Some demo booths in Gamescom just let you do whatever you want. Dawn of War III unleashed players in half hour blocks. Others were smaller experiences, a few minutes to maybe a quarter hour. It can be hard to get to grips with a game when it's new to you in such a limited time frame. Sometimes though you do need a member of staff to float nearby and give the occasional sage word of advice. A tip here or there to put you back onto the right path. That is why Sea of Thieves amazes me. The reasons are twofold. It amazes me that the staff manning the booth for it could keep up the pace they did and it amazes me that it was such an easy game to get to grips with. My hat is off to those hyper vigilant pirates making sure we had the basics explained to us and that people actually got out of port.
Each ship of five people actually ended up as four players in the queue and one of the Sea of Thieves devs. For the sea battle we were to engage in, that staff member was there to politely keep us on track and patch up any idiocy we inflicted upon ourselves. I can see why the game will appeal to close teams of five. Sailing is more than just pointing the right way, you need to keep an eye out. Patching up damage can be done by one person but what if you're really taking a pounding? Or what if you need to dish one out. The team has to work as a crew for any of it to work out.
Fortunately I already had a friend on the crew who had come to Gamescom, between us and our staff chaperone, surely we could sail some seas a bit?
Second Star To The Right
You don't just hop in a ship and set off to plunder booty and sink ships. There's a little preparation to take care of, raising anchor, dropping sails and setting sights. No one really did that last one so it's something of a miracle that we got to have as much fun as we did. If you're like me, while everyone else is running around to play with interactive elements or knocking back the grog in their inventory, you'll head right to the wheel of the ship. I'm warning you now, your view is ... poor. It makes perfect sense really, with the sails down and billowing in front of you, most of your view is taken up with the sails. You have to rely on your crew to relay information. Ideally someone will be up in the crows nest calling out sightings over voice chat so you can change heading. Failing that maybe they'll do a promotion where you get a Sea of Thieves staff member with every five pack of the game you buy to help out. Those tireless champions got everyone ready and our guardian pirate helped get the sails down and the anchor up. We were at sea!
Straight On Till Morn
Little things bring experiences together. Yes my view was boring with the sails, but having to rely on three strangers and a friend for all the necessary navigation information really made the sailing enjoyable. Someone got their hands on a fiddle and would occasionally belt out a little ditty, something familiar. Something I couldn't quite place at the time but felt properly pirate-y as we worked out our little tasks. Cannons to fire, a wheel to haul on and targets in our sights.
I can tell you here and now, no one sank anyone. More importantly I didn't sink our ship much to the surprise of everyone except me. Just because that island snuck up on us and we looked like we were going to hit, that's no reason to panic. Fortune favours the bold and the idiotically lucky. I'm going to claim I was bold.
How Does It Play?
The experience on the Gamescom floor was enough to leave me with a burning desire to play again. This was a game I could see myself gleefully playing with friends every night where we all settle into the roles that suit us best and threathen the one who insists every day is talk like a pirate day. Everything worked flawlessly for us playing. If I could have placed the song on the fiddle I would have been happier but it was only a minor distraction. We learned the basics of repairing after a quick pass against another ship. We learned how to really haul the prow around by dropping anchor and going in for a turn, handy if you want to bring someone into a sudden broadside believe me. We learned how in a few minutes you can take a selection of strangers, and admittedly one competent player just in case, and turn them into a crew of pirates. Sea of Thieves was something I always had half an eye on but now I feel like I need in my life. My view may have mostly been billowing sheets and the wheel in my hands, but I knew that I was helping everyone else see the sights. I knew that my turn at the right time brought the other ships up for a broadside and that my quick thinking when everyone panicked a little saved us from that stealthy island. I wasn't the Captain of the ship, but I was integral to the crew.
I sailed the high seas and we took fire. I crossed the T of our prey and we gave better than we got.
In the end there was still that little pirate ditty niggling at my memory. Hannah saved me from going mad. I can think of many songs to go into battle with, but you really cannot beat a pirate version of Ride of the Valkyries.