

Do I enjoy the game? Absolutely, I would be willing to say I love it; however, it's like saying I love a slot machine. No matter how much I appreciate it, it comes down to near dumb luck as to whether or not I'm going to have a good time for the next few hours. While I am content chasing the dream of hitting the jackpot scenario, any sane person would not be okay with having to invest hours for potentially nothing, and often at the fault of other people or the game design itself. Until they can give quality of life investments like scheduled maintenance times, a better voting system for kicking miscreant players, a pirate editor, or even a more in-depth guide (with matching content) on what to do, I cannot recommend this otherwise great game without a lot of addendums.