Sea of Thieves – Also Misrepresented
As rough starts go, it’s hard to find many rougher than the one ATLAS had recently, but that’s not the only pirate-themed game to have launch issues. Does anyone remember Sea of Thieves? I do, and mostly because the launch was so disappointing that it’s stuck with me since last year’s dead arrival.
Sea of Thieves was a game that almost physically hurt because it should have been incredible. The production value was exceptional with great client stability and incredible sea physics that were only matched by how gorgeous the game’s environment was rendered. It was a game I sailed around in for hours and just enjoyed seeing it, but then that was it. There was nothing to do because the actual content was missing from the game.
I’m still not really sure how in the world you develop a game that incredibly polished without actually having content that engages me enough to log back in. Though to their credit, Microsoft refunded the game when I asked, and I walked away. Sea of Thieves has stuck in my mind since then and popped up in my thoughts on occasion. Recent events brought it back up for me again, and I wondered once more how they’d done since launch. This time, I decided to go find out.
Well, they’ll soon roll out their sixth DLC release and it turns out that they’ve done a whole lot. All these DLCs have been free, by the way. That’s something that made me sit up and pay attention when I started looking back into Sea of Thieves. That suggests to me that the game I’d paid for before wasn’t the game that they wanted to deliver, and the devs have been patching in content to bring the game up to their standard. I’m willing to throw a little money to give something like that a second chance, and I’m really glad I did.
Rare released their second update last July and added what I think is their most important added feature to the game. They created NPC ghost ships to sail the seas, providing players something other than themselves to shoot at. The team also rolled out a three-player brigantine ship to fill in the gap between the two-player sloop and the four-player galleon.
The launch of the skeletal ships included a time-limited campaign in which the players had to track down and sink six different ships. It was a job large enough that it often required multiple crews team together under a larger alliance in order to complete. Those alliances were possible due to another mechanic introduced to the game through the Cursed Sails update.
Using the flag system (introduced in the first released DLC), players can fly a flag requesting alliance with other crews. If two ships raise the alliance requested flag within a certain distance of each other, those crews can then propose voyages and share in rewards with each other. Friendly fire is still on, so coordinating efforts is still important.
Then in October, another update added new storms that came with new effects to match their increased violence. I ran into one myself while trying out the game again and had no idea what was happening until I looked it up later. The first sign was the light rain (which looked very cool). The raid got harder and the waves more wind-tossed until my ship was unexpectedly being blown off course. I had to not only take the wheel, but constantly adjust it as the waves pulled it back and forth. While fighting all that, my compass went haywire and started spinning in all directions. The limited visibility (thanks to fog effects from yet another patch), spinning compass, and crazy wheel all combined for a cool nautical experience right out of a movie.
While many of the updates over the last several months relate to life at sea, there’s plenty of content for the land-lubbers among players, as well. The Devil’s Roar region added by the Forsaken Shores update includes a number of volcanic islands. My first experience with them was sailing past an island that suddenly erupted, throwing rocks into the water near the island (and onto a certain ship that happened to be in the vicinity).
That experience was just a taste of what was waiting for me as I made my way to an island that had four chests buried on it. I was surprised to learn that this island was also volcanic, which became apparent from the initial earthquakes, erupting geysers, and eventual volcanic eruption that shook the entire island. Veins of hot magma also opened up across the dark isle while I sprinted from skeletons to find the buried treasure chests and dig them up. Once I had the treasure, I soon learned the volcano had heated the water around the island into a rolling boil, which meant I had to find a rowboat to get me from shore and back to my ship.
Exploring the barrels and crates on shore also occasionally result in finding cursed cannon balls. These can be loaded into cannons to impose various effects on hostile ships. Effects range from forcing opposing players to dance, making them drunk, and even forcing all the cannons on a ship to point into the air and become useless for a period of time. There are plenty of other effects ranging from humorous to very effective combat options, as well.
You’ll find yourself exploring the islands and making multiple trips as you stock up your stores, as well. Bottles still yield treasure maps and riddles, but they also can include supply requests from outposts. Talking to the local Merchant Alliance representative will get you a crate that requires fifty cannon balls, wooden planks, or bananas to fill. Turning in the crate yields some cash and increased reputation.
It’s hard to say with any certainty whether or not the content added to Sea of Thieves will be enough to save the game in the long term. The launch was so problematic that many who would otherwise be attracted to the game have just walked away and not looked back. It’s also hard to point to the updates and really say that the game is in great shape now. I still feel it’s missing a lot on the economic side of the game, which to me is seriously untapped potential.
The game is still very simple when compared to other pirate-themed games, such as Pirates of the Burning Sea and the fantastic new ATLAS (which everyone is clearly in love with at the moment). I can’t say that there’s any other pirate-type game that holds a candle to Sea of Thieves when it comes to production quality, though. The team at Rare really excelled at creating a beautiful game that runs superbly well.
I bought the game again, and I’m glad I did. I expect I’ll be giving the game a little more time over the next few weeks. I can say that I’ve really enjoyed Sea of Thieves as I’ve experienced the new content, but I find it a little hard to recommend. It’s not as deep and complex as what I normally want from a game. While I think it’d be an absolute blast to play with a few friends, I don’t really see it being that great a game to play alone. No matter how social a game is, there are always times where you just want to relax and rock it solo for a while.
One thing is abundantly clear, though. I’ve held an opinion of Sea of Thieves based on outdated information for a while now. The developers have done a great job of turning the game around, and I’m glad I took a shot at trying it once again. The hateful bandwagon is an enticing vehicle, and I’m no different from everyone else in that I occasionally find myself in sitting in the bus seat of self-righteous indignation. It makes me want to take a look at other games I’ve turned my back on. Maybe there are others that should be reconsidered.
While I consider it, I’ll end the article with a big thanks to a really great female streamer who helped show me the ropes and get to know a lot of the new features of the game.