At long last Microsoft Studios’ much-anticipated open world game Sea of Thieves has arrived on Xbox One. The game allows you to live out your pirate fantasy—along with your friends—and establish your own Pirate Legend.
This is a crucial title for Xbox as it’s the first to release day one on their Game Pass service. That means you have a choice: buy the game like you normally would, or subscribe to Game Pass and download. Game Pass also effectively serves as a try-before-you-buy program since a subscription costs much less than purchasing the game outright. Online shared worlds depend on an active player base, so this low barrier to entry should help boost the numbers.
My main concern though is whether the community will remain engaged with the experience long-term. From my play testing I found Sea of Thieves thrilling to start but the glaring lack of content was concerning. After the initial hours, it began to feel like a digital hangout space with the fun entirely dependent on who you play with.
In that sense Sea of Thieves is a true sandbox and perfect for those who love nightly party chats. It also seems ideal for streamer groups as you can create funny moments to share with your audience. For the average gamer though, I suspect questions of the game’s longevity are bound to arise early on. Let me explain in more detail.
Platform(s): Xbox One
The great blue sea
Starting out in Sea of Thieves is intriguing, and part of that boils down to how confusing it is. That’s because there is no story whatsoever, and also a complete lack of tutorials or instructions. You and your crew are dumped into a tavern and need to figure out everything for yourself. This includes the controls, menus, where your ship is, or even what the purpose of the game is.
Thankfully it’s not too hard to figure out what to do, especially when you work together as a team. Ironically, or perhaps intentionally, the perplexing introduction emphasizes just how important communication is in this game. From navigating your boat, to completing quest, everything boils down to team coordination.
That other reason why the early going is so intriguing is how wondrous the seafaring world appears to be. The sea water is extremely realistic and beautiful—easily the best simulated water I’ve ever seen in a game. Couple that with gorgeous sunsets that fade from yellow, to orange, to a mesmerizing purple-ish hue. Then you’ll encounter violent sea storms, complete with magnificent lightning bolt crashes and thunderous waves. Sailing is nothing short of stunning and clearly the area Rare spent the most time getting just right.
Ship controls and combat
Learning how to control your boat is another fun experience, and it’s more difficult than you might imagine. You need to unfurl the sails, turn them to take advantage of the wind, raise and lower the anchor, and man the wheel. It takes total teamwork to handle all these tasks at once and stay coordinated. Along the way to your destination you’ll also need someone to read the map and shout directions, and possibly have a crewmate climb the crow’s nest to spot enemy ships.
On that note, being a shared open world you’re apt to run into rival ships from time to time. I thought the encounters would be more frequent—we saw maybe one ship an hour—so much of your sailing time is alone. When you do meet an opponent you have plenty of options at your disposal. These include loading up the cannons, ramming your vessel into theirs, or attempting to hijack their ship.
It’s just too bad the melee and gun combat is so basic or cumbersome, I personally found it very underwhelming. Hit detection when swinging your cutlass is a problem, and your pistol is far too slow to be an asset. Most engagements boiled down to us randomly swinging and shooting until somebody died.
A questing we will go
In terms of quest variety, there’s not a lot to speak of. The game presents three factions to build reputation with, and each focuses on one specific quest type. Merchant Company asks you to deliver animals, the Gold Hoarders want buried treasure, and the Order of the Souls tasks you with killing undead captains.
Quests are interesting to start, but the problem is they get repetitive due to a severe lack of variety. To start you may need to locate a treasure chest by finding the “X” marked on a map. Later quests require you to solve riddles to locate the correct spot. Likewise, the Order of Souls will ask you to kill a skeleton captain initially, but later raise the stakes by getting you to travel to three islands to take down three captains. Essentially, missions get slightly more complex as you go but ultimately they’re all repetitive fetch quests.
Repeating the same quests over and over again might have been more tolerable if the rewards were there, but sadly that part is lacking too. Completing quests awards you with gold used to purchase cosmetic items, such as a new hat or outfit. And that’s pretty much it. After reaching the highest level of reputation with each faction you’ll become a “Pirate Legend” and unlock a new area. Unfortunately though it appears to take dozens and dozens of hours of monotonous fetch-questing before reaching that coveted status.
What it all comes down to is that Sea of Thieves puts the onus of creating fun on you, the player. I thoroughly enjoyed the first few hours, and there are hints of a wonderful foundation for fun. Sailing and the water effects are phenomenal, and the game world is ripe for exploration. The game just simply needs more of everything to keep players hooked. More quest variety, more activities to do, more and better rewards, more interesting islands, and better combat. Sea of Thieves is a games-as-a-service so there is a high chance Rare will add great new content over time. The dangling of a carrot is a bit hard to swallow presently though, given what’s on offer.
As I mentioned before, Sea of Thieves does offer an exceptional backdrop for those who simply want to chat and hangout. You can drink grog and puke on your friends or all over the ship’s deck. You can be silly playing musical instruments in harmony, like a concertina or hurdy-gurdy. Or you can shoot yourself out of a cannon for some funny, high-flying laughs. The novelty for me wore after a few tries, but I can see the appeal if you and your friends love goofing around all the time.
Like the waves of its ocean, Sea of Thieves, is full of highs and lows. I absolutely loved the simulated ocean, the gorgeous lighting effects, and the world is full of potential. Disappointingly though, the severely limited content leaves it entirely in your hands to create the fun. If you’ve got a group of friends you regularly party chat with, Sea of Thieves offers an interesting sandbox to mess around in. If you’re instead looking for a rich pirating adventure, the treasure here loses its luster pretty fast.
+ Best ocean in all of gaming
+ Gorgeous lighting effects
+ A wide open sandbox
+ Hints of potential
– Lacks content
– Enemy encounters are rare
– Uninspired combat
– Repetitive missions
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 2/5