Sea of Thieves - Review

There once was a time when seeing a little "R" logo on a game box would fill one with excitement. Everyone knew that the R stood for "Rare," and that they would be in for quite the treat if they bought the game and played it. The company quickly became known for their quality games, and they would release them for all different ages. They had great platforming games for everyone, fun shooters for the more "mature," hard core arcade beat em ups, and even unique ones that became instant classics. In short, things were looking good for Rare, and fans couldn't wait to see their next game. Then things changed.

After creating many games for Nintendo, Rare was eventually bought out by Microsoft, and they became Xbox exclusive. This of course caused games like Nintendo's Donkey Kong series to get passed on to other teams, while Rare themselves focused on their new market. Although the team did release quite a few interesting games on the original Xbox, and even on the Xbox 360, things did not stay the same. Although the team still used the name "Rare," most of the original team left the company, and their games were seemingly lost to history. That is until now.

Sea of Thieves is Rare's first new IP in quite a long time, and many fans were excited by it's announcement. Not only were we finally getting a new game from Rare, but it was also going to be a multiplayer pirate game where players could live out their wildest pirate dreams! The game sported an interesting cartoony art style, and the idea of being on the open seas with friends just seemed like a lot of fun. Of course not everyone was sold on the idea, but now the game has released and we all get to see what it really is. So, what exactly is Sea of Thieves, and is it worth playing? Well, that's what I'm hopefully going to tell you now.

Due to the unique nature of this game I will tell you one thing right off the bat. It is NOT going to be a game for everyone. Sea of Thieves is something you either hate, or something you love, and this review most likely wont change your mind if you're not a fan of this type of game. Also keep in mind that this review will be covering the initial release of the game, and will not include any future added content. Rare has promised to continue adding features and expanding the game, so things may greatly change over time. Now with that being said, let's get on with the review!

You and The Sky, The Sands, and The Sea:

Sea of Thieves is an open world pirate adventure. What is the game's story? That's up to you to decide! While there are three factions to accept quests from, this game is very much your own story. There are no cutscenes, very little dialogue from the NPCs, and the game does not even direct you on where you need to go or what you should be doing. It asks you to pick a random generated pirate (which you can regenerate as many times as you want), and then it drops you onto an outpost island and asks you to figure out what to do from there. (There isn't even a tutorial to speak of.) You simply have the sky above you, the land below, a boat docked close by, and the open seas waiting for you. So, what exactly "should" you be doing at this point? Well...

The Outpost:

Before you set out into the open seas and start exploring, the Outpost is something you'll want to learn to take full advantage of. Sea of Thieves has multiple outpost islands scattered across the map, and every single one of them offers you the same services. These services include the three factions, the clothing store, the weapon store, and the gadget store, and they are also loaded up with barrels filled with extra supplies (we'll get to that a bit later). Because of these different buildings and features, outpost islands become key locations during your adventures, and are something you'll need to return to to complete quests and to score some cash. This is where the factions come into play.

The first major faction you can help out is a gold trading faction. Located in a little tent somewhere on the outpost, players can accept treasure hunting contracts that ask you to search for, well, treasure. After buying a voyage from the man (initial low level voyages are free) you and your crew can vote to accept it, and instantly you'll be handed a treasure map or two. These treasure maps will either show a picture of an island with an X that marks the spot, or you'll be given a map with a riddle on it. While these riddles will tell you the name of the island you need to go to, the rest of the clue will be up to you to solve. For example, one clue might point to a painting of a crap picture, which will then give you another clue to head up to the top of the island. By following each clue as they appear, you'll eventually be lead to the treasure chest, and you'll be free to dig it up and return it to the tent to sell. Treasure chests come in a wide verity of types, and sometimes you might just uncover a rare one.

After the treasure hunting faction, we have the merchant. Merchants are located on the dock and will ask you for a lot of different things. While the treasure hunts give you a map or tell you which island you need to go to, the merchant asks for you to find it yourself. Sometimes they'll want chickens, other times they'll want pigs, or maybe they'll even ask you for snakes! You never know what you're going to be after, and as you advance through the quests the requests only get harder and harder. Although the merchant will supply you with the cages needed for your animals, bananas, or whatever else they ask you for, you yourself will have to check every island around until you find what you need. Of course eventually you'll start to learn where things are, but that doesn't always mean you'll find the chicken you want. Every animal comes in a wide verity of colors, and sometimes the type of animal you need wont be walking around with the others. Of course this also means different color animals sell for different prices, so typically the wild goose chase ends up being worth it if it's a rare one. Once you have found what you need you can then turn them in at the merchant, but you have to pay attention to which outpost wants them, and you need to be on time. If you show up at the wrong outpost, or a day late, then you're not getting your full reward. (Don't worry, the item list tells you where to go and by what time.)

The current third and final faction is the soul faction. Here you get to talk to a creepy person in a building, who then asks you to hunt the living dead. As you may notice while taking on the other two faction's quests, the islands out there are filled with walking skeletons, and this faction wants you to bring back their heads. Similar to the treasure hunts, these quests will give you a location to head to, and it'll be up to you to find the skeletons on it and kill them. Once you've killed enough their captain will spawn, and killing him or her will make their head drop to the ground. Bring this head back to the creepy person, and you've got your reward. And that's about it. It's not an overly complex faction to work for, and the rewards are pretty good! Of course the more you do for this faction the harder the quests get, but eventually you'll get used to fighting, and dying is only a matter of waiting a bit to respawn. So no big deal if the skeletons kill you. (Unless another player destroys your ship while you're gone that is...)

Once you've taken on quests for any of these factions, you'll be rewarded with both faction experience points, and money. Money of course is used to buy new cosmetic items in the shops, but it is also used to unlock harder quests once your factions reach a specific level, and to buy special faction items as well. Eventually you'll be able to use these harder quests to get better rewards, and you'll also get titles to equip to show the world what you've done. Overall it's a simple system, and once you get used to it you'll be making money like crazy. Just know that this is the vast majority of this game.

The Shops and Items:

As a pirate you have a wide verity of items with you at all times, and everyone starts with these. You have a shovel to dig up things, a lantern to light the way or signal to other ships, a compass to find your way, a watch to see the time and date, a water bucket to carry water, multiple interments to play music, a telescope to see out into the distance, and multiple item slots for the items you can pick up from the islands. All of these items have "upgraded" versions you can buy, but all of this is simply cosmetic. So basically no one ever has an advantage in this game. Your gear is as good as everyone else has, and no amount of time spent playing and unlocking stuff will change that. Everyone is on equal grounds, with you only buying new items if you like the look of them. Of course this also applies to the weapons (which include a sword, a pistol, a blunderbuss, and a sniper) and your ship, so new players don't need to worry about getting killed easily. It's a really nice system, and lets everyone enjoy the game without worry, or the pressure to climb the ranks. But speaking of ships...

The Ship and The Crew:

Although I said most of the game is made up of faction quests, that isn't quite right. The truth is the vast majority of the game is spent actually going to these places for these quests, and surviving the open seas! Yes, ship management is what you'll be spending the most time doing, as it's the one thing you need to do to do anything else. This isn't a game that'll hold your hand and do everything for you either, you actually need to learn to work your ship, and you'll need to work with your crew to do it. (Or work really fast if you are solo.)

There are two types of ships in the game, and they both have their uses. The "main" ship is nothing other than the massive galleon, but the small sloop is no joke either. Which ship you use really depends on if you're going to be playing with four players or one or two, so you really shouldn't judge how good they are based on size alone. For the sake of this review though, I'll explain how they both work, and I'll start with the galleon.

The galleon is the biggest ship, and can hold a crew of four players. Of course other non crew members can ride along with you, but that depends if you can trust them or not. This ship is huge, has three cannons on both the left and right side of the ship, has three sails, a large four man anchor, and a map below deck. Because of how big the thing is it is hard for the captain of the ship to see, and crew members need to help spot obstacles ahead and use the map for navigation. The multiple sails also need turning and raised or lowered to catch the wind, and the anchor is very slow if four people aren't helping pull it back up. This ship really requires the teamwork if you don't want to crash into things and sink, and if you do take damage it can be a bit harder to repair it and get the water out. Holes typically appear two decks down, and that means someone will also have to run down there to scoop out the water, and then run back up to throw it off the boat. Again even tasks like this ask for teamwork, and might be challenging for a smaller crew to accomplish. The sloop on the other hand is a different story.

With the sloop's smaller size players can either go at it solo, or with one other friend. Due to it's smaller size the ship only has one cannon on each side of it, and only a single smaller room below the deck. This means it is fast and easy to run down there to repair any damage, which is done with planks you can pick up from islands and store on the ship, and you can quickly scoop out water and throw it out the nearby window. This ship does have less cannon ball storage than the larger one, but with less cannons it's really not much of a problem. There is also only one sail to work, and the anchor is just behind the wheel so the captain can work it easily as well. On top of that the map can be seen from above, so the captain doesn't even need a navigator. On top of that, although the sloop is small, it does still pack a punch. A sloop can easily navigate around a large galleon while unloading cannon balls into it, and a two many crew can navigate and repair the ship with ease. It's a great ship that is both easy to use, and can hold it's own. So again, it's really up to you which ship you want to use based around the size of your crew.

The Combat:

Combat in Sea of Thieves is broken up into land and sea battles (of course). While your pirate has two weapon slots for you to equip weapons in, your ship has cannons, and can also store extra items like the explosive barrels. The game asks that you get creative to take down your enemy, but combat in general is pretty simple. Your sword has a few basic slashes, a charge stab attack, and a jump dash attack, and you have multiple type of guns to equip. Needless to say, these guns work best in different situations, and it's up to you to decide which to bring with you. Thankfully ships have chests that let you switch out gear on the fly, and there is also an unlimited supply of ammo. While shooting cannons at the other ship will in fact be your main way of taking them down, you can also take the risk of shooting yourself at the ship to board them, or even try jumping into the water to sneak on. Carrying bomb barrels to the bottom of the ship and setting them off can be a great way to sink them, but you could also place them in the water like mines and shoot them with a sniper riffle to detonate them. Such tactics are great options if you  manage to pull them off, but cannons are the easiest.

When a ship takes damage holes will break out in the general area that was hit. Hitting a ship lower will do more damage and cause it to fill up with water, while hitting a ship up high will more than likely harm the crew members, or cause smaller holes up top. These holes can be repaired by putting planks on them, but each ship can only carry a limited number of planks. While a crew can work fast enough to repair holes and throw out water to stay afloat, they can only last as long as their planks do. In other words, if you run out of planks and have a hole in your ship, you must either run from the fight and find more supplies on an island, or accept defeat and sink. (Which isn't something you want to do if your ship is loaded up with treasure...)

Of course this goes for the other ship as well, and sometimes boarding a ship really is the best way to take them on. If you get to the other crew's ship you can actually steal the supplies for yourself, and kill them to keep them from repairing or shooting back at your ship. A single person can last quite awhile on an enemy's ship if they are good enough, and they can do some serious damage on their own. Hijacking ships and crashing them into islands can work wonders as well, but simply keeping them busy while your friends shoot cannon balls at them can end the battle in no time. But again, it's really up to you on how you fight, and not all strategies will work for all encounters.

Skull Fortresses:

Besides fighting other players, another high risk high reward part of Sea of Thieves is the skull fortress system. Every once in awhile a giant skull will appear in the sky over one of these fortresses, and that will be the sign to tell you this game's version of a raid has started. Many waves of enemies will start spawning at that location, the islands will fire non stop cannon balls at you as you get close, and a boss will be waiting for you at the end of it all. If you manage to get in close, repair your ship, and get on the island, you'll then be able to kill everything there and eventually score a ton of loot. Needless to say this isn't an easy task, and will take quite some time, but the payoff is well worth it. However, the skeletons wont be the only threat.

The down side to the giant skull in the sky telling you where to go is the fact that it also tells everyone else where to go! Now you may get lucky and be on a server of your own, or with other crews that don't care. But if they do care? Well then you're in for a fight. Sure maybe other crews will work with you to clear out the enemies and open the door to the treasure, but then what? What is going to happen? The thing about people is, you really don't know what they are going to do. Will they be nice and split the treasure? Or did they sneak bombs onto your ship when you weren't looking? Will they wait for you to get back to the outpost and kill you then? Or could they have been at the outpost the entire time waiting for you to finish the raid and come back? Anyone looking at the sky when a skull fortress is taken down will know exactly when it was completed, and they might be laying in wait for you. So again, doing these fortresses can be a risk, and yes they are very VERY much worth it.

The Good and the Bad:

Sea of Thieves really is a fun game, and it's even better with friends. The cartoony art style is great, the ocean waves look amazing (especially on max settings if you have a PC or Xbox One X), and it's a game that lets you role play and live out your pirate dreams. There are a lot of islands to explore, things to unlock, the kraken to fight, players to encounter, and treasure to find. It's just a massive hangout game where you can do whatever you want to do. The only real down side to this is that some people might find the launch content repetitive after awhile. There's no denying the lack of quest types, and the fact that you'll be revisiting a lot of the same islands, but for a lot of people this also won't be a problem. Putting aside the new upcoming content and expanded maps, Sea of Thieves is simply one of those games you can play to be with others, or something you can come back to from time to time when you feel like it. It's not some MMORPG where you're going to spend thousands of hours trying to clear all of the content, but at the same time it's a social game where you could spend the same amount of hours just spending time with others. It really is the people that help make this game, and how much fun you have may depend on them as well. But again, this type of game isn't for everyone.

So bottom line is, it's really hard to say what is good and what is bad about this one. Yes, more content is always better, but if you can have fun with what's currently in the game, then isn't it still a good game? For you at least? As for those who do not like this sort of thing, then there's a very good chance that Sea of Thieves isn't for you. You will be doing the same thing over and over again, and you will be encountering and spending time with strangers if you don't have friends to play with. While you can play solo, it is a multiplayer only game so you can't avoid everyone forever. (This also means you could run into some jerks as well, and yes the game is crossplay on Xbox One and PC.) So yeah, if this game is "good" or not does depend on what you yourself finds fun. If you're into these social hangout style games, it's something you should really check out, but if not it might be best to avoid it. The only real downside to the game is the fact that you can't create your own pirate, and have to rely on randomly generated ones instead. Sure eventually you might generate a pirate you like, but it can take awhile. With that being said, I would still recommend this game to anyone who is interested, but please be aware of what you're getting into before you buy it.

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