By Darren Henderson (
DizzyPW), Former General Manager and Guest Writer
Ah the open sea. The magic of Wind Waker, Uncharted Waters Online, Age of Sail. Something about the setting of nothing between you and the bottomless deep besides the wood beneath your legs and the coordination amongst your crew really speaks to me. But not to all.
Sea of Thieves is currently in the period of razzle dazzle when everyone is screaming its praises, and ensuring the criticism is sent to Davy Jones’ Locker in the process. Alas and Avast, there may be many low researched pre-orderers rushing into a game that will hold their interest about as long as an old bar wench after the grog has run dry. The sea holds hours of endless sandbox content… assuming you are an explorer type. Rare has set a Thanksgiving Feast for explorer type gamers with beautiful locales, dynamic weather conditions, dangerous islands, riddles, and more. But if you don’t have an itch for roleplaying, the seas may become a dull and barren place. If you don’t have close friends to join you on your journey and lack a knack for social diplomacy, all the worse. Join me as we walk the plank into the game that will be hailed as game of the year by some, and a snoozefest by many more.
If shooting the narrow is your idea of a good time, you might be in the game of the year crew.
The concepts are simple, far more so than many recent additions to the team-focused naval battle genre like Blackwake. Grab a quest, be it clues, maps to treasure from the gold hoarders as seen in the stress tests, or carrying prized animals or enacting devious deeds on the high seas from the other two teased factions. But why? Well glory, and a sense of self-worth. Dare I say it… fun? For the more hardcore players the driving force might be as simple as a scoreboard. The race to rack up points with all three factions to be deemed the first of the legendary pirates! But in the end, it’s all just an excuse. An excuse to point explorers off the land and into the open sea to find their own source of adventure. And I’m among a dying breed of neglected gamers who, upon hearing that, feel our blood get boiling with excitement. Such open-ended adventure in a pirate setting simply doesn’t exist!
Firing yourself from a cannon ball is more of an art than a science.
Of course Rare isn’t asking $60 (or even more intense prices in certain regions!) to let you play with your imagination in an empty ocean. Those with keen eyes on the high seas can stumble across sunken treasure, rumored sea monsters, intense storms, skelewags, and most dangerous of all, other players!
Hope you like drowning in Claustrophobia!
Sunken treasure offers the most fun mini-game around for torturing those with Thalassophobia or drowning in cramped spaces. Swim into large sunken upside down ships filled with path blocking debris as you desperately test whether your greed for finding treasure that sometimes isn’t there is greater than your breath holding skills. Then when you find the treasure, swim slower as you carry it towards the surface while your character audibly suffers, with sharks nipping at your heels. I promise it’s more fun than it sounds!
Worst Time to Fight
Perhaps one of the most incredible experiences Sea of Thieves has to offer is the intensity of sailing through a storm. Your compass spins erratically. Wind pushes you off course harder than you are used to. Lightning strikes and large waves pierce holes in your vessel to up the speed you take on water beyond the water you are already taking on from raging downpours. And should your captain be forced to go below deck to assist with repairs, your wheel drifts causing you to go off course even further. Unprepared sailors will likely find themselves sunk or spinning in circles for a dozen minutes before the storm mercifully passes by them, leaving them nowhere near the original course to treasure they had charted upon leaving port. Masterful pirates however may learn the harsh lessons of the storm and harness it to their own devious desires, sailing with the storm to pounce on unready vessels struggling to survive the ravages as is. Add in unexpected, unmapped iceberg size rock islands to the mix and you have an adrenaline filled feature that can spice up any journey with friends.
Skelewags and Landlubber Combat
Players can’t always be around to threaten your voyages and pump up the adrenaline meter. Sometimes pre-set AI has to step in to fill the shoes. As your level of quest difficulty rises with your reputation, you will encounter more and more skillful skeletons packing all the same gear as yourself. It is a fantastic way for less experienced pvpers to learn the ropes of combat with less stressful circumstances on the line. As of the stress test, you had 4 primary tools at your disposal for Skelewagging.
Some skeletons are a joke. Others will blow your head off with a cannon. Never underestimate one!
The trusty pirate saber, capable of blocking melee strikes, grants you fast moving dodges to throw off the aim of enemy firepower, and a charge attack that can be slightly glitched to allow you to quickly close the distance with an off-guard opponent. With set combos and attack cooldowns, the sword offers a great tool that’s easy to pick up but will take months on the high seas to master.
The pistol is your tried and true starter weapon, with fantastic accuracy, decent damage, and a fast enough reload time to make it a jack-of-all-trades. If I’m on the defensive in a fight I did not plan for, the pistol offers enough utility to never make me feel uneasy.
Sharks or Blunderbuss. Either is an execution.
The blunderbuss is a proto-type shotgun that can literally blow someone’s head off at point blank range, or offer a scattershot if used from a mid-range elevation that can rain chaos on a passing ship. It’s the great equalizer when you face superior numbers as a single well placed shot can turn a 2v1 into a 1v1 before the 2 even knows the 1 is there. That said, this gun is very lackluster in places where you can’t close gaps easily like elevation differences or fights in the middle of the sea. So watch your footing when blunderbussing!
Finally, the bane of PC players is the sniper. Although it packs one hell of a wallop if landed, the movement on the scope is so painfully slow that all you are likely to hit with it is a skelewag or AFK player: And that’s assuming the sea isn’t tossing your ship around at forty degree angles. This weapon will likely see a buff before launch because as of now, its only real use is sending warning shots to get another ship’s attention.
You never know when you are being sneaky, and when you are sailing into a trap.
The greatest beacon of light in Sea of Thieves is the ship combat. A team has to come together on all fronts from coordination steering, decisive anchor drops to throw off opponents with quick turns, raising and lowering sails and constantly readjusting them to min-max sharp turns with high speed, and managing repairs. At some point during all this a team has to have the wits to grab a cannon and land a shot on a fast moving and (in the case of sloops) very small target, sometimes at great distance. Then there is the ever present danger of solo players boarding each other’s ships, sometimes carrying explosive gunpowder barrels with them that can wreak havoc! Plus if you are fighting to protect chests you have looted, or later even livestock, you can imagine just how much damage a rival pirate can do as they kill crew members assigned to repair the hull or even grab the nearest chest and jump into the sea with it. Add in shallows, sharp rocks, unexpected third ships, and the occasional unwanted storm, and Sea of Thieves offers the most interesting and adrenaline filled arcade feeling ship battle on the market.
When you let your friend drive for the first time…
The only downside is the rarity of it happening. During the stress tests, there were times when I would find myself in three naval battles in a half hours’ time whether I was looking for them or not. Other times you might see a ship on the horizon once an hour, and ships you do see turn sail and run before you are ever in range of engaging them. This will be addressed with the addition of skeleton fort raids at launch, but just be aware that the seas can be a lonely place from time to time. Try sailing a solo sloop to islands around the edges of the world and you will start to wonder if you are even in an online server.
Bringing the Captain’s Chest home safely with pirates hot on your tail is a rewarding feeling.
Sea of Thieves is a love letter to fans of exploration and tight knit guilds or friends that have a set time of day to join up together to compete online. It has niche appeal to very patient PK types as well that are willing to sail for half an hour to find their challenge and get their jollies out of wrecking others’ hard work. For Sea of Thieves to work, much like an ecosystem, you are going to need a healthy population of explorers and a smaller population of PK junkies to join together and find the game mechanics interesting for the long haul. The game is fully built around horizontal progression, so the prestige of doing well at what you love in the game has to be fine-tuned to offer slow and steady progression that speaks to both style of players.
Counting out paces isn’t for everyone.
Unfortunately while the game mechanics speak to me, I have watched over the past three stress tests as those around me have waned in interest at varying speeds. Most worrying is my hardened PK friend lasted about an hour before the lack of ship battles bored him to tears and he never signed back in. My extreme explorer wife was blown away for the first weekend, and then lacked the motivation to join for the long voyages as the repeating islands began to bore her. My casual gamer friend was interested the longest but the constant switchup between intense stressful encounters and half an hour on the open seas was throwing off his gaming feng shui as he prefers to know which of the two he is signing up for when he games.
This is my Final Flash!
To go the distance, Sea of Thieves is going to need a better way to bring together the orphaned survivors of their initial friend groups after the glow of launch fades. Better systems for drop in, drop out friend invites, friends sailing together on the same servers, guilds to keep communication flowing beyond simply their shipmates to spice up long voyages, and highly prevalent ranking systems that reward PKers and chest hunters alike will be the elements that make or break Sea of Thieves one month post-launch. Whether they will be in place in time remains to be seen, but being ship customization is still a post-launch goal, it’s clear Rare is treading water trying to keep this beautiful ship afloat.