I’ve had more fun playing Sea of Thieves than I’ve had with a majority of video games. There’s something truly appealing in regards to how Rare has set up this open-sea sandbox, allowing myself and a group of up to three friends to take on the high seas however we see fit. But freedom isn’t always a luxury when you’re so limited in how to best make use of it, and the more hours I invest in Sea of Thieves the more I realize that – as vast as the game’s world is – there’s not much to do.
I’ll postface that comment with an acknowledgement that this is all part of the plan, as Rare maps out an internal schedule for what still awaits gamers in the weeks and months following Sea of Thieves‘ release. We’ve caught wind of paid-for pets and timed event quest systems through interviews with Rare executive producer Joe Neate, as the developer has stated that “I have a roadmap in my head to the end of the year that’s quite detailed.” (via USGamer). The only problem that stems from this comment in particular is that, outside of the two above mentioned additions which are set to arrive roughly three months after launch, we really don’t know when further updates will be rolled out and what they will consist of. Indeed, that’s the result of a severe lack of communication from Microsoft and Rare on the subject.
While hopes are riding high on what could happen with the title, the reality of its current state is that there’s not much to keep fans hooked. Players can start off with one of two ships that differ in scale and cater to the capabilities of the limited number of pirate pals present, and they can then take on missions of three different natures from the in-game trifecta of factions. The Gold Hoarders, Order of Souls, and Merchant Alliance are the three guilds in question, and completing various tasks and bounty missions will award players with treasure chests, special skulls, and merchandise boxes/captured wildlife (i.e. pigs, chickens, and snakes) to sell, respectively.
The various factions sounds great in theory, but the reality is that they don’t really equate to too much. Selecting and completing missions ultimately doesn’t do anything but increase your pirate’s notoriety within each faction, allowing you to then take on higher difficulty quests that offer larger payouts. It would feel a lot more rewarding if there was a progression system in place that helped players grow their pirate rather than unlock cosmetic items, but it’s easy to see what the developers behind the project are thinking by doing so.
Cosmetic and vanity items like sails, eye-patches, golden weapons, and even peg legs showcase wealth and rewards to keep the grind going and the players something to aim for. Admittedly, levelling up and becoming more powerful would ruin the approachability of the title, but in doing so Rare doesn’t provide much for fans to sink their teeth into. Players can only stockpile gold as they save up for something like a new paint job for their vessel or an extra feathery hat.
This design choice instead allowed me to focus on interacting with my friends, and occasionally friendly strangers that would appear on my server, which can lead to some of the greatest moments in Sea of Thieves. The human element and this level of virtual engagement acts as a social experiment that makes interacting with friends and randoms alike a worthwhile endeavour, and that’s where Rare can hook you.
Sea of Thieves feels like a social experiment and at times it can be a beautiful thing, but playing in a sandbox with the same itinerary can only be engaging for so long. Sure, the appearance of the kraken, player encounters, treasure raids, and massive storms all come together to make the world feel a little more alive, but these are cheap thrills that entertain in the short term and left me wanting more shortly after their completion. Even then, I believe that if Rare can add more depth or provide fans with a better look at what awaits them in the future, there is a good chance that players will invest the time it takes to become considered a “legendary pirate,” but content needs to start coming in sooner rather than later.
My aim with this review isn’t to disparage gamers from trying Sea of Thieves. At times I actually enjoy the game immensely, as I’ve wiped tears of laughter away from my eyes after numerous sessions. In fact, I plan to keep spending time with the title and those on my friends list that picked up Xbox Game Pass just to play with me. Still, that $79.89 CAD price tag becomes hard to justify when there’s so little to do in the game… at least as of this writing.
Sea of Thieves is currently available exclusively on Windows PC and Xbox One platforms. Microsoft provided Okay, Cool with a review code for the Xbox One version.
If you like this sort of content, then you can find Riley on Twitter (@TheRileyLittle) where he’ll probably tweet about this review (the self-promoting jerk), Super Smash Bros., and many other really interesting things.