Preview: Sea of Thieves

If you’ve been gaming for as long as I have, you come to realise that the best games amount to a series of moments. For me personally some of those moments have included; an airplane spectacularly crashing into a zombie infested airport; a robot ball, after asking me to say “apple”, telling me “you just jumped, that’s jumping”; and the time when I realised the significance of the phrase “would you kindly…”. Sea of Thieves is only in Beta and already it has provided me with a series of incredible moments. The first thing that strikes you as you enter into this world is just how freakin’ amazing the water looks. The next thing that strikes you is how realistic your ship  handles and how authentic it feels crewing it. The next moment after that is the anticipation you feel as you inevitably sail into your first ship-to-ship battle!

Even at night, this game has amazing atmosphere.

Sea of Thieves is a first person sandbox game that has you sailing the seven seas as a pirate. That is essentially the game summed up in a nutshell but that is all it needs to be. That simple statement actually has you doing a great deal in this game. You start off on an island that is a part of a vast archipelago. Your first task is to stock your ship with supplies. Bananas which you eat to recover health, planks of wood which you use to repair your ship and cannonballs for, well I’m sure you get the idea. You then head to a tent with a shifty dude in it and he sells you maps to find treasure. They’ll either be riddles or Google Earth-like pictures with an X marking the spot.

As a team you use maps to find treasure. Be quick though in case your ship is discovered!

From there you set sail. On a four person ship you have a map of the ocean with which to navigate, a wheel to steer the ship, three masts with sails to angle and lower, an anchor to raise, cannons to load and a crows nest with which to scout from. There are more roles that need to be filled than there are people on your ship so you have to manage yourselves if you wish to be effective. Most parties I’ve played in have naturally assigned a captain to direct proceedings because this is one game that you just can’t play as a bunch of micless mutes. There’s a wheel of phrases you can use to try and ping people with but its just not good enough. If you don’t have a mic, you’re letting your crew down.

So you have your ship moving in the right direction and you’re heading toward your island. There’s still plenty of things to distract you. You might find some shipwrecks to explore for example. Dive down for an unbelievably long time while holding your breath and you can explore the inner workings of a wreck for some extra chests or additional supplies. But once you arrive at your destination, you’re either using your compass to work out where the X on the map is or you’re solving a riddle to get to that sweet, sweet loot. But it wont be that easy, there are skeletons to battle and sharks to avoid on your journey to and from your ship. Lone travellers beware!

Each island is littered with awesome Easter eggs.

Right, you’ve secured your loot and now you’re on your way back to an outpost to turn it in for cash. Thing is your shipmate has spotted another galleon on an intercept course and they seem to be fixin’ for a fight. It’s clear that running won’t be an issue, you have a head wind to worry about and the next nearest outpost still takes you past the other ship. You stock up on cannon balls, you have someone ready to repair and bail water at a moment’s notice and you have someone at the wheel steering your ship to broadside them. Then the game goes from enjoyable to downright fun! Your first few cannonballs might miss your target. They don’t travel as fast as a bullet and the waves throw off your aim but when you DO score a hit it is so satisfying. The game rewards you with a musical riff and if you chain hits the music spurs you on! Win the contest and the fight is still not over. Their ship is sinking, their swag is floating to the surface but their crew is still respawning! You need to battle them and the sharks lurking nearby to seize their loot and then turn IT in as well! Lose and well, you’re the ones desperately trying to make good of a bad situation.

No one takes prisoners on the Sea of Thieves!

You turn your loot in and now you have some cash. What do you do with it? Spend it o’ course! So far, you can buy clothes and equipment that looks better than the default equipment you start with. You can also buy higher tier treasure maps that often net you better chests or multiple chests in a single map. Apparently there are plans for more alternate quests but the details have been kept under lock and key.

This game is pure, unadulterated fun! No other game has been able to draw me into its world quite like this one has. I’ve had ship battles where I have fired myself out of my own cannon into the water below the enemy ship, had a sword fight underwater and won, climbed aboard the enemy ship, shot their captain and dispatched the enemy crew firing cannons back on our ship, weighed their anchor, tossed their chests overboard and our crew sailed away with the lot! I’ve landed on an island, snuck aboard an enemy ship moored on the coast and raised anchor, set sails and abandoned ship. I’ve had a sword fight with a shark (the shark didn’t need a sword, it had teeth). I’ve played a four part arrangement of a pirate shanty playing a herdy-gerdy. I’ve sunk 7 1/2 hours into a single play session which is something I have not done in years!

I cannot fault this game! Any gripes I do have are so minor they’re just not worth mentioning. The game could be released as-is and I would be satisfied with it, but I have been informed that what we have seen so far is a mere vertical slice. This will be my next career game for sure. I have already met some wonderful friends and I can’t wait to get back on the high seas with them.

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