Sea of Thieves closed beta

Sea of Thieves box artSea of Thieves: Yo ho, a pirate’s life for me!

This past week, Microsoft held its highly anticipated closed beta for Sea of Thieves. This beta, available to everyone who pre-ordered the game, gave us another chance to set sail on the high seas. Over the weekend I got to sample more 4-crew seafaring adventures, as well as try solo for the first time. Let’s take a closer look at what the Sea of Thieves closed beta had to offer!

Online multiplayer with friends

The bread and butter of Sea of Thieves is gathering a crew of four and living out your pirate dreams. Together you can set out in search of buried treasure, or engage in high stakes crew vs. crew PvP action. There’s a heavy emphasis on team play, so having a microphone is essential to getting the most out of it.

For the beta, we were given three ways to play: 1-person, 2-players, and 4-players. If you go solo or duos you’ll receive your very own sloop, essentially a modest-sized ship. Go with a full squad and instead you’ll get a huge galleon, majestic sails and all. After sampling all three options the 4-player galleon is, as you’d probably guess, the clear best way play. Not only does the galleon look nicer and provides more space, but more friends always equals more fun. It’s possible to play Sea of Thieves solo, however, from experience I found it a lot less enjoyable.

Sea of Thieves graphics

Set sail for islands full of buried treasure

When starting out in the Sea of Thieves beta I was surprised to find no tutorials or introduction. You start out in a trading port with your crew and have to figure out things as you go along. Luckily, I found the game intuitive and it didn’t take long to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing. The basic gameplay loop is: visit the Golden Hoarders to get voyage (quest), complete it, and return for your rewards. These rewards include gold to buy cosmetic items and reputation points that enable you to take on harder voyages.

Going on voyages is where I had the most fun in Sea of Thieves. You’re told which island to visit (of the dozen or so on your map) and have to navigate there successfully. This involves raising the anchor, unfurling and positioning the sails, and steering the correct course. Accomplishing this requires team coordination and often time silliness ensues. For example, on one voyage half my crew chugged grog until they were drunk and started yacking all over the deck. Us sober folks gave up navigating the ship and serenaded our intoxicated friends with music from our hurdy-gurdys. Silly, spontaneous moments like these happen all the time when playing Sea of Thieves.

Sea of Thieves multiplayer

Treasure hunting begins

Once at your destination island it’s time to start looking for that buried treasure. Early quests give you a map with “X” marks the spot locations, while later quests give you riddles to solve. Treasure must be dug up, but doing so alerts nearby skeletons; themselves supposedly former pirates. Your team must then fend off these undead creatures with your handy-dandy pirate weapons, a Blunderbuss (shotgun) and Cutlass (sword).

Obtaining the treasure is only half the work though. You’ll need to make it back to the original trading port unscathed to trade the treasure chest in for rewards. Here’s where things get particularly chaotic: on your way back you’re bound to run into enemy ships. When that happens your crew has to quickly load canonballs into the canons, as well as use wooden planks to patch up any holes. You can also fire yourself out of a canon if you muster up the courage to invade your enemy’s ship. There a lot at stake during this aggressive (and often comedic) sea battles, including losing your entire ship and treasure. Of course, win or lose you’re bound to have funny pirate stories to tell after it’s all said and done.

Sea of Thieves combat

Solo adventuring has its drawbacks

One big reason why you’ll want to play Sea of Thieves with friends is the dreaded prison called the brig. As I discovered during my first matchmaking with three strangers, your teammates can vote to toss you in jail. This tiny caged cell is located in the belly of the ship, and there’s no way to get yourself out. The only way to escape is having your partners take pity and decide to vote for your release. Getting tossed in the brig is obviously a frustrating experience, but any group that does that probably isn’t worth playing with anyway.

Another reason why you’ll want to play with three others is because Sea of Thieves presents a shared world. That means if you sail solo there’s a good chance your tiny sloop will come head-to-head with a full-crewed galleon. These unbalanced encounters are obviously not in your favour and usually results with your ship sinking to the ocean floor. It’s a bummer there’s not a stronger single-player incentive, but this game really is meant to be played with others.

Graphics are amazing

The biggest standout feature of Sea of Thieves, at least in my opinion is its stunning graphics. Having played the game at E3 2016 and the Xbox Showcase event, I can tell the graphics keep getting better. The water in particular looks stellar and easily the best-looking ocean ever in a video game. Once you add in gorgeous yellow and red sunsets into the mix the visual eye candy is off the chart.

Overall, the Sea of Thieves beta felt promising, at least when it comes to multiplayer with your friends. There wasn’t much quest variety, which is a concern, but as it was a beta it’s hard to know if the final game offers more. As a live gaming service though you have to imagine Rare will be supporting the game with fresh content drops often. Time will tell and I’m excited to find out! Stay tuned for a full review of Sea of Thieves as we approach the game’s imminent launch.

Sea of Thieves is scheduled for release on March 20, 2018

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