Sea of Thieves Review – Is This the Return of Classic Rare?

Platform: Xbox One/PC

Release Date: 3/20/2018

Publisher: Microsoft Studios

Developer: Rare

ESRB: Teen

Introduction

Sea of Thieves is a brand new IP from the much beloved, and sometimes recently hated, Rare Studios. Rare Studio was the rockstar back in the 90’s and early 2000’s with many classic and incredible titles such as Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Banjo Kazooie, Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and many others. However, over the last decade or so their portfolio has been getting quite lackluster due to pressures from Microsoft to create titles for the Kinect, which is now basically non-existent after the Kinect’s major failure. After four or so years in development, Sea of Thieves is finally here. Is this the game that will return Rare to its glory days and make it relevant today?

The Idea and Emergent Gameplay

Sea of Thieves is a very different game when compared to what’s going on in the market right now. It’s not your dude-bro first-person shooter, it’s not your third person heart-pumping action, and it’s not your Dark Souls inspired game either. It is, however, a shared world, social experience game that’s trying to create something new, unique, and different, and that is a good thing in our book. However, the game does not come without its faults and undelivered promises.

The idea of the game is that you come to the world of Sea of Thieves, where peasant pirates try to become pirate legends who seek glory and precious treasure. The goal of the game is to become a legendary pirate by ranking-up and going on voyages (Sea of Thieves‘ version of “quests”) from three NPC factions with locations scattered throughout the world. Each of these three trading companies tasks you with different objectives. The three trading companies that you will come across in Sea of Thieves are the Gold Hoarders, The Merchant Alliance, and The Order of Souls.

The Gold Hoarders are treasure seekers who hold special secret keys that unlock treasure chests, and if you bring them the treasure chests, they’re willing to share some of the profits. In return you rank up within the trading company, get paid gold, earn titles, and overtime unlock new cosmetic items to buy and get access to higher level voyages that reward you with even more gold than before, but these voyages also get harder, and more complicated.

Treasure vault in a Sea of Thieves Skull Fort

Once you accept a Gold Hoarder voyage your objective will be to find the treasure marked by an X on a map. Higher level voyages ask you to go to specific islands and solve riddles, and they may also span across multiple chapters.

The Merchant Alliance wants to control the trade in the world of Sea of Thieves, and they do that by tasking you with capturing animals, such as different colored chickens, pigs, snakes, and also resources like tea, silk, and gunpowder. The system is exactly the same as the Gold Hoarders: you rank up and get new cosmetic items, titles, and the voyages get more complex.

Last but not least is The Order of Souls, who are basically bounty hunters who seek skulls of legendary skeleton captains across the many islands of Sea of Thieves. Find the skeletons, kill them and their crews, grab their skulls, and return them to the Order of Souls for a handsome reward.

The other half of Sea of Thieves is the amazing sailing mechanics and systems that Rare has developed. In Sea of Thieves you can sail on two different ships: a Galleon, which is made for three to four players, and a Sloop, which is for a solo pirate or a duo. The Galleon has eight cannons, four on each side, and a total of three deck levels. However, it is extremely slow and takes multiple people to pull up the anchor. Your crew members can also individually control the direction and length of the sails, which is an amazing simulation and an immersive pirate experience. The mechanics are extremely simple, but they’re so well polished that sailing is an incredible experience, and probably the best you’ll ever experience for a long time to come.

Looking over the two small islands in Sea of Thieves while standing on the tip of the galleon's nose

Now, the sad part of the review: why Sea of Thieves is not as great as it could have been at launch. First and foremost, we completely understand what Rare was trying to go for here: a magical experience of playing with your friends, sailing, and exploring a brand new open-world game with cool activities to do and random things to encounter. The first few hours of the game are absolutely fantastic, and they’re quite memorable as well. You and a bunch of friends start off on a voyage and never experience the same thing, which is quite amazing considering in most games everything is the same to everybody. But that is not the case for Sea of Thieves. Every pirate’s adventure and voyage will always be different, you may find a bunch of treasure on an island, only come across another player that kills you and steals your stuff. Or you might come across a firefight in the middle of the sea between other pirates, while your ship is loaded with treasure chests, skulls, and animals that are ready to be turned in for profit.

This creates a lot of tension, stress, and “oh my god” moments that will give the player an adrenaline rush. Should this pirate engage in such a firefight and try to get more treasure? Should he or she try to steal some while the other ships are fighting? Or should they just sail away and turn in what they have, safe and sound? Sea of Thieves is a very interesting game because it’s one of the best games we’ve played in recent years when it comes to creating emergent gameplay. However, that emergent gameplay loop is not enough to compensate for the lackluster amount of activities in the game itself, particularly when it comes to the trading companies. The quests are quite repetitive and they get old pretty quickly, especially if you’re playing alone. This game is much better with friends, and its more for people who have patience. If you’re the type of person who’s looking for an experience to quickly get in, get some gratification and get out, then you need to look elsewhere, because that is not the Sea of Thieves experience.

Fighting shadow skeletons in Sea of Thieves for Skull Bounty

Another problem that the game runs into is the lack of cosmetic items. Rare originally designed the game without any kind of power creep, or actual character progression that gives players better weapons or armor. Instead, you show off your progression by buying expensive cosmetic items such as clothes, accessories, hairstyles, equipment, tools, and weapons that all look unique so that you will stand apart from other pirates. After talking to a couple of the shopping vendors and seeing what they have for sale, we were quite shocked to see how little choice there was in clothing items, considering the game’s biggest draw is obtaining these items and looking like a legend.

Once you’ve reached pirate legend, you also get access to a personal pirate hideout where you can park your ship and leave at your leisure. The hideout is also filled with ghostly pirates, and the player gets access to new, higher level voyages as well that are different from the regular trading company’s.

There is another avenue of gameplay in Sea of Thieves and those are the Skull Forts that are occupied by skeletons and a captain that holds a key to a vault that is full of precious treasure. Once in a while, you will see a giant skull cloud in the air that’s glowing green, which indicates that a fort has been taken over by skeletons. If you manage to take it back, you will get access to the vault and get its riches. The fort has a total of 10 waves of skeletons to kill, each wave getting progressively harder and harder. At the end you’re forced to fight a captain. Once you kill the captain, he will drop a key. You pick up the key and open the door to get inside the vault. The awesome idea of forts is that the difficulty level requires multiple pirates in order to defeat the skeletons. Doing it solo is extremely difficult and even if you did it you will have to escort and carry each treasure one-by-one to your ship and that can take a long time. Pirate groups will most likely form alliances to overtake the skeletons, but once the skeleton captain is dead, you can bet your skull and bones that all hell will break loose and everyone will start fighting to the death for the loot. This is another great example of why Sea of Thieves is so unique and special, but it’s not enough.

The Art-style, Sound, and Visuals

Sea of Thieves is a hell of a looker. The game runs on Unreal Engine 4 and boasts beautiful lighting effects, a lovely and quirky art-style, and most importantly: drop-dead gorgeous water simulation physics. This is the best water you will ever see in any game to date, and we sincerely believe that Sea of Thieves has raised the bar when it comes to water’s visual effects and simulation. The way the waves move around and perfectly match up with your ship’s movement, along with the sound the water makes is quite remarkable. It’s so good that we can’t get enough of it. The weather effects are top-notch as well. The storm may be extremely dangerous, but the visuals are great.

Xbox One X settings are equal to PC's mythical in Sea of Thieves

Sea of Thieves also runs quite well on the Xbox One X and looks stunning. The Xbox One X runs at a Native 4K resolution, which means that there is no checkerboard rendering or any kind of dynamic resolution going on. This is a true 4K native title similar to that of Forza Motorsport 7 that runs at native 4K/60 FPS and Forza Horizon 3 that also runs at native 4k, but 30fps. The game’s visual setting are also set to “Mythical” which are equivalent to PC’s Ultra settings, so the only thing you’re missing out on are the 30 extra FPS, assuming you have an absolute beast of a rig. The game also supports HDR10 functionality and it looks drop dead amazing.

Rare has also done a fantastic job when it comes to the game’s memorable and unique soundtrack. You can tell they poured their hearts and souls into creating a true pirate-like experience. Everything from cannonballs whizzing by your ear to the sweet, slow melody of the sea’s waves, and the frightening roar of the Kraken, make Sea of Thieves feel like a truly immersive pirate experience. Overall, the visuals, technical fidelity, and sound design and engineering are all top notch, high-production quality with nothing to cry about. It is absolutely a masterpiece across the board.

Final Verdict

Sea of Thieves is a game that’s full of cool ideas, and it absolutely has the potential to become one the best things for the gaming industry and, most importantly, Rare itself. Fighting the Kraken for the first time with my crew was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in gaming in the last decade. However, after killing it and realizing that there is no real reward other than surviving with your crew, it was quite disappointing, even though the fight itself was a complete thrill ride. Speaking of Krakens, Rare has also stated that they do have an idea for a future trading company that will solely focus on hunting Krakens in the world of Sea of Thieves, which will also give in-game rewards, titles, and reputation ranks similar to other trading companies. Now that is an excellent idea in our opinion.

Kraken sucking in the player/pirate in its mouth in Sea of Thieves

We understand what Rare tried to do. However, what the game currently offers is just not enough to warrant a $60 price tag, unless you absolutely love grindy games and don’t mind being here for the early launch and can appreciate the game for what it is. Rare has promised to deliver new major content patches during the first three months after the game’s launch and they also stated they’re listening to players feedback closely and will follow up with tweaks and balance patches as well. They also did confirm paid micro-transactions, such as companion pets that can follow you like parrots or monkeys. The cool thing, though, is that players who did not spend money on these pets can still grab them and interact with them.

At the end of the day, we wish the best for Rare, and we hope that the community has the faith in Sea of Thieves and Rare to do whatever it takes to make this game absolutely amazing in the near future. Our only concern is that with how lackluster the game is right now, we’re afraid that the player base might drop, and that the support will be ceased. We deeply hope that that’s not the case, because Microsoft, in its current state, cannot lose another game in its exclusives library. At its core Sea of Thieves definitely feels like an old-school classic with that Rare magic, but unfortunately we live in a different time, when expectations are a lot higher and it takes a lot more than just a quirky, whimsical art-style to get by in the over-saturated and competitive online video game market. With that being said, our final verdict for Sea of Thieves is a solid 7.5.

Overall, kudos to Rare for making a good game with a grand idea, but we needed way more at launch as far as content goes. We have faith in Rare and that they will deliver on the goods in the first few months to come. Make it happen guys.

Sea of Thieves

Sea of Thieves
7.5

Overall

7.5 /10

Pros

  • Extremely well optimized
  • One of the best looking games to date
  • Best social experience you'll ever get
  • Has potential to become a game of all time

Cons

  • Lack of content at launch
  • Not enough cosmetics
  • Melee combat feels clunky
  • Repetetive questing