Sea of Thieves is the perfect cure for live service fatigue


In recent years, I haven’t played many multiplayer games.

Unfortunately, the market is so oversaturated with Destiny and Fortnite clones that I find myself growing wearier every time yet another new live service is announced. Publishers keep chasing this trend, and, more often than not, it doesn’t pay off — look no further than the $200 million loss Warner Bros. just took on Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League.

Therefore, it takes a particularly unique hook for a multiplayer game to grab me. Most recently, that was Helldivers 2 for its satirical jingoism and riotously chaotic team-based shenanigans. Now? That game is Sea of Thieves.

While Rare’s pirate-themed action-adventure game has been available on Xbox and PC since 2018, it only recently came to PlayStation 5 as part of a larger multiplatform push from Microsoft. Going in, my experience with Sea of Thieves was limited outside of brief sessions during an Xbox One X event and the Series S review period. Beyond that, all I really knew is that, like most live service games, Sea of Thieves launched with a soft content offering that’s significantly expanded in the following years. So, I went in without much in the way of expectations and, lo and behold, I found myself quite enamoured with the whole experience.

The first big reason for that is the core premise. Simply put, a multiplayer pirate adventure game still feels incredibly novel, even more than five years after launch. The only real competition in that regard is Ubisoft’s recently released Skull & Bones, which is focused purely on the boat experience and garnered lukewarm reviews. Otherwise, Sea of Thieves‘ core gameplay loop — creating your own ship and pirate, venturing out into the ocean and exploring islands for treasure — still feels exceptionally fresh, especially amid the countless modern and futuristic shooters. Sea of Thieves‘ striking aesthetic, which mixes stylized, cartoonish character models with realistic lighting and water effects, only further differentiates it from other live services.

Sea of Thieves treasure

There’s also just an appealingly easy ‘pick-up-and-play’ nature to the whole thing. So many modern live services are all about sucking as many minutes and dollars out of you as possible, like Call of Duty ridiculously charging over $100 just to get King Kong’s robotic arm from Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire. Those sorts of games often bombard you with battle passes and other monetization schemes. All of this just makes the games feel more like a chore to me which defeats the entire purpose of entertainment. Sea of Thieves, however, avoids most of that. Sure, there is a ‘Plunder Pass,’ an optional premium purchase that offers various cosmetic rewards and in-game currencies, but I didn’t feel like it was being shoved down my throat as it would in other games.

Instead, Sea of Thieves has regular seasonal updates to incentivize you to return for new weapons, tools and the like. What I dig about this, though, is that the bigger content — namely, the big Monkey Island and Pirates of the Caribbean crossovers — actually remains in the game. Therefore, I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything especially cool as I start playing several years later. Few things annoy me more than limited-time story content, especially when they involve crossovers. This is a problem with one of the only other multiplayer games I play, Final Fantasy XIV, where events themed around previous Final Fantasy games frustratingly come and go throughout the years.

But above all else, the pirate gameplay is just refreshingly different from anything else on the market. I love making my own goofily dressed adventurer with his own quirky pet and Final Fantasy airship-inspired boat. I love having to tend to the anchor, sails and wheel, especially in coordination with other players, which further adds to the authenticity of the pirate fantasy. I love naval battles where I have to frantically race below deck to get ammo, dash back up, load the cannons, aim and blast an opposing ship, all while my own vessel is shaking drastically from incoming fire. I love drinking grog and playing shanties with fellow pirates in fun, random online interactions. This all leads to a deeply compelling gameplay loop where all sorts of things can happen.

Sea of Thieves skull

 

Take my experience last night. After exploring a harbour town with all sorts of colourful (albeit eerily unvoiced) figures, I hopped onto my ship and joined a pirate guild. My first mission had me venturing off far away, so I made sure to open my party for players. (You can play solo, although this locks you out of higher-tier rewards and a bunch of missions.) After all, I was still finding my footing after a brief tutorial. One person joined soon after, and, perhaps noticing I’m a greenhorn, handled the piloting of the ship. This allowed me to truly soak in the crisply rendered water and stunning dynamic weather system. The ambience of sailing through a storm, with the ship violently rocking left and right as you’re hit with howling winds and bucketing rain, is particularly impressive.

Eventually, though, he left, leaving me to go the rest of the way until another person joined. As it turns out, the whole time I was going towards a skull cloud, which I mistakenly thought was a marker for my quest, given that the tutorial (somewhat annoyingly) doesn’t explain a whole lot of this. Instead, it’s part of Sea of Thieves‘ raid system, which has you sailing to mysterious islands to fight hordes of undead creatures, including super boss captains, for rare treasure.

Right away, I was taken aback at how difficult this was, especially as several skeletons kept chasing me with exploding barrels. My teammate and I alternated between dying until a third player, who was clearly more of a veteran, joined our crew and quickly started guiding us. Given that we were bleeding through resources to fight these creatures and feeling like we had no hope of winning, his arrival felt as rousing as Thor’s grand Wakanda rescue in Avengers: Infinity War

Sea of Thieves on deck

With his leadership, my two crewmates stayed on the ship to lob cannons at the fiery skeleton lord and his minions while I distracted them on the beach. Before long, victory came at last! But it was also fleeting, as two other human crews arrived at the inlet, no doubt hoping to steal our loot. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice them right away (since I wasn’t using a mic, I was still figuring out the in-game warnings teammates can send you) and so my teammates had already gotten in the ship to sail around the island to keep the teams at bay.

Amid this chaotic At World’s End-like skirmish, I pranced around the island like Jack Sparrow, desperately trying to find anything I could do to help. (I also wasn’t able to find the mermaid who could automatically return me to my ship before an enemy cannon sent me to my doom.) Once I was back on my ship, I helped patch up leaking holes and scoop out buckets of water while the others dealt with our opponents. But no sooner did I return to the deck and realize that one of the other teams had already been sunk did the remaining team launch harpoons at our ship, creating handy tightropes to board us. Just as we managed to sink the second and final enemy ship, the enemies had successfully set fire to ours, causing critical damage and sending us all to our graves. Well played.

Sea of Thieves crew

All told, that was maybe one hour of thoroughly entertaining — and completely unplanned — gameplay, and it was with randoms and no mic, no less. But it’s also the kind of white-knuckle thrills you can expect from Sea of Thieves, and it would no doubt be even more exciting with a party of friends. And with full cross-play enabled, PS5 players will be able to hit the seas with those on Xbox and PC for even more adventures.

Hopefully, that even larger player base keeps Sea of Thieves going for a long while, because after the rollicking good time I’ve already had, I’m eager to get back to adventuring with people. A pirate’s life for me, indeed.

Sea of Thieves is now available on PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S and PC. It’s also included with Game Pass on Xbox and PC.

Image credit: Rare

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