Sea of Thieves conveys nature’s beauty and wrath with aplomb, and sailing across the open ocean in a creaky vessel can make you fall in love with its impressive presentation. This romantic connection can be felt most when sailing alone, but Sea of Thieves is primarily designed to be played with a trusty crew. Doing so allows you to revel in buffoonery and appreciate the value of teamwork, delivering an entirely different perspective on what it means to be a pirate.
These awesome moments make the initial hours of the game feel like you’re embarking on a special journey, but this love affair is quickly tested both by the game itself and other players, some of whom on PC are already employing hacks to put your interactions on uneven footing. Sea of Thieves is just that: a game that belongs to conniving robbers, who see fit to disrupt well-meaning players despite gaining no prize other than gold for purchasing cosmetic items. This is to be expected to a degree, and I’d be lying if I said there weren’t moments when I screwed over someone else for the sheer delight of asserting power and punishing another player’s naivety.
Even so, sabotaging others didn’t make me happy for long, and certainly didn’t provide me with anything meaningful enough to warrant developing my underhanded side. To that end, playing as a trusting do-gooder is often more fulfilling, though the aforementioned aggressors and a surprising lack of depth to missions curtailed this approach, too. After 30 hours, I’m left wondering when I’ll jump back into the game again. A part of me feels like I’ve seen it all; another part of me knows I’m using that as an excuse to take a break from grinding through another shallow quest in search of gold.
The ostensibly ultimate goal is to become a legendary pirate captain, a prestige that comes with a supposedly notorious-looking ship meant to instill awe. To reach that level of notoriety, you have to increase your reputation with the game’s three factions, each to the maximum level, by completing a series of quests. These include defeating reanimated skeletons of fallen pirate captains, digging up buried treasure, and capturing very specifically colored pigs and chickens. If hunting small animals sounds boring, you’re right on the money; the fact that it’s a dominant activity in the game is mildly baffling. The other two pursuits have their charms at first, but once you realize that the basic requirements of each faction’s quests are forever the same, monotony quickly sets in. Given that, maybe it’s not surprising that people opt to rob others of their treasures as a means to impress factions.
Again, the only reward for earning reputation–even for sticking it out and becoming a legendary pirate–is looking fancy. New guns are always only as good as the ones you started out with, and expensive attire is designed to impress, not to protect you from harm any better than a basic set of rags. This might be enough for some people to stick it out through the repetitive quests and often frustrating engagements with other players, but I can’t imagine why a dash of color here and a new collar there would inspire the ardent perseverance required.
All that said, I can still appreciate the dynamics of working with a friendly crew, and if I ever return to Sea of Thieves in the near future it will be to recapture those special moments. There’s almost no better way to kill time during a voyage than to act like an idiot on deck. Chugging grog to the point of vomiting is a regular occurance, as is catching it in a bucket to toss on a crewmate, clouding their vision with bile and booze. The drunker you get, the less stable you are, and the higher the chance that you’ll accidentally stumble overboard, much to the delight of everyone.
Coordinating with a team of three other sailors to properly stock your vessel and manage its equipment is the most immediate venue for skill development. The only time you’re truly tested is when engaging in battle against another ship, where you’re required to manage the speed and orientation of your boat, load and fire cannons on deck, and patch up holes from enemy fire before your ship fills with water and sinks. It’s great when you can fend off an attacker, but conversely demoralizing when stripped of your riches. Just because you sign up for that risk when you dedicate yourself to the game doesn’t mean losing all your treasure is any less of a hit to your enthusiasm when another crew takes over your ship.
Sea of Thieves offers other notable surprises, such as the appearance of a cloud-skull in the sky with glowing eyes, signaling a “raid” consisting of waves of enemies nearby. You can tackle these well enough with a four-person crew, but you are free to team up with others as well; just be prepared for them to turn on you when it comes time to collect the bounty of treasure.
You may also run into the infamous, massive Kraken mid-voyage, a moment that is exciting the first time around, but subsequently one worth avoiding. The Kraken’s gigantic octopus arms writhe out of stained black water–really, a trick to prevent you seeing that the kraken is just a group of disconnected arms without a body in the middle. Its arms can either grab your ship or pluck sailors from the deck, and you’ve got a limited amount of time to pummel it with cannon fire to free would-be victims. In the end, all you can do is damage it enough so that it slinks away–a deflating discovery that makes you think twice about future engagements, especially given that there’s no tangible reward for your victory.
There may come a time when Sea of Thieves is able to entice me back, and I imagine that will be with a mix of new mission types and hopefully the promise of rewards that allow for new types of interactions, if not improve my character’s capabilities. For now, it’s a somewhat hollow game that can be fun for a handful of hours when played with friends, and something worth trying out if you happen to be an Xbox Game Pass subscriber. Even though it’s hard to wholeheartedly recommend, I like enough of what I see to hold out hope that things will eventually improve as the game continues to be patched and updated with new content.