|System: Xbox One, PC|
|Pub: Microsoft Studios|
|Release: March 20, 2018|
|Players: 1-4 Player|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Crude Humor, Use of Alcohol, Violence|
by Sean Engemann
Rare will always hold a nostalgic place in aging gamers’ hearts as a 90’s developer juggernaut, crafting masterpieces such as Donkey Kong Country, Banjo-Kazooie, and GoldenEye 007. After their golden age oxidized as the new millennium rolled on, the heralded developer entered a state of abeyance, fashioning lackluster sequels, putting together fad-grabbing Kinect titles, and working behind the scenes on other Microsoft projects. That is until they were given the blessing to dive into uncharted waters, slowly piecing together Sea of Thieves, a game that does not fit into any one specific genre. This freedom provides some of the freshest character-driven experiences rarely found in the modern, bloated gaming world.
With only a meager sliver of a tutorial and the simplest of interfaces and inventory, players are left to their own devices on how to approach their newfound pirate life in Sea of Thieves. Plunked on a quiet tropical island wearing a few bland scraps, you can begin learning about the game’s lore and a finding a direction for yourself by chatting with the various NPC characters sprinkled around the beach. The beefy barmaid will enlighten you on current events while topping off your mug of grog. A few generic merchants offer article of clothing to personalize your pirate. And members of different guilds will sell you voyages (i.e. quests) to give you a target when you set out to sea.
Your ship glistens and caresses the waves by the pier, beckoning you to board it. Launching out into the open waters for the first time reveals the tasks required to keep it afloat and sailing true. Raising and lowering the sails, adjusting their angle to catch the wind, manning the helm, and checking the map to keep your bearings, all while scanning the horizon from the deck or crow’s nest for opposing ships or points of interest, are arduous chores for a single captain in a swift but frail sloop.
Rare has been outspoken when it comes to promoting cooperative multiplayer, with a larger galleon ship and a full crew of four touted as the ideal way to playSea of Thieves. The communication between players is not only strategically important when it comes to efficiency on journeys, but it also creates memorable stories uniquely crafted by you and your crew. You could launch a mate from a cannon onto a skeleton infested island, spot a treasure chest perched precariously on a plank high above, round up some pigs, chickens, or snakes, then celebrate while you sail away by dancing on the deck, quaffing your grog, and playing your hurdy-gurdy. But while you are enjoying your sudden success, you may be blissfully unaware of the storm clouds ahead and an opposing crew’s galleon bearing down your starboard at full speed. It’s the closest thing to live-action roleplaying in a video game I’ve ever seen, and the more you invest in playing the part, the more fun you’ll have.
The goal in Sea of Thieves is to create experiences, above even the acquisition of wealth. Coin can be exchanged to fill the cosmetic wardrobes for yourself and your ship, but nothing provides any upgrades to your skills. Sea of Thieves is about chasing stature instead of stats, however this approach could have some negative consequences. With no leveling and no substantial progression system, the title rewards for raising your reputation with the various guilds and working towards the status of Pirate Legend may seem like a hollow goal when loot and upgrades are such staples in modern games. Being asked to spend dozens of hours completing voyages, only to be on same playing field as a newcomer, might be off-putting to a grind focused group.
Not only that, but the content present in Sea of Thieves at launch is fairly shallow. Voyages have you searching for buried treasure, transporting livestock, and taking down skeletons. Aside from that, you can scan for shipwrecks, follow the skull shaped cloud to a raid-like, skeleton-infested stronghold event, find some side quests in a bottle on the beach, fight other player-controlled pirate crews, and maybe even get paid a visit from the Kraken. But it feels like more could have easily been done to fill this oceanic tub with toys. Though there are a few skeleton variants, there are no other fantastical enemies to encounter. Perhaps a hostile amphibious race or a primitive tribal society could join the bestiary? Maybe there could be Atlantis-like submerged cities to explore, with players using air hoses attached to their ships to breathe. Rare has promised special events soon after launch and a growth in content down the road, but that still leaves early adopters with a light load to hoist around.