REVIEW : Sea of Thieves (PC)
It’s 3 AM. Your two-person ship, a simple sloop, is tied at Golden Sands Outpost while you trade off the loot from a five-hour voyage. You’ve been voyaging as an emissary of the Gold Hoarders, and through questing for a long stretch without your ship sinking, you managed to make it to rank 5. Now, each chest, trinket, and gem you trade is worth two and a half times its average value, but there’s a catch: Sailing with an emissary flag, especially a high-level one, etches a giant red “X” on your back.
In a moment, your winning loot turn-in transforms into a curse. Another duo’s sloop rounds the corner behind your boat, positioning their cannons to ruin to all your hard work. Adrenaline floods through your body like an icy tidal wave, but you saw them coming too late: An enemy player has boarded your ship with a dangerously explosive stronghold keg, which erupts as you hurl yourself from the deck. There’s practically no way to recover from this attack; your entire ship is on fire, the hull is pierced through with holes that gush water at a startling rate, your mast is leaning uselessly to one side, your steering wheel is missing several pegs, the capstan is half-broken, and the incoming cannonballs are beating you around inside your boat.
Sea of Thieves always had the foundation of something great; even from its barebones launch, it was a blast to set sail with friends and wrestle with the triple sails and clunky handling of a massive galleon or embark on the nimble sloop and zip around the waves. In the beginning, there was little to do in the game, but Rare has gradually alleviated that pain with consistent content drops that have added everything from a series of dynamic, fun-to-solve narrative challenges called Tall Tales to an Arena mode that pits small or large crews against one another in bite-sized, hectic competitive matches. If you’ve been landlocked for any significant amount of time, your return to Sea of Thieves will be marked by unending discoveries, including a treacherous new area of the map called the Devil’s Roar, massive amounts of new cosmetic items with which to deck out your pirate or your ship, a three-person ship called a brigantine, fishing and cooking, throwable grenade-like items that spread the fire or knock players back, new world encounters like dangerous skeleton fleets, tough challenges like the Fort of the Damned, and other small and large surprises waiting to be discovered on every new voyage.
The more time you invest into Sea of Thieves, the more those instances seem to stack up, creating a laundry list in your mind of all the things Rare has failed to address or improve. And so much of this game is designed to keep you playing; Sea of Thieves is full of commendations, promotions, and unlockables that require unholy numbers of kills, voyage completions, or other milestones to unlock. It’s a treacherous whirlpool of investment–it takes dozens and dozens of hours to reach Pirate Legend level, but that isn’t the end, as in addition to a new area for you to hang out in at outposts, it also adds a new faction to level, cool cosmetics you will want to grind for, and pages of commendations for you to unlock.
Now more than at any other point, Sea of Thieves caters to all types of players, from casual sailors who simply want to goof off with their friends, to steadfast Pirate Legends who live to hunt achievements and murder out their boats in the rarest skins available. Unlike in many similar games, where once-exclusive items lose their status gradually as the developers make them easier to attain over time, Sea of Thieves still has gear that can make an impression on other players, like sails that say “don’t mess with this ship” when potential attackers glimpse them on the horizon. The stories of loot lost and rank not gained, or, on the other hand, narrow escapes and knife-edge victories, only weight because there are hard-to-obtain rewards that matter to players, and every bit of booty counts.