Sea of Thieves

While I unfortunately can’t sit around earning a living off playing and reviewing video games, I am fortunate enough to get a few hours per night gaming. Since March 20th I have dedicated an ever-growing amount of this time to sailing the seas as the white whale (My avatar is a large, fat, white, pirate) in RARE’s first feature-game in the modern era; Sea of Thieves.

With a (clean!) laundry-list of spectacularly successful games in their repertoire the big shoes they have to fill are in fact their own from years ago. As of writing this article the jury (aka: the entire internet) still seem to be out on whether or not this title will hold up over time. It currently sits between being a trailblazer of archetypes-to-come and a genre-confused misfit, and much like PUBG only time will tell if they can address the issues quick enough to avoid the masses passing them over. With that in mind, here’s a bunch of points about the game that I feel compelled to impress my thoughts about upon you!

5Lack of Depth

A lot of people are already giving RARE more than a little flack about the game not having enough substance (or variety) to it, as it has a stark absence of any sort of skill tree or rewards system, or at least any that make you faster, stronger, or better than any other pleb on the high seas. The game is designed to purposely allow veterans and new players to quest together at any time, and that means keeping all weapons and movement to an agreed medium. While this has annoyed a lot of players I personally have no issue with it, it only annoys me when the game mechanics slow me down and I get annoyed at not moving fast enough (e.g. the delay after a thrust, or after taking a large fall and hobbling around while my leg unbreaks itself).

While there is more than your fair share of faction reputation points and rewards throughout the game, RARE have made a large point around all rewards being purely aesthetic and that seems to have turned people off. I don’t know why, I think everyone’s just gotten used to a world full of skill trees (which were heavily complained about when they were introduced to every other game oh so long ago) and loot crates and now they’re whining about NOT having them. Buck up “masses”, you’re just being dicks.

4The “We’re not used to creating modern games” Blues

As fantastic as I am personally finding Sea of Thieves, it’s also blaringly obvious that RARE have not developed a game in the modern era, and are still learning as they go. Most notably this is seen in the inability to correctly scale game servers for player loads, and the various side-effects that go along with it (in this case, jittering movement when going below deck). There is also a themed message that shows on all players screens to tell you when two servers are merging together. The exact reason or effect of this hasn’t been announced by RARE yet, and neither has server capacities (how many ships/crews per server); but I doubt it’s too high as I’ve never seen more than 4 ships in a single server as yet.

Sure there are teething issues, but they’re not currently game breaking (though a ‘whole game’ patch of 20GB was interesting to see…) and RARE are heavily committed to sorting them out fast. They’ve already announced various bits and pieces that they are working to resolve, and acknowledging greater bugs like players respawning far too close to where you were sunk (allowing an ‘endless battle’ between ships), and their lack of foresight in just how badly players on the internet can grief just for shits and giggles. This, along with the rapid patches that are being released are all very good signs for the dev team and players that are willing to hang around long to see the game flourish.

3Textbook Play = Grinding

There’s nothing WRONG with grinding your way through missions, but while it might be good fun now it’s also the fastest way to get sick of a game and put it down to play something else. The basic gameplay in Sea of Thieves (especially if sailing alone) is to get quests, do quests, get paid, repeat. I’ve had a few sessions alone and had fun just slowly increasing my purse and reputation (until I got hunted down 2v1 by a couple of trolls), but trust me when I say you NEED to sail in a crew if you want to really enjoy the game longer term.

My personal preference is to go for the Skull Fortresses and collect the epic booty within, and this takes a team of people to get through without major headaches. That goes for double if you’re unlucky enough to have another (or two other!) ship(s) roll up to either attempt to steal your hard earned pieces-of-eight, or even just to sink your galleon and sail off cackling to themselves. Raiding fortresses and plundering ships takes the manpower of a crew and raises the excitement levels at the same time, so PLEASE don’t float around alone and judge the game solely on questing, that’s not where the fun is.

2Cross-play Actually Works

Cross-play between Xbox One players and PC players (technically it’s Microsoft’s ‘PlayAnywhere’) is something I was highly skeptical about leading up to the release of Sea of Thieves, mainly because the controls and a decent part of the game as a whole falls into the first-person shooter genre. Typically you don’t mix PC (master race..) with (filthy..) console FPS players due to the ridiculous advantage PC players obtain by having the precision of a keyboard and mouse for movement. Surprisingly this doesn’t have the same affect in Sea of Thieves as the game is primarily designed for the console and then adapted to the PC.

So far I’ve come across about a 50/50 split of console to PC players, and at no time have I felt like the consolers were disadvantaged in any way. They all seem to be able to move and shoot just as well as I can which just reinforces RARE’s ability to get something right that others have steered clear of for years as a problem too tricky to tackle. This is also largely because as an FPS it’s very poor, and not designed with the competitive movement mechanics of something the likes of COD or Counter-Strike. Personally I don’t like how much it feels like a port on PC, but I also don’t know how else they could design it given it’s requirements to work on both platforms.

1Unexplained Things

There’s a number of things in the game (probably more than I know of) that are not adequately explained. Maybe they are if you want to sift through dialogue, or the opening cutscene that plays literally every single time you start the game – but I wouldn’t know because I skip it. So I figured I would jot down the key things that I’ve found that as far as I’m concerned were not clearly outlined when I started playing.

  • Double-click the weapon to swap (on PC). I actually played about 10 hours of the game without ‘being able’ to switch weapons in the armory.. Turns out you have to select the weapon you want, then double-click it, then select the weapon you want to replace… a completely ridiculous process, but not bugged! I pretty much exclusively use the flintlock and cutlass anyway… but this is low-level stupidity nonetheless.
  • Hold attack with the cutlass to thrust. This is a really powerful and easy way to kill skeletons, master it!
  • Thrust at the waters edge. I don’t know if it’ll get patched out or not, but in shallow waters you can currently thrust your way into deeper water and the result is torpedo-like speeds for a short burst. Amazing for getting to your anchored ship quickly!
  • Handbrake. Whether you’re pulling up to an island or mid-skirmish, learn to drop anchor and then raise it straight away to perform a ‘handbrake turn’ and spin your ship around fast. Note: You need the wheel turned in the direction you want to spin (obviously), and having it centered will pretty just stop you dead where you are.
  • Different skellys have different ways to be defeated. Even though everything will die to guns or sword (obviously), in fortresses especially there are a few different enemy types and knowing how to disperse of them fast helps a lot. Gold = throw water on them before attacking, Black = just use a sword, etc.
  • Stash explosive barrels (in the crows nest). Exploding a gunpowder barrel on an enemy ship is the fastest known way to sink them (one blast creates 4 hull breaches), and yourself! Keep a stash of a couple of gunpower barrels, but put them in your crows nest so they don’t get hit by a cannonball and blow up inside your ship.
  • You can beat the Kraken. It’s not all that hard but takes a decent amount of work and is about a 10 minute fight. It’s very rewarding to defeat one and survive the encounter, especially if you’ve got a lot of booty on board!