As someone who loved Rare’s games on SNES and N64 (Donkey Kong Country, Banjo Kazooie, etc), I’ve been curious about the studio’s most recent title, the online co-op pirate game, Sea of Thieves. Taking advantage of the free trial of Xbox Game Pass (which is also available on Windows 10), I’ve been giving this game a spin over the past few days. Here are my impressions now that I’ve had a few hours to get my sea legs:
- Even though Rare may have changed a lot over the course of the last 20 years, I was immediately struck by the way this looks and feels like a Rare game. The music, art direction, and overall quirky charm that pervades the whole game were recognizable and distinct.
- I appreciated the fact that in this cartoon pirate world, the water physics are very realistic. My pirate ship bobbed, rocked, and tilted on the waves exactly the way I would expect an actual boat to behave. For me this, this enhanced the sense of immersion, but for players that are prone to motion sickness, this may cause an issue.
- As you would expect from a game about pirates, the majority of one’s time playing Sea of Thieves is spent on your ship. I found that dividing up the on-ship tasks with my teammates to be the most satisfying part of the gameplay. Having to juggle steering, navigating, manning the cannons, adjusting the sales, and repairing damage ensures that all players have something to do and delegation and cooperation are the keys to success. The game offers 2-person sloops and 4-person galleons. While each of the two ship sizes have different layouts to accommodate their respective crew sizes, they offer similar capabilities.
- The general gameplay flow goes like this: Pick up some quests in town, sail to the island marked on the quest map, find the treasure or beat a specific enemy to fulfill the quest objective, return to town to cash in the spoils. In other words, each gameplay session is a series of pirate-themed fetch quests.
- Completing quests rewards the player with reputation points and gold. Reputation points allow you to take on more challenging quests that offer more valuable loot and gold can be spent in town to purchase clothing for your character and accessories for your ship. Characters do not have stats and all players have access to the same weapons and ships, thus anything purchased with gold is purely aesthetic in nature.
- Since everyone starts with the same gear and all the character upgrades are cosmetic, all players are on a level playing field. This makes the player-vs-player action (especially ship vs ship combat) the most exciting part of the game since it relies entirely on skill and teamwork rather than time/money investment.
- The downside of this balanced setup is that since the only reward for completing quests is gold, and the only thing to spend money on are cosmetic items, I felt like there was very little in-game incentive to actually doing quests. Players that come to games for a feeling of progression or accomplishment, might find themselves lacking motivation once they've gotten a feel for each type of quest.
- The game's structure and mechanics are very simple and there is no story or progression system to hook the player. Thus, one's enjoyment of Sea of Thieves after the novelty has worn off is entirely dependent on the social experience. The game's primary purpose is to provide a novel environment in which to fool around with your friends.
- Since Sea of Thieves is an Xbox Anywhere title, I was able to play on PC with friends who were using Xboxes. I have to give Microsoft credit for making the cross-platform experience so seamless.
Ultimately, Sea of Thieves offers a collection of novel and amusing mechanics that when viewed strictly as a video game, don’t necessarily come together to make a compelling package. However, with some imagination and the right group of friends, there is still the potential to have a lot of fun in Rare's cartoon pirate world. As someone who prefers a more structured gaming experience, I'm not confident that there's enough here to hold my interest after my 1-month trial expires and I feel that the $60 price tag is a little steep for the content the game offers.
However, if you decide that the pirate's life is for you, you can pick up a copy of Sea of Thieves and support this blog by using this Amazon affiliate link: Sea of Thieves - Xbox One / Windows 10
Acknowledgment: During my time with Sea of Thieves, I had the distinct pleasure of teaming up with fellow Twitch streamer, @BogusMeatFactor. Since he's a much more experienced player, sailing the high seas with him gave me a lot of insight into what Sea of Thieves is all about. Be sure to check out his Twitch channel!