We’ve been hitting the sea to pillage and plunder. Here’s what we think after playing the beta this weekend.
So, then. Sea of Thieves. Microsoft’s peg-leg it’s balancing nearly everything upon to be an enormous success right out of the gate has launched its Closed Beta and my curiosity got the better of me. I had been to EGX and seen the enormous showing Microsoft had invested in but I never got around to queuing up to play it – what with the waiting time pushing three hours -, ergo, my first ever experience of Sea of Thieves would be in the beta. I prefer it that way. I’d much rather experience a game for the first time in the comfort of my home on the sofa rather than powering through a timed demo at an exhibition.
And it’s Rare. I love Rare. I’m a child of the N64, and for me, Sea of Thieves marks the first time the real Rare, the true Rare that I adored in the Banjo era have been let off their leash to make something they are truly passionate about.
Shall I begin with the good stuff? Sure. Sea of Thieves is bloody gorgeous. Upon booting the game up – admittedly on an Xbox One S. I can only begin to imagine how good it looks on an X. Or a PC, for that matter – if you’re fortunate enough to begin a game in glistening sunshine everything just looks glorious. The visuals are given that extra Rare gloss of paint – the somewhat light hearted style similar to Grabbed by the Ghoulies – with vendors having unique styles and the ships in particular built to perfection with no hint of framerate drops or slowdown. Impressive considering this is a beta and I’m playing the game on effectively the second lowest performing system the game will be available on. What stands out head and shoulders above everything else though is the water, which looks more or less perfect. It’s interesting when you’re sailing from one island to another you’re naturally meant to be focused on the job at hand – though there’s little to do if you’re sailing to an island uninterrupted – and yet, I found myself gazing at the technical wizardry that makes the water look as astonishing as it does.
Best-looking water ever created for a videogame? I’d say so.
Sea of Thieves is naturally, a splendid multiplayer experience. Designed from the ground up to be exactly that, the ultimate reliance on working with your fellow shipmates is of the up-most importance. Each of you has a job to do on the ship and it’s up to you to make sure your vessel makes its way to your destinations in one piece. You have control over your vessels speed, its navigation, raising and lowering your anchor, readying your cannons and a vast amount more that I wasn’t particularly expecting – why do I need to run up and ring the bell to alarm my shipmates of impending doom when we’re all chatting anyway? You are completely dependent on each other to survive and ensure your ship stays in one piece. Should there be a break somewhere, you can acquire wooden planks to fix any ailment that may befoul your vessel. Everyone involved has to be on the same page in terms of where you’re heading and what needs to be done to get there, whilst also arming the ship in case you come across any kind of mischief. Nothing ever really feels like ‘work’.
Co-operation is essential, and if you’re jumping in with a bunch of people you don’t know, you’re either going to love or hate this particular factor. During the beta I realised how much I don’t like hearing the sounds of other players in my ear, unless I know them particularly well. Sea of Thieves gives you next to no guidance in this beta, and it’s wholly up to you to sort out your crew, stock up on your ship, get a voyage and head out to sea. If you’re playing with strangers – as with most team-based online games – this can be fun but it can also be infuriating. Multiplayer is what the game is, unless you’re willing to brave it out on the seas on your own – not recommended, at least not at first – you’re going to be playing with people at all times and if you’re the kind of person who likes to lone wolf games there’s every chance Sea of Thieves probably won’t be for you.
It’s a blunt statement but it’s probably true. At first it got annoying and as such, all the other players voted to throw me in the Brig of the ship – a prison, if you like – which was nice. Effectively rendering my experience of the game over unless I ‘apologised’, not for doing anything wrong but because I simply didn’t really know what the hell I was doing at first (something that seems popular). Pleasant. Maybe it’s a blessing, I ended up finding players I enjoyed playing with after leaving that game. Human interaction is weird.
Still, if you’re happy to sail with strangers and you’re lucky enough to find a group that actually want to play the game – which I only did twice throughout my 15-20 hour playthroughs – you’ll soon discover the fun that can be had.
Upon securing a voyage and finally working together with a team seemingly of people experiencing the game for the first few times like I was, I found myself enjoying Sea of Thieves a whole lot more, though it still left me with some niggling issues which I’m not entirely sure will be ironed out by the game the game arrives at retail and on Game Pass.
The first is there is a whole lotta work that needs to be done in the game in order to earn a new shirt, or a bit of cloth to go around your head. As you complete voyages you can earn coins. As you earn coins you can pick up some aesthetics. Pretty common in any online multiplayer game but here it would seem that everything you can unlock is purely clothing? I can’t unlock some badass upgrades for my ship? I love my ship but if I’m playing this game for several hours a day I want to be rewarded by being able to sail a ship that’s as rock hard as the Black Pearl. Davy Jones’ Locker is no place for a pirate such as I! Voyages, at least during the beta, aren’t enticing me to keep going through them all just so I can unlock clothes for a character I can’t see anyway, begging the question why we can’t have a third person camera option? I’d probably be far more inclined to want to unlock clothes and whatnot if I could actually see the fruits of my labour on screen.
I guess it’s a common issue in FPS titles such as Destiny, but at least then I get to see my Guardian every now and then. It seems like little reward for a lot of work. I’d rather have some kind of XP progression based merit – the enhanced Blunderbuss shotgun-like weapon is the only unlock that you can’t wear. It’s gives you a bit of a power boost and that’s about it, its accuracy is pitiful.
Then there’s what the beta worryingly didn’t offer – and that was just a swathe of things to do. As I mentioned above, when you’re working together with your fellow pirates and heading out on voyages to uncover chests to earn some gold it was certainly a good fun – finding that first chest is a moment of pure joy – yet the world seems suspiciously empty. The only real comparison I can make is Assassin’s Creed Black Flag and here at least there were enemies in every territory, plenty of islands to discover and a variety of underwater booty to uncover. And whilst that’s true to a point here – though at one point I got myself in a circle of endlessly being eaten by sharks thanks to a truly dreadful respawn point which was in the middle of the sodding ocean -, the beta at least felt devoid of a world that’s ripe for exploration, and instead felt a little like A-B and back again. I hope upon launch the world is expanded a little more (two additional factions at launch seems to point in this direction, which is encouraging), I found it strange that in this beta there wasn’t the full display of what the game could offer. Perhaps it was purposely held back?
Sea of Thieves lived up to my expectations, but it’s only because I didn’t really know what I was getting into. Having been particularly ignorant of the games features it became quickly apparent to me that in this particular ocean I was out of my depth. And whilst after a few playthroughs I eventually got my sea legs, you have to hope the full game offers a little nudge in directions at first before it sets you off into the great wide blue.
If it sounds like I’m being down on Sea of Thieves, I’m not really. At first I was a little concerned that it wasn’t going to be for me and I’m glad I persevered, but there’s something to be said about a game that doesn’t hold your hand and the weird sense of accomplishment you feel when you work out basic next steps. I hope this will be a huge success, I’m looking forward to watching streamers a thousand times better than me making the game their own. I’m looking forward to seeing where my beloved Rare take this ambitious multiplayer experience.
Most of all, I wish I had more friends with Xbox One’s to play it with.
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