No Man’s Sky, Mass Effect: Andromeda, and Fallout 76. These games are infamous for their terrible launches; whether it be bugs, a lack of content, or any other reason. Other games make this list as well, and one of them is Sea of Thieves. Launching early last year, Sea of Thieves was criticized for its shallow content and lack of progression. Despite this, Rare stuck to the game and kept releasing updates. The game is now over a year old (as of me playing it), which means it should be in some way more improved, though what those improvements are, I can’t tell you. This is Sea of Thieves, and it’s time to get “rich” or die trying.
Before I get into the review, I want to say that this isn’t going to be a comparison between the launch version of the game and the current version. I don’t know the differences between the two, so I can’t tell you what is new. My review of this game is based on what I played in mid-2019.
Since there is no story to even talk about here, I’ll get straight to what this game is. Sea of Thieves is a first-person open-world multiplayer game about being a pirate and having a crew sail the seas and jump from island-to-island in search of treasure and the fight. Now that the elevator pitch for the game is over, let me tell you what you actually do in the game: chores. The majority of what you do in the main game consists of taking quests from one-of-three guilds. Each guild has you doing something different, but the quests from two of the three guilds require going to an island, picking up the quest item while fighting extremely dumb and easy to kill skeletons, and returning to an outpost, while the quests from the third guild involve delivering various items to other NPCs. These quests are infinitely generated, extremely basic, and get repetitive real quick. There are other issues around the quests like not knowing where to go until you start the quest, which means not being able to choose where you want to go treasure hunting, but the lack of any depth or variety makes it hard to call these missions anything but one-dimensional.
These missions aren’t supposed to be the only thing you do, though. The treasures found from these missions are meant to be something players fight over. Delivering treasure is dull, but delivering treasure with even the thought that someone could come out of nowhere and attack is exciting. Unfortunately, the few competitive encounters I had with others felt cheap. Players have figured out that hiding at the outposts and attacking others while they turn in their treasure is much easier than, say, having a sea battle or fighting while on the island. I only had one ship battle, and my boat was parked at the time. Attacking players at the outposts while they are about to turn in treasure feels cheap and shouldn’t be allowed considering each quest takes around twenty minutes minimum to complete, and losing the treasure gets you nothing. In the end, my friend (who thankfully endured this game with me throughout my time with this game) and I chose to avoid player interaction as much as we could, as for doing mundane missions with no risk was better than spending a lot of time doing missions only to have it snatched away right before enjoying the fruits of our labor.
Since these encounters were few-and-far-between, my friend and I usually ended up pocketing most of our hard work. What are the things we got out of doing quests? Money. It should come as no surprise that you get riches in a pirate game, but what is quite shocking is the lack of things to do with these shiny gold coins. The only thing you can get with money are cosmetic items. Everyone is equipped with the same items, whether you are just starting out or 1000 hours in. On top of that, all of the consumables you pick up throughout your time with the game, like food or cannonballs, reset when you quit the game. Oh, and did I mention the cosmetics in the game, particularly around your ship, are super expensive? The only other thing you get out of doing quests are commendations from each guild, which are achievements for doing an x amount of a certain task. Doing these tasks levels up your standing with the guild, and leveling up with the guild gets you…more cosmetics. Still, the commendations are at least something to work towards, which is a shame considering this game is all about being a pirate and trying to steal or discover treasure.
I have talked about the worst part of the main game experience, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a best part to this game. While the generated missions are the main missions in the game, there is actually a nine chapter quest-line to complete called The Shores of Gold (which I suspect is newer content). Each mission took my friend and I roughly two hours to complete, and each mission involves going to different islands, solving puzzles, and even a few boss fights. The story of this quest-line feels loosely stitched together and nothing that we did was in any way memorable, but The Shores of Gold is the best content of the main game compared to the rest of the game because it involved doing something other than being a delivery boy. Even this content is flawed, however, as for the reward for completing the whole quest is meager compared to how much time we put into the quest (surprise, some cosmetics and money for more cosmetics), and all of the boss fights had the same attack patterns and took way too long to complete. Still, having something to do outside of the generated quests was a nice change of pace.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, the best parts of this game aren’t in the destination, but in the journey and in the little pieces around the edges. The quest-line was fun to do, but is also finite. Whether it be during the quest-line or doing the generated missions, the most fun my friend and I had were in the little moments. Learning and mastering the controls and mechanics of our sloop, getting drunk and puking on each other, playing instruments that perfectly sync together, fighting off a Kraken, and getting shot out of a cannon are some of the small enjoyable moments we had together. Accompanying this is a great art style and beautiful waters, and playing music or sailing the ship while the sun was setting is quite amazing. Unfortunately, all of this is fleeting as well, and I even got to a point where sailing (which makes up a majority of what you do in the game) became an annoying time waster. I can’t deny the existence of cool moments in this game, but I don’t think they save the game from its boring, mediocre self.
Throughout this review, I have referenced everything as part of the “main game.” Sea of Thieves also offers a competitive multiplayer mode called The Arena. In this mode, five galleons with four players each compete to have the most amount of money by either earning it through the delivery of chests or making others lose earnings by sinking their ship.
Even though this mode is a side offering, Arena taps into the pirate adventure much better than the main game. In this mode, I was actually communicating with my crew, stealing gold, fighting other players, and trying to destroy or board other ships, and all of this is done without the feeling of lost progress. I wish there was a playlist for smaller crews, as for it was hard for me to round up three others (and you need to play friends for communication), but I still had a fun time and a truer pirate experience with this mode.
In conclusion, Sea of Thieves is a skeleton with a new dress: there may be something new here, but it doesn’t hide the fact that there is a skeleton. It doesn’t seem like there is a lot of differences between the launch version and what I played in mid-2019, despite it desperately needing something. I can’t say it is the worst game I have ever played, but the experience is shallow and repetitive. Dead men tell no tales, but this game tries and fails to tell the tale of a fun pirate game.