I hate playing online multiplayer games; I much prefer the solace of a single-player adventure.
That’s why, when Sea of Thieves was first announced over a year ago, I had next to no interest in it. Sure, it looked nice; its cartoony aesthetic grabbed my attention, and who doesn’t want to be a pirate? But as soon as it transpired that this is a game that you have to play with others, my interest meter suddenly plummeted to zero.
But at a recent Xbox event, I got to sit down and have some serious hands-on time with the game, and that interest meter has drastically piqued once again. Sea of Thieves is incredibly good fun. Enough to make me ditch my anti-social ways and jump into a game with other people. Shock, horror.
Without the game holding your hand or giving you any real direction, Sea of Thieves encourages teamwork to set goals and achieve them as part of a group. I played the game with three others, and, communicating over voice chat, we worked out what we wanted to do, and how to set about doing it.
Putting you in the shoes of a pirate, naturally Sea of Thieves is largely about sailing the seven seas in order to find treasure. All we had in our inventory were two rather vague treasure maps, giving us a rough outline of an island and the obligatory ‘X’ to mark the spot. Using the sea chart below deck in our pirate ship, we had to work out which island was the one we needed to head for, then sail the ship in that direction. Ahoy, mateys!
Of course, it’s not as easy as pointing your ship and setting sail. You’re not the only pirates out there, oh no. Other, real, crews of pirates are also out to plunder and pillage — and you’re all out to get each other. You can try and play peacefully, without starting war on any other ship, but who’s to say they’ll believe in the same level of pacifism? Besides, launching cannons from your ship is incredibly good fun. Seeing other ships sink at the might of your own cannon-firing skills is mightily entertaining — but it’s not so great when you’re on the receiving end of it. Should your ship get sunk it’s not the end of the world, though. A mermaid will appear to whisk you safely back to shore, where a new, shiny boat will be waiting for you. You’ll have lost any supplies you had onboard though. But hey, that’s the pirate’s life.
Sea of Thieves is the type of game that just works in multiplayer. It’s not the sort of game that easily facilitates trolling, and it doesn’t matter if you’re a seasoned gamer or someone with very little experience. It’s so easy to pick up and play that skill level is, for the most part, irrelevant. Jumping into something like Overwatch as a newbie, for example, is completely overwhelming; if your teammates are veterans, then they’ll expect a certain amount of ability from you, and if you don’t perform… well, you’ll likely find yourself on the business end of a ‘boot’. Sea of Thieves feels completely different. It’s inviting and welcoming. While working as a team is equally important, it’s a game that’s not limited by player experience. Everyone can achieve the same goals whether they’ve played it for two minutes or two years.
It helps, too, that it looks so damn nice. The cartoony art style fits the tone of the game perfectly. Characters are brilliantly animated, and the islands you can explore are vast and varied. There are plenty of enemies to swashbuckle lurking around on particular islands, and trying to locate treasure by figuring out how landmarks relate to your basic map is a fun puzzle in itself. Wandering around an island as you squint at your map is much more enjoyable when your crewmates are all doing the same, all convinced they’re the ones to have found the right location for the treasure. When you’re the one to correctly dig up that booty, though, it’s quite a feeling. Arrr, ye scurvy seadogs!
Sure, you probably could play Sea of Thieves by yourself, but the fun comes from working as a team. Manning the ship is where teamwork really shines as all hands, literally, need to be on deck. Someone will need to keep checking the map to make sure you’re still on course; another person will need to stay at the helm to steer the ship in the right direction and dodge any pesky rocks (or other ships). Someone also needs to raise and lower the anchor, and the sails need to be moved to catch the wind. And that’s providing everything’s running ship-shape; should you catch a leak or have a cursed treasure chest on board (yes, that’s a thing), you’ll need people below deck to patch up holes and mop up any leaks on top of keeping your ship sailing. So yes, you could feasibly try and do all that by yourself, but where’s the fun in that?
Since no roles are assigned as you join the game, part of working together with your shipmates is figuring out who’s going to do what. Everyone gets to pitch in wherever they like, but only through communication and working well together will everything get done as best as it could. Pirates may be swashbuckling scallywags, but they sure do work well as a team.
Oh, and you can fire yourself out of a cannon. That’s nothing to do with working as a team, but it’s 100% as fun as it sounds.
Sea of Thieves is set to release in the first half of 2018. It’s coming to Xbox One and PC.