Last updated 21:01, March 26 2018
A detailed dive into what’s on offer when you set sail on the Sea of Thieves.
After four years in development, Rare’s long-awaited pirate adventure spectacular Sea of Thieves has finally raised anchor.It’s an incredibly ambitious game, the sort of thing that’s never really been done before and it’s fair to say Microsoft has a hell of a lot riding on it. Not just financially (although the nine-figure budget is not to be sniffed at) but in terms of what it represents for its Xbox and Windows gaming platforms.The Xbox may have established itself as the world’s most powerful console, but when it comes to games that can’t be played on any other system, it’s been lagging behind its PlayStation rival for some time. Sea of Thieves is the first major exclusive to be released for the Xbox in 2018, and it’s going to have to be pretty special to live up to the hype and justify Microsoft’s massive investment.A series of open beta tests over the past few months gave us a glimpse of what to expect but it wasn’t until launch that we really got a chance to set sail with the fully fleshed-out version of the game.READ MORE:* Hands-on with Sea of Thieves* Ted Timmins on the making of Rare’s epic pirate adventure* Xbox One X is a potential game-changerUnusually, the game was a staggered release, opening up to different timezones as clocks ticked over to midnight.These days, most games are released at exactly the same time around the world. Because of the massively multiplayer online nature of Sea of Thieves (and no doubt to ease the pressure on servers that would otherwise be swamped with simultaneous log-ons) this one was rolled out gradually.Sea of Kiwis
Ship-to-ship battles play a big part in the competitive side of a game built with co-operation at its core.
So, for a couple of hours on launch night, every player on every ship was New Zealand-based. We had one of the biggest games of the year all to ourselves (until the Australians turned up and spoiled the fun).This made for a pretty memorable introduction to Sea of Thieves. Because there’s such an emphasis on voice chat and communication between players, the game was buzzing with Kiwi accents as pirates from Aotearoa found their sea legs and began to explore the sprawling open world in search of buried treasure.I soon buddied up on a four man crew with two Aucklanders and another from Tauranga. Luckily, all of us had put a few hours into the beta so we got to grips with the basics fairly quickly.After visiting one of the games three guilds and grabbing a few treasure maps, we jumped on board our waiting galleon and set sail. All hands on deck
You won’t be able to see much from behind the wheel, so you’ll have to rely on your crewmates to keep you updated.
The first thing you’ll notice when you embark on your maiden voyage is that this game is all about co-operation and communication. If you want to get even the simplest tasks done properly, you’ll need to be working together and multi-tasking.For example, leaving the dock means you’ll need to check your map, work out a heading, raise the anchor, drop the sails and change the angle to catch the wind. Once you’re out on the open sea, you’ll need someone in the crow’s nest scanning the horizon for other ships and steering you clear of rocks and stormy waters.If you do encounter an enemy vessel, you’ll need to keep the cannons locked and loaded, as well as having someone below deck to patch up holes in the hull if you take damage.
Leaving one member to take care of steering while another checks the map for navigation is the best way to get your ship to the nearest treasure hunt.
All of these jobs are constantly changing, everything needs checking and every task needs regular attention. Which means everyone needs to decide what they’re going to do, and when they’re going to do it.
While the game has obviously been designed with multiplayer in mind, you do have the option of setting sail solo on a smaller sloop if you prefer. However, this can make for a lonely, bordering on dull, experience. To get the most of out Sea of Thieves you need a decent crew, preferably a few mates you play with regularly or a group of switched on randomers.Talking to each other to keep everyone updated and singing from the same shanty sheet is vital, and if you’re not fully wired for sound and voice chat, things can get very tricky indeed.Talk like a pirate
Spot another crew on the horizon and it’s a choice between teaming up or taking them out. The latter is a lot more fun.
If you’re anything like me, you probably gave up on voice chat years ago. What started out as a key component of online gaming soon became toxic, as a small minority of idiots ruined it for everyone else by using it as a channel for abuse, heavy breathing and silly voices (frequently, all three at the same time).To their credit, Rare realised that the problem was never with the technology; it was simply how it was being used. By focusing on teamwork and talking, Sea of Thieves will have you dusting off your old headset and chatting with your crewmates again as you plot a course across the ocean and work out how to keep your ship afloat. If anyone does decided to get abusive, you simply vote to lock them in the brig until they can behave.There is a system for non-voice chat where you’re able select simple phrases (“I’m in the water/”Land ahoy”/”Look out!” etc) from a wheel of options but this is a relatively clunky and ineffective way of communicating, especially when cannonballs are raining in and your ship is moments from sinking.
Dynamic storms and lighting strikes make navigating the high seas perilous for ships that will quickly sink if they take on too much water.
One of the most satisfying aspects of my first few days on the Sea of Thieves has been rediscovering how much fun online multiplayer can be when everyone is mic’d up and talking to each other. Not only does it make things easier to co-ordinate, you end up having a lot more fun as you share the joy of every discovery, the pain of every failure and laugh at pretty much everything that happens.Arrr-ha-haA lot of games pull out all the stops to be “funny” but humour is subjective. What might be hilarious to one person can seem cringeworthy or childish to another. What this game gets right is realising that sometimes, the best comedy is completely spontaneous and unscripted. It’s improv, as opposed to stand-up.
A skull-shaped cloud will draw crews from far and wide to attack a skeleton fort protected by hordes of enemies. You could join the fight – or simply wait for the battered victors to emerge with the key and steal it for yourself.
Sea of Thieves gives you a blank canvas to work with and lets you create your own fun. Because everything’s so open-ended and loosely structured, the emphasis is on the players rather than the game surrounding you. So you end up getting into situations that are far funnier than games where the punchlines are pre-determined.One of the most memorable moments so far involved myself and my crew dropping anchor on an island and hopping off board to dig it up. While we were away from the ship looking for the X-marked spot, another galleon of pirates swooped in, stole the three chests we’d stashed in the hold before scuttling our vessel and leaving us marooned on the island, cursing them as they disappeared into the distance.Once we’d respawned on a new ship, we noticed the thieving scumbags on the horizon. Keen to get our revenge (and our treasure back) we trimmed the sails and set off in pursuit. We couldn’t believe our luck when they began to dock at an outpost (the ports where you can cash in your treasure chests and buy new maps).
Skeleton Fort battles will involve a horde-mode onslaught of enemies that will challenge even the most experienced of pirates.
Keeping our distance, we waited until they’d taken the first few chests to shore before swimming to their ship, raising the anchor and sailing off to another outpost to cash in the remainder of the booty. Not only did we recover two of the chests they’d stolen from us, we also made it off with a stash of other treasure – and their ship. Yo-ho-ho!What lies beneath?The loose structure of Sea of Thieves is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand it gives you almost unlimited freedom to create your own adventures but on the other it can sometimes leave you wondering what else there is to do in this vast world.There are three guilds you can complete voyages for: The Gold Hoarders (treasure hunts), the Order of Souls (battles against skeleton hordes) and the Merchants Alliance (transporting goods between islands).These voyages get increasingly more complicated and demanding as your reputation rises but they all basically boil down to fetch quests. Go to point A, do the thing, come back. Rinse and repeat.In and of themselves, there’s not really much depth to these missions and they can feel a little shallow and repetitive after a few hours of visiting the similar-looking islands to battle the same skeletons and dig up yet another treasure chest.The progression system also feels strangely unrewarding at times. You earn gold for completing voyages but the only items you can buy are cosmetic improvements. A flashy new hat or coat for your pirate or a gleaming new sword or blunderbuss skin. Rare deliberately designed Sea of Thieves so that new players would be able to join a crew of experienced pirates without feeling inferior. If they allowed high-level players to invest in more powerful weapons or speedier ships then novice crews would get literally blown out of the water.This is an admirable (and original) approach but the end result is that you don’t get the same sense of growth and development as you do in other online games. Your character essentially stays the same and never “levels up”.Despite concerns about the game’s long-term appeal, there’s already a lot to love about Sea of Thieves, even if it does feel more like a work in progress than a fully-finished and fleshed-out experience. There are few games out there with so much scope for fun and adventure, or that put so much emphasis on forming bonds with other players, working together and helping each other out. The next few months (and years) will be crucial in determining whether it lives up to its potential as a treasured classic, or simply sinks without trace. WIN: We’re giving away two copies of Sea of Thieves for Xbox One and PC. To be in to win, let us know which country the game’s developer Rare is based in. Email your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org before 5pm on Monday April 2.