No Man’s Sea of Thieves
Like most anticipated games, Sea of Thieves had a lot of expectations to live up to. And like most hyped-up games, reality fell far short of what gamers were promised. In a nearly identical repeat of what happened with No Man’s Sky, gamers were promised a sprawling open world environment where they could fight factions and forge their own stories across a world filled with danger, treasure, and adventure. Similarly to No Man’s Sky, when players finally got their hands on their very own ship, they quickly realized how barebones the final product was. To its credit, Sea of Thieves does, in fact, have multiplayer. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to save the game. Let’s deconstruct where things went wrong.
If there’s anything I enjoyed the most about Sea of Thieves, it was the graphics. The characters all had a certain style to them that felt at home with the pirate setting. From the slender, voodoo witch-like woman with paint smeared across her face to the man with gold infused onto his flesh, each character tells a story. For some games, such obvious tells make the world feel shallow. On the other hand, Sea of Thieves celebrates pirate stereotypes. It’s a game made for the player to be immersed in a grand pirate adventure. So, of course, there has to be a pot-bellied bald man playing the accordion, or a stern looking bar wench who takes no nonsense.
The environment also left me breathless for a time. For a cartoony looking game, the water looks and acts phenomenal. Battling it out with another ship during a rainstorm and intense waves is one of the best moments in the game. Just watch as a ship passes by the sun hidden behind darkness as lightning strikes.
The way the rain and sea mist obscure your vision as lightning flashes across the screen is breathtaking. Without a doubt, Rare spent much manpower on making the sea beautiful. Unfortunately, this came at the cost of the land looking mediocre. While the sea, atmosphere, and characters look great, the islands look rather lackluster.
Boasting a huge world means that more often than not, the islands end up repeats of the same grassy forest. The look of the islands isn’t so bad, but after island hopping, again and again, to look for treasure, they all start to mesh into one blob. Then, maybe you’ll come across a lush and unique looking cliff-side landscape with nothing on it to keep you there, so it’s back to hopping you go. The fortresses and other places where settlements exist have a unique flavor about them that makes the island worth exploring. But those islands are far and few between, with bare, lifeless islands populating the majority.
If graphics made Sea of Thieves shine, then the gameplay trudged it through the mud. From the get-go, this game is not for the solo player. Learning how to control your ship is a guessing game as Sea of Thieves leaves it to the player to figure everything out. Everything has to be manually done, from changing sails to lowering anchor to looking at the map. This isn’t too terrible with a crew, but on your own? Good luck steering your ship without knowing where to go. Steering the ship means 80% of your field of view is blocked by the mast and sails, which is just great for ramming headfirst into rocks.
Now let’s say you figure out how to control your ship on your own and decide to pick up some quests. Maybe adventuring to some unknown island filled with beasts? Finding buried treasure guarded by the deadly Kraken? How about spending four days island hopping looking for chickens? You’ll be spending most of your time island hopping looking for chickens. Or pigs. Or some other random item the merchant’s guild wants.
Oh! But the voodoo lady has some combat missions! What could this be? Skeletons on an island! And more skeletons! And another skeleton. Another one. Oh, and there’s that chicken you needed. Your last option for questing? Searching for buried treasure through intricate little riddles. That’s it. That’s all the player gets. Chickens, skeletons, and puzzles. In a world that prides itself on being a pirate, I felt more like some errand girl running on a time limit. I loved the look of the sea, but spending an entire day just sailing back and forth and back and forth just made me sick of the tedium. Even when I finally found the legendary Kraken, I was disappointed to see that instead of some massive sea beast, I ran into a few angry tentacles that waggled at me a little. Diving below the surface revealed that the Kraken didn’t even have a body. Disappointing does not even cover half of it.
Lastly, the combat is extremely lackluster. Characters flail their swords around wildly, hacking away until whatever is in front of them is dead. There’s no real combat besides swinging your sword around. Sea battles are a little more entertaining, but only but slightly. You’ll need a well-organized crew to properly prep cannons, reload, and fire while the captain steers the ship and someone else runs around fixing holes. It sounds exciting and tense, but without proper communication, it quickly devolves into a mess of broken wood and water.
Having a crew makes the game slightly more enjoyable, but only if you’re creative. Whether or alone or with friends, the same three side quests will still haunt the player. Yet having buddies all whip out their accordions and start playing “Flight of the Valkyries” during the long sea voyages can make for entertainment.
Of course, we can’t forget actual pirating.
One of the better aspects of Sea of Thieves lies in a player’s ability to fight other players and ransack their gold, just as pirates do. With a group of friends and a few drinks, these moments are hilariously fun. With a bunch of strangers who don’t talk or know what they’re doing? You can be sure one person will be running around with a bucket, one person will be steering the ship into the enemy ship, one person will be in jail, and the other will be playing an instrument from the crow’s nest as they watch everything burn. For the right kind of people, this is exactly what they came for. For someone who’s trying to play seriously, it’s a discombobulated mess.
In short, the multiplayer of Sea of Thieves both rewards and punishes one for playing like a pirate. The real fun comes from battling other players, but many players are crying foul for those same reasons. “Outpost Camping” has become a nightmare, especially for solo players, as other crews will destroy every ill-equipped vessel by the outposts. It’s a dirty tactic befitting of pirates that simultaneously goes against the spirit of the game. In short, you either become the pirate harassing new players, or get harassed yourself.
I tried hard to like Sea of Thieves. It’s clear Rare did their best in making a beautiful world, but in doing so left everything else out. Traveling across the sea would be nice if my view wasn’t perpetually blocked by my own ship. I wouldn’t mind traveling to different areas, but I never had a reason to beyond “fetch this item” or “kill these skeletons for this item”. Playing with friends made the game more fun because of our antics, but even that was just to stave off the boredom of having nothing to do. All in all, Sea of Thieves is still very much in beta mode. There’s no real reason to play until they patch in missions that will actually make exploring worth the effort.
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