Sea of Thieves Review
April 15, 2018
When I heard about Sea of Thieves at E3 a few years ago, I was psyched. It was being made by Rare, creator of some of my all-time favorite video games like: Banjo Kazooie, Goldeneye, and Donkey Kong Country. And Sea of Thieves was a pirate game. I've always been a huge fan of pirate stuff since I was a kid. I had the awesome Fisher-Price pirate ship stuff as a kid, including the island! So I thought Sea of Thieves was the perfect recipe for a cool video game.
Sea of Thieves starts out fast, there is barely any tutorial at all. Normally, I hate tutorials in video games because usually they are unnecessary and really ruin the mood of a new game. But Sea of Thieves definitely needs one. You are thrown into the game, shown how to switch items, and that's about it. I learned how to sail my ship pretty quickly thankfully, it's pretty intuitive. And fighting is standard for a first-person shooter. So that was nice, I was sailing the sea, traveling to islands, and...struggling to figure out what to do. I really wanted to like the game, after all, it was a Pirate game, so I kept trying.
The lack of tutorial really holds back Sea of Thieves. I knew there must be something to do, as people were playing the game. Some merchant character gave me some tasks, but there was zero explanation that I saw on how to do them. I was supposed to "catch a pig". I saw pigs on the islands, but there was no way to catch them. The merchant character had crates, but wouldn't give me them. I must have talked to her a lot, because all of my tasks were related to catching animals. I still have no clue how to catch animals, nor do I care. I don't understand how that is a pirate thing to do anyway. To make matters worse, all my pirate "task" slots were filled with these stupid animal-catching tasks. Once I learned how to get cool tasks, like finding buried treasure or fighting hordes of skeleton pirates, I couldn't get them, because there was no room in my task slots. This is a huge flaw in the game, there is no explanation on how to end a worthless task. The menu is horrible.
Another early problem I had with the game is my fault. Even though I had team chat turned on in the menus, I was unable to communicate with anyone. It turns out, there is also an Xbox chat setting, hidden deep within the Xbox settings, that you must enable before chatting in game. It isn't fun playing with a silent crew. But despite all these setbacks, I kept trying to figure it out.
The reason I kept trying over and over is because the setting of the game is amazing. You are a pirate in a tropical sea, dotted with super cool islands. Each island was carefully made. They are all interesting, with hidden caves, majestic waterfalls, and spooky shipwrecks. It is fun just wandering and exploring the islands. Swimming from your ship to the island is awesome too, under the water is a beautiful world of fish, plants, and sharks. I wish the islands were a little bigger, but overall they are super cool.
The graphics are good, but not realistic. They kind of have a cartoony, Fortnite-vibe. The waves of the ocean look great, and the cloud graphics are very good too. They change with the wind and weather. I think it would be better with life-like graphics.
A lot of care obviously went into designing the pirate ships. They are very cool, and pretty easy to sail. If you crash into stuff, water will come through the holes, but you can patch them and carry the water overboard with a bucket. Using cannons and figthing other ships is pretty cool. You can go stealth-mode and turn the ships lights out, so people can't see you at night. Navigating between islands is easy enough, but it's one of my least favorite parts of the game, I just don't care about sailing much. My favorite part of the ship, is the big map table that you use to navigate the sea, and find your islands. Treasure maps and pirates go together like peanut butter and jelly, and it is fun using the big map.
There isn't really a story in the game, you are kind of thrown into an open world where you can do whatever you want. The objectives in the game revolve around three types of quests: Merchant quests (which so far I can't figure out), Treasure hunting quests, and Fighting undead pirate quests. Basically, you get a treasure map with an "X marks the spot" or a poster with the name of a skeleton pirate and where you might find him. Then you sail your ship to that place, fight undead pirates and find treasure. If there is a bounty on an undead pirate, you take his glowing green skull. Then you sell the treasure or green skulls to characters on "outpost" islands, which are like little towns. If you run into another pirate squad, you can either team up with them, or fight them, stealing their treasure or green skulls. I wish there was more variety to the quests. I have found some interesting stuff in washed up messages-in-a-bottle, but nothing too special. I also wish players could bury their own treasure, make their own maps, and design their own quests.
It can be fun playing on your own, but it seems better with a friend. You go together on the same ship--sailing is easier with a crew. Then you do the same quests you would in single-player. I have had fun fighting other squads of pirates. You can fight them ship vs ship, or board their ship to fight, or fight on an island, there are a lot of options. You can fight with cannons from your ships, or with swords, pistols, shotguns, or rifles. The guns are all horrible, but this is a pirate game, not Call of Duty, so thats understandable. In my last game, me and my teammate had a big hoard of treasure on board and saw a large galleon in the distance. My teammate panicked and decided they wanted our treasure, so we hid in a secret cove of an island until night. Then we came out, made sure our lights were off, and sailed away, out of sight of the galleon. He was probably right, I usually get killed by crews of large ships, and it is fun avoiding them.
Even though fighting pirates and skeletons is fun, the combat gameplay is not very good. It almost reminds me of Morrowind, as not every slash with your sword will register. The first-person control scheme in the game is great, but it leaves you wanting more, especially if you fight with the guns. The guns seem extremely weak, and it takes way too many shots to do any damage. Cannon combat is good, but close quarters combat is just ok.
Overall, I like Sea of Thieves. Even though the quests are the same over and over again, it is a pirate game, so of course you are looking for buried treasure a lot. It almost seems relaxing, the routine of searching on the map for an island, sailing there, fighting undead skeletons and ghosts and digging up treasure. The learning curve is steep though, which really brings down the game. If it wasn't so fun exploring the islands, I would have stopped playing after one or two tries. I give Sea of Thieves a 3.5 out of five.