During my neverending quest to play through all the titles on Xbox Game Pass that I can, I came across Sea of Thieves. My coworker buddy and I were both pumped for trying it out because who doesn’t want to be a pirate?
Side note: I really should ask him if I have permission to use his name here. But I keep forgetting/chickening out.
Now, I have never played Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, so Sea of Thieves was actually the first game I played that involved using a ship and sailing.
Nothing but excitement and anticipation filled my body as my coworker friend and I booted up and got ready to sail the seas.
And after several hours of adventure, mishaps, and extensive fishing, I know exactly what to say to people who ask me what Sea of Thieves is like.
Sea of Thieves possesses a fairly shallow gameplay loop, so long-term replayability does not sit well with me. But those initial hours of exploring the world with a crew of your friends are undeniably fun and exciting.
The game starts off with a short tutorial that you must complete solo, but afterwards, you and three other friends can comprise a crew together. There are three different kinds of ships you and your friends can use: the Sloop, the Brigantine, and the Galleon.
Their layouts are similar, with most of the differences contingent on the increase or decrease in size between each. The Sloop is the smallest and can comfortably fit two players. The Galleon is the largest, and if two people tried to run that boat, they’re asking for trouble. Between running below decks to plug leaks and running back up to lower the anchor, every voyage would be a marathon.
Once you have a crew assembled, you can go on quests together, and one of Sea of Thieves’ problems is that these are all essentially fetch quests.
There are three types of quests available at the time of this writing. You can either receive a map of an island with some buried treasure to dig up and deliver to somebody, a bounty on some evil skeletons that you have to defeat in combat and deliver their skulls to somebody else, or a commission to transport goods from one person to another.
As you can see, a game comprised entirely of this can get fatiguing as you shuttle back and forth as a glorified deliveryman.
There are a few events scattered throughout the world, and I assume these are updated regularly, but they’re still pretty much the same. Fight off bad guys, take their loot, and deliver it.
On the bright side, your pirate is fully customizable. You can purchase different skins for your equipment, weapons, instruments, and more.
Sailing your ship is honestly the most exciting aspect of Sea of Thieves. It looks and feels like what I would imagine sailing an actual ship would look and feel like.
And the water.
I have never seen an ocean look so good in a video game. The waves pushing past your ship are so enticing, it makes you want to jump overboard just to be closer to them. Graphically, the sea is absolutely stunning.
One person can manage to sail around in Sea of Thieves, but it’s far easier and more enjoyable with at least two. You can take turns standing by the helm, adjusting the sails to catch the breeze, perching in the crow’s nest to keep an eye out for ships, examining the map below decks, or playing your hurdy-gurdy non-stop to maintain some mood music.
Side note: Oh, yeah. Sea of Thieves lets you play music on instruments you just have in your equipment wheel. When you and other players pull out the instrument of your choice and start playing, the music automatically harmonizes.
While sailing the expansive ocean, you’ll notice that the atmosphere changes depending on what portion of the sea you’re sailing on. For example, one area features sparkling sea-green water, with relatively clear skies, while another area to the south contains choppy, grey waters with stormy skies almost constantly. It’s a cool way to keep the generally static environment of an ocean feeling fresh.
While you’re sailing from point A to point B, several things can happen that shoot some excitement into an otherwise relaxing endeavor. Other player ships can appear on the horizon, causing the two crews to wonder if you’ll attack each other or just sail right by, ignoring each other. There are also monstrous sea beasts, like a giant shark and a kraken, that can attack your ship. These creatures are cued by threatening music, and the kraken is usually heralded by a sudden staining of the ocean from blue to utter black.
Peppered across the sea are small islands, and it’s here that you can pick up items, find those skeletons for your bounties, and dig up treasure. Though the occasional fortress or odd cave might differentiate these islands from each other, they feel largely similar. The activities you can do on each island are also the same. You can fish, fight, dig, or collect small animals that inhabit these lonely specks in an interminable ocean.
Sea of Thieves’ biggest flaw is its complete lack of an end goal. The only end goal I can see deriving from Sea of Thieves is earning enough money to pay for your favorite paint jobs. That’s it. And if customization is a game’s sole objective instead of just a side perk, you’re going to have a tough time drawing in and keeping players invested. There is no demonstrable story to find, and your character’s skills cannot be upgraded. Personally, aside from unlocking every parrot-themed skin I can find, there is nothing else for me to really work toward.
That’s not to say I haven’t had a great time playing Sea of Thieves. My coworker friend and I have had some outrageously hilarious adventures of our own making while playing the game.
Our most disastrous outing was also one of our first. We decided to take up a contract to deliver some chickens to an outpost. After receiving the chicken coops needed to carry these birds, we set out on a search of various islands for the specific type of chicken we needed.
It took us ages. We had terrible luck finding an island that sported chickens on its shores. Pigs and snakes must have bred like bunnies; they were everywhere.
Finally, we found an island with some chickens, and after a bit of finagling, we got two of them into our coops. We brought them on board and set sail for the outpost.
However, while we were sailing there, this mighty storm appeared over our heads. The waves became gargantuan slopes in front of us, rain poured down in sheets, and thunder sounded every few seconds.
The storm tossing us around actually caused damage to our ship, springing enough holes in our boat that our bottom deck got flooded. In an effort to save the chickens from drowning, I brought them above decks, near the mast. I went below decks to start bucketing water out of it and to try patching up some of the leaks. In the meantime, my coworker friend was struggling to control the helm and make sense of our spinning compass.
During one of my trips up to dump out water, lightning struck the ship and sent me flying out into the ocean. My friend immediately dropped anchor and was able to guide me back on board.
When I climbed back up, the two of us could only see smoking drumsticks in the chicken coops by the mast.
Apparently, the lightning struck and cooked our chickens.
At this point, we’d left the ship leaks so neglected as we stared forlornly at these edible remains that our Sloop slowly sank.
With our ship scuttled, we got a new one and tried to start another delivery quest. Almost as soon as we set out on that mission, a Kraken attacked our vessel, killing me and destroying this second ship as well.
We haven’t had a wild time like that in a bit; we have instead chosen to focus on fishing. I have my eye set on a parrot-themed fishing pole, and the only way to get it is to fish and deliver “pondies” to an NPC.
It’s quite relaxing, and we don’t get sent to Davy Jones’ locker as often as we used to.
I don’t want to turn anyone away from playing Sea of Thieves because it is a fun experience in those first few hours. However, don’t expect this to transform into a game you frequently return to unless they add more content.
I rate Sea of Thieves a pirate-adventure-that-loses-charm-over-time-but-can-set-your-heart-to-sailing-with-a-mesmerizing-sea-and-a-recipe-for-good-fun-with-friends.