Sea of Thieves is an interesting video game. It’s going to be (if not already) extremely divisive. I’ve told multiple people at this point that it’s one of the most polished games that lacks enough content I’ve ever played. Well, maybe besides EA’s Star Wars Battlefront a few years ago. Sea of Thieves was developed by Rare, the studio behind Xbox avatars, but more famously the studio behind great games like Goldeneye: 007, Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark, Diddy Kong Racing, and Viva Pinata. Rare fans have been a bit down over the last few years as the studio was relegated to creating avatars and Kinect by Microsoft during most of the latter Xbox 360 and early Xbox One era. Finally, a few years back at E3 Expo 2015, Rare announced Sea of Thieves. An open world, multiplayer pirate game that looked the part of previous Rare titles like Banjo mixed with the new gen emphasis on open world multiplayer games.
Sea of Thieves, in the purest form, is simply a pirate simulator with three quest types gameplay and exploration. When you begin the game there is no grand story intro, only a few tutorials, and no real character creation (an odd decision). You choose a pirate by shuffling through randomly generated characters and then, after choosing a boat for 1-4 people, are dumped into the world and given your ship, and that’s it. As you explore the sanctuary or town you are dropped into you meet a few quest-giving characters, a few vendors, and a tavern owner. They all have a minimal level of voice acting and only a few conversation options. That’s something you’ll notice right away about Sea of Thieves, it’s not a story game from a narrative-driven perspective. It’s much more about making your own stories with friends. That can be off-putting to those players without friends buying the game, or who don’t want to brave the matchmaking system.
The main gameplay hook for Sea of Thieves involves taking quests from one of three main factions and working to complete them which levels each player up and gains money and titles. Your three basic quest types are treasure hunting, skeleton boss hunting (to get their skulls), and fetching supplies. You grab a quest, head to your ship, and choose the quest you want to work on and go. When done you return. This is pretty much the entirety of the set gameplay in Sea of Thieves. There are random things to find, like messages in a bottle, but overall the game really seems to be lacking in content. The actual combat is similar to The Elder Scrolls games in that you have a sword with two attack types and a block and essentially just swing wildly until the skeleton (really the only enemy type) is dead. You also have either a flintlock pistol, blunderbuss, or rifle.
So, now that we’ve cleared the bad, or sub-par, items (lack of content, lack of narrative, basic gameplay loop), let’s take a look at what the game actually does well. First off, Sea of Thieves looks incredible. With some of the best use of HDR yet, and beautiful 4K resolution on the Xbox One X and PC, it really is one of the best looking stylized games this generation, and it has (without any doubt) the best water I’ve ever seen in a video game. The visuals and water, paired with the great ambient sounds, make sailing around the world and exploring actually a lot of fun. If you have a friend or three along for the ride, you can easily kill multiple hours just sailing the high seas and finding treasures. Sailing itself isn’t extremely hard, but does take some coordination, and if you run into anything or get shot you must patch up your boat with wood and throw water out before you sink. The other interesting gameplay item (depending on how much you like multiplayer) is having other players in the world. You can find your team hauling three chests back to town to turn in and another group of players could blow up your boat, or they could help you beat a boss. This dynamic is one of the game’s best, as the stories I’ve already heard in a few days of release, about players battling it out or working together have been epic.
Sea of Thieves Review Final Thoughts:
Overall, Sea of Thieves feels incomplete. The framework is excellent and has the potential to really blow up into what could be the Xbox’s next big franchise, but game one (at least at the time of this review) is really lacking in the “what to do” area. It remains to be seen if the team at Rare lives up to their promise and continues to add free content like the big live battles and more over the next year, and if the lack of initial content will drive potential buyers away. It’s a game that I implore people to try for themselves. Yeah, yeah, this is a review, and you’re reading this to see if you should buy a game, but Sea of Thieves is such an odd case that it’s hard to say definitively yes or no. You could try it out and hate it for its lack of content, or you could try it out and end up sinking 100 hours into it because of the great times sailing with friends and chatting. If I had to say, right now, what you should do is wait. Wait for the first content drop from Rare to see if they are serious about adding more, wait for a price drop to lower the barrier of entry (or get the game now by signing up for a month of Xbox Game Pass for $10). Sea of Thieves is not great yet, but it has the potential to be one of the best new franchises on Xbox if Rare and Microsoft can get the content issues sorted out.
Sea of Thieves on Xbox One
- Amazing graphics. Some of the best use of HDR yet.
- Fun multiplayer gameplay with friends.
- A great foundation for games to come.
- Lack of content, and content variety.
- No narrative at all.
- No character creation.
- All items cosmetic, and not very many of them. Lack of things to buy.