Sea of Thieves review: The quiet pirate life for thee

Credit: Rare
Credit: Rare /

At long last, Microsoft fans have a big name exclusive to call their own. Unfortunately, it’s not the system seller we were hoping for…yet.

TItle: Sea of Thieves
Developer: Rare
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Platforms: PC, Xbox One (Version reviewed)
Release Date: March 20, 2018

Three years after its E3 2015 reveal and a calendar year’s worth of public playtesting mixed in there, Sea of Thieves is finally here, ready to inject the Xbox One’s lagging first-party catalog with a bit of fresh sea air. It’s a fascinating experiment in minimalist game design with social elements, aiming to deliver the dream pirate experience that high seas aficionados have been craving since what feels like the dawn of time.

Unfortunately for a game that’s supposed to be about swashbuckling and seafaring warfare to empower players into a sense of being their own Jack Sparrow, Sea of Thieves is quite…tame. It’s odd because, in the technical sense, the game seems to have everything a pirate could need.

A cutlass for sword fighting, a blunderbuss (among other weapons) for gunplay, treasure chests for discovering, and of course, the star of the show, a vessel for exploring its vast oceanic world. It’s just unfortunate that Sea of Thieves feels more like a series of novelty mechanics supplemented by similar-feeling fetch quests rather than a complete and satisfying pirate experience.

Credit: Rare
Credit: Rare /

I suppose we should have expected this. Sea of Thieves looks, feels, and plays almost exactly as it did since the launch of its Closed Alpha last year, it’s just that most fans, myself included, just assumed that Rare was keeping most of their cards close to the chest until release. Sadly, this is not the case, at least for now.

Sailing the oceanic world feels like it should. You have someone at the helm, whose best sense of direction is a compass sitting just to the side. It’s up to the rest of the crew to give the captain a heading, stay alert for enemy vessels, patch any holes in the ship, and convey any changes in direction as needed. With the right team, there can be some engrossing moments of emergent gameplay, particularly in the moments when you are about to enter a ship-to-ship battle.

Credit: Rare
Credit: Rare /

I love that everything is tangible in Sea of Thieves. You have to physically grab and load cannonballs before you can fire, which adds gravity to the situation when you miss. Desperately dipping below deck to patch holes from enemy cannon fire is just as intense, as you are in a race against the other crew to keep your vessel afloat amongst the chaos. There’s a lingering uncertainty in battle, as it really feels like anything can happen.

That said, you can go literal hours within the game world without so much as encountering another soul. In these moments, you’ll start to wish for someone to attack you, even if it means your defeat, just to break up the monotony.

Credit: Rare
Credit: Rare /

I can’t tell you how many times I turned to my crewmate and asked, “do you think we’ll actually get attacked this time?” When we started out, our eyes were constantly on the horizon, remaining ever vigilant so as we wouldn’t be caught off guard. After all, neither of us were bonafide badasses with a cutlass, but after several uneventful journeys, we just stopped caring.

The rules are easily broken, which ironically is the quintessential pirate’s life.

This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the quests were actually distinct and meaningful. Despite having three different factions that you can earn reputation with, all three don’t offer much in the way of differences. They all basically boil down to “sail here, recover treasure chest/capture wild animal/defeat skeleton boss, return to port.”

Playing by yourself is…a struggle. While the idea of a vessel that can be sailed by a single player is an interesting thought, the reality is that if you do find yourself in a battle against a larger ship, it’s a horrible mismatch. Even a crew of two can coordinate better than you can on your own, as multitasking the jobs of sailing, firing, and repairing can be almost impossible under duress. Fortunately, the smaller vessel is faster than the large galleon, so escaping is pretty doable.

Credit: Rare
Credit: Rare /

It doesn’t take long to feel like you’ve seen it all, as Sea of Thieves really relies upon the camaraderie of your crew as the pinnacle of the experience. It almost seems as if Rare had too much faith in complete strangers being able to work together despite history proving the opposite. Sure, you can lock a griefing team member in the brig, and that’s a cool feature, but it’s just easier for them to leave the game and join another crew. Or even better, it’s just easier for ME to leave the game and find another team. The rules are easily broken, which ironically is the quintessential pirate’s life.

I almost hate to use the comparison, but Sea of Thieves definitely suffers from some of the same problems as No Man’s Sky at launch. It’s a broad world, but most of it looks, feels, and works the same. Sure, there aren’t any grand promises here, but Sea of Thieves undoubtedly feels unfinished and could have (should have) been an Early Access/Preview Program title.

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After all, Rare is asking for the full price of $60, which is a big reason why it’s a letdown. If the game was, say, $30, in line with the upcoming State of Decay 2, which certainly looks like it will be much meatier at launch, then Sea of Thieves’ current state would be more understandable. Alas, it isn’t, and I can only recommend that you wait for a sale on this one. Or if you absolutely cannot wait, just pay the $10 for Xbox Game Pass and see for yourself.

You can purchase Sea of Thieves at GameStopBest Buy, or Target. Learn more about our e-commerce policy here.

7. Much like<em> No Man’s Sky, Sea of Thieves</em> has the foundation for a game that could be incredible. Unfortunately, it’s current state is more akin to something that should be a $20 Early Access title. The game is also most optimally played with friends, as randoms are typically hit or miss. Solo players probably shouldn’t even bother.. Rare Ltd.. . Sea of Thieves

A copy of this game was provided to App Trigger for the purpose of this review. All scores are ranked out of 10, with .5 increments. Click here to learn more about our Review Policy.