My first experience with Sea of Thieves was not a pleasant one. Thrust into a makeshift galleon crew, my flimsy-at-best grasp of GCSE Spanish was required to communicate with three, presumably Spanish, crewmates. Using a combination of broken Spanish and Sea of Thieves' contextual chat responses, I just about muddled through to starting our first voyage together. I’d pored over the map, found our destination, and taken hold of the ship’s wheel to navigate us there while my Spanish compadres drank grog. At one point the journey was going to well I serenaded them with my concertina, belting out In the hall of the Mountain King as the waves lashed against the bow of our creaking vessel.
And then we got to our destination. Armed only with a coop with which to capture one white chicken, I jumped overboard and started swimming to shore. Then the screen faded to black. Had I drowned? Was my internet connection out? Slowly I returned to consciousness and I was locked in my own ship’s brig, three pirates laughing at me. At fi,rst it was a joke, then the toxicity began. Over microphones, they just abused me for about 10 minutes, and then wandered off and left me there. After a further five minutes, I shut Sea of Thieves down out of frustration. Somehow Rare had made a game about pirates that nobody could even want to pirate. I didn’t think I’d bother coming back.
Then the next evening, shortly before I’d been planning to head to bed, there was a little nagging kernel of interest in Sea of Thieves. What if I’d got it all wrong? I booted it up, not expecting much. I dropped into another four-man crew. While wary, everything seemed to be going as swell as the ocean. After I managed to mark the completely wrong location on the map, we proceeded to do a spaghetti junction-type swirl around the ocean in an effort to getting our destination, gradually working out the best ways to communicate directions, sail angles, map reading, and when to drop anchor. We’d landed at the thrillingly named Liar’s Backbone’ in an effort to dig up some hidden tread. Firing a blunderbuss through the waiting skeletons’ heads was startlingly easy, but that didn’t stop the thrilling feeling of success as my crewmate dug up the treasure and I began to haul it back to the ship, yelling ‘Arr, we’re in the money today lads.
Once we’d taken our precious cargo back to Dagger Tooth Outpost, we did a little jig and then I managed to successfully lure this group of strangers into the warm of a nearby tavern. Naturally, the grog-swilling began. “I’ll just a take sip”, I said. 20 minutes later we were still vomiting on each other’s faces, playing out of tune hurdy-gurdys and making one too many unspeakable jokes about bananas. I was practically crying with laughter, a rare treat from the all too serious world of videogames.
After this we headed out and killed several ‘boss’ skeletons, digging up more treasure before being whipped up in a monstrous storm that battered the galleon around like a pinata. Then, a glowing skull appeared in the swirling sky. We immediately gave chase, find ourselves in our first ever Skeleton Fort. A rather epic battle ensued, one in which I blew every crew member bar one sky high with an accidental shot into an explosive barrel. After about an hour we emerged victorious, skeleton key in hand. Heading to the island’s vault, we stepped inside to find it glistening with about a dozen chests, demonic skulls, and other ornamental trinkets and doodads. You can only carry one item of a treasure at a time, leading to a frantic Laurel and Hardy style dash back and forth from ship to fort, lugging whatever treasure we could lay our hands on. At any point another crew of players could turn up and obliterate us, stealing our head-earned treasure for themselves. It adds a delicious competitive edge to what could have otherwise been a repetitive experience.
Finally, burdened with mountains of treasure, we hauled anchor and we were off in search of the nearest outpost to sell our ill-gotten gains. Then, out of nowhere, a ship sailed up alongside us and we all waved to signify peace, while another of our crew members jumped off the back of our ship, swam underneath to the other side of theirs, climbed up and grabbed the treasure that was sat behind them and then swam back. They waved us goodbye as we sailed off into the sunset with their treasure. We already have over a dozen chests, we barely noticed another one, but the pirate life begs us to become filthy rich in any way we can. By this time it was 1am, I knew I'd suffer the next day but the experience was worth it.
Sea of Thieves is just chock full of moments like these. Its Ubisoft’s eye-rolling ‘anecdote generator’ come to life. Weird, hilarious things happen all the time, players creating their own stories in a world which is devoid of its own. This is precisely where many will fall out of love with Sea of Thieves, however. There is no campaign; there are no cutscenes; heck, there isn’t even any progression system between ranking up with the mission providers in order to earn new titles. The only long-term goals in Sea of Thieves are to have fun and to save up for some new cosmetics. New skins can be bought for practically everything, including ships, sails, guns, shovels, compasses, and tankards, but nothing you earn will ever make you a better pirate. There are no weapons to do more damage, no ships upgrades, and no new skills to learn. Float around on your own in Sea of Thieves and it can feel meaningless. It lives and dies on the people that you sail the high seas with. It’s because in and of itself, Sea of Thieves isn’t necessarily fun, but it does provide the framework within which a crew can have some riotous fun. It’s a very nice looking cardboard box that those with more imaginative minds will turn into a boxcar, or a robot suit, while others will look at it and wonder which day the recycling needs to go out. There is seemingly no progression to speak of in Sea of Thieves; there is no point unless the point is to have fun. It is entirely what you make of it.
But today is hopefully just the start. Right now, Sea of Thieves might have the best-looking water in the world, some incredible charm, and excellent co-op, but it’s also astonishingly light on content. There are two weapons, two types of ship, one enemy with multiple variations (skeletons), and three procedurally generated quest types. It’s so barebones you wonder what the heck Rare has been doing for four years. Yet, despite this, I’m still loving it. If Rare can stay the course and begin adding in new features like additional, more involving quest types, fishing, deep-sea reefs, whirlpools, and perhaps even larger ships, then it can start to become more like the game we’d hoped it would be.
For now, it’s wholeheartedly recommended you dive in with a crew of friends, provided they’re willing to take the long-term approach. The horizontal progression means players won’t be punished for not playing, which could make Sea of Thieves fantastic to dip into as and when the content updates arrive.