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Sea of Thieves: a Chest Not Laden With Gold

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Image source: seaofthieves.com

Image source: seaofthieves.com

Image source: seaofthieves.com

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Have you ever heard of Rare?

I certainly had not, until Sea of Thieves was revealed in 2015 with its eye-catching trailer that got everyone talking.

Rare churned out masterpieces during the 1990s: Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark and GoldenEye 007, among others.

In 2002, Rare was acquired by Microsoft. Then, after a few releases were met with negative reception, the studio took a leave of absence from the gaming scene altogether.

From 2009-2014, Rare focused on Microsoft’s Kinect, an extension of the Xbox system. Now, Rare is back with a new and innovative title: a socially-oriented pirate fantasy game called Sea Of Thieves.

Does Rare still have wind in its sails, or has it since crashed into jagged rocks?

The answer is not found at the X on a map, it’s found in their new release.

The first thing to say about Sea Of Thieves is that it’s gentle on the eyes. The art style is one-of-a-kind, vibrant and flat-out beautiful. The color palette makes you feel like you’re in a pastel painting.

The water is probably the prettiest in any game on the market, sporting realistic physics and color right out of a Pixar movie.

The game’s objects are designed with meticulous geometry. To put it simply, nothing in the world of the game is perfect. Whether it’s a niche on the bow of a ship or a missing button on a coat, everything has something broken, and by extension a story. This is the game designer’s philosophy, as explained at a 2016 San Diego convention.

nothing in the world of the game is perfect. Whether it’s a niche on the bow of a ship or a missing button on a coat, everything has something broken, and by extension a story.”

This art style extends to the bigger picture of the scenery. Every island in the game is made from scratch, sporting unique landscapes and landmarks. The performance of the game is good: from the perspective of a base Xbox One player, with stable frame rates, save for rare occasions.

Sea of Thieves’ soundtrack is also fantastic. The composer, Robin Beanland, has made tunes that surpass the usual catchy and jaunty background music. The music fits perfectly within the game.

Musical cues go off when sailing a ship, exploring a treacherous island or fighting on the sea. In this way, the music always compliments the action. Additionally, players can also equip instruments and play shanties as they sail, the tunes of which are, in my opinion, as good as Marty O’Donnell’s masterpieces of the Halo score.

The gameplay is dynamic. The controls for your pirate are simple, but for the ship it is much the opposite.

In any other game, each maneuver is completed with the press of a button. In Sea of Thieves, at least one crew member has to approach an object on the ship and interact with it.

For example, speed is adjusted through sail length and angle, the latter of which must by tended to with every change of ship and wind direction.

Navigation requires communication, as the map of your average galleon lies below deck, so one crewmate will have to tell you where to go as you steer. Therefore, sailing and navigating a multi-crewman ship is a skill to learn, through coordination of a variety of individual skills. This makes sailing the best part of this game.

The combat at sea is also, in my opinion, strategic.

In a naval battle, a crew has to make important decisions. For example, do we lower the sails to make it easier to turn, or do we go full speed ahead to dodge enemy cannonballs?

How many people should be on the cannons, how many below deck repairing? Conversely, players can also make alliances with other crews, but there is no incentive in the game for doing so. This results in 90% of pirates shooting first and asking questions later.

One more thing to note is that the sword and pistol combat feels a bit awkward, especially the sword combat.

Besides fighting other pirates, players have two other major activities: voyages and skeleton forts.

Voyages are quests for the game’s three factions. Each faction assigns the player to do something different. The Gold Hoarders hire players to dig up treasure chests across the archipelago.

The Order Of Souls conscripts players to hunt down skeleton captains and return with their skulls for a bounty.  The Merchant Alliance demands that animals and other goods be delivered to specific outposts before a deadline.

Players also have the option to raid skeleton forts instead. There are numerous forts across the game world, and if one is active, a beacon in the form of a skull-shaped cloud will lead pirates across the sea to its location. At active forts, thousands in gold worth of goods waits to be plundered, but prepare to fight for your loot.

Finally, the endgame of Sea of Thieves is unique. Once you gain a certain reputation with all factions, you become a “Pirate Legend”. This gives you access to a secret hideout. Pirate Legends can use the hideout to gain access to special cosmetic items and hints to future game content.

An important point to note is that Sea of Thieves is one of the most charming games I have ever played, something I don’t see mentioned in any other reviews. Talking to NPCs is a pleasure, as each one is interesting and may even make you laugh.

To add to the humor, you can launch your character out of cannons and get blackout drunk. Plus, the aforementioned art style and music compliments the game’s charm.

What else is there to do in this game? Well, that was it. Seriously. All the the stuff I just described is all the game has to offer, and here is where I talk about everything wrong with Sea of Thieves. Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the game for what it is. Nonetheless, from an objective standpoint, all the content the game has is not anywhere near the amount that would justify the initial price tag of $60.

When people say they are bored of the game, that they are sick of the repetition, I can see where they’re coming from.

One thing meant to keep players playing in Sea of Thieves is the progression system, but its value to the game is as good as fake coin.

Rather than being able to unlock abilities and moves that alter gameplay, players unlock cosmetics.

One thing meant to keep players playing in Sea of Thieves is the progression system, but its value to the game is as good as fake coin.”

Rare’s idea is that it gives players a certain reputation when encountering other pirates. For example, you know another pirate is a higher level than you when you see them wearing an expensive outfit. It seems like a good concept, but in practice it capsizes.

Not all players see cosmetic items as a suitable reward for extended play time, especially in a game as objectively repetitive as this. Also, what’s more interesting: Grinding for a pair of gloves or grinding for a different sword? I rest my case.

So, if players haven’t left yet but have explored all Sea Of Thieves has to offer, what do they do when they get bored? The answer is simple and unfortunate: they grief. For those unfamiliar, griefing is a term connotatively defined in gaming as someone who ruins the experience of others for their own amusement.

A simple example would be another player burning down your house in Minecraft. In Sea Of Thieves, griefing takes the form of spawn-killing other crews or sabotaging one’s own crew.

Sea Of Thieves has a lot of potential that isn’t fulfilled. Either the game will one day get better through patches and updates, or it be forced to walk the plank.

It is likely that the former will occur, as Rare has so far shown a tendency to communicate with their community and show true passion for the craft. If you want this game, do not buy it yet. I suggest you wait a year or more for price drops and content additions. My final verdict for this game is a 59/100. To conclude, this game has given me an experience like no other, but it falls short. I hope that Rare may get its act together and make Sea of Thieves pirate legend.

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Sea of Thieves: a Chest Not Laden With Gold