Sea Of Thieves: The Kotaku Review

Playing Sea of Thieves feels a bit like working in a theatre before the set has been completely built. There's plenty of space to goof around and a few swords in the wings to have mock fights with, but none of its quite ready for show time. A lack of features and polish has frustrated some players, but those willing to meet the game halfway will discover a game that's exciting and pensive in equal measure. Sea of Thieves is as fickle and changeable as the sea itself.

In Sea of Thieves, the player selects a randomly-generated pirate and is then tossed out into the world without any particular goals other than sailing around, completing quests for gold. They man a ship alone or with up to four friends, travelling to different islands in any order they like, letting other players go about their business or engaging with them in battles.

You sail everywhere in Sea of Thieves. There's a great sense of physicality found in sailing one of the game's two ship types. The small and speedy sloop requires a great deal of multitasking as one to two players zip around the deck to cut the sails, steer the boat, check the map, and raise and lower the anchor. The massive three- to four-person galleon requires coordinated action from everyone on the crew in order to sail effectively. Navigating from one outpost to another can take a good 20 minutes of anchor turns, sail trimming and on-the-fly course correction. Everyone has a role, but once a crew has established a strong rapport, sailing is relaxing and rewarding.

Lead

Sea Of Thieves

Back of the Box Quote

"Guys, it's fine."

Type Of Game

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Liked

Sailing with a crew is a great experience, betrayals and battles abound, and those sunsets are gorgeous.

Disliked

The game still feels like beta, it's less accessible to solo players, and activity variety is poor.

Developer

Rare

Platforms

PC and Xbox One (Played on both.)

Release Date

March 20

Played

Upwards of 30 hours sailing the seas with friends and by my lonesome.

But Sea of Thieves falters more once you get into port. There are only a few things to do for the game's three major factions. The Gold Hoarders assign missions to sail to distant islands and find buried treasure either by using a map or solving riddles of varying complexity. The Order of Souls tasks players with fighting skeletons and returning their cursed skulls for rewards. The Merchant Alliance asks players to deliver a certain breed of chicken or a barrel of gunpowder. Completing these tasks grants gold, which can be used to buy clothing or to deck out your ship with cosmetic items such as new sails.

You're as strong at the start of Sea of Thieves as you are 20 hours later, and if there's any indication that you're an experienced pirate it will be your expensive hat. Sea of Thieves doesn't really care about the player. Not in the sense that it wants to buff your stats or allow you to make permanent changes to the game world. It doesn't care about how skillfully you completed a quest or even if you complete it at all. It offers you a world and doesn't concern itself with what you do in it.

This indifference might seem disappointing, but it fosters a sense of freedom that turns Sea of Thieves into a schoolyard playground game where the teacher isn't watching. Once, after hours of sailing with friends, we decided to tackle one of the game's skull fortresses. Fortresses are outposts brimming with enemies that, if defeated, drop the key to a room full of treasure. As we battled the skeletons, another ship sailed up and blasted our galleon to pieces. When we respawned with a new ship, we went back to the island and blew up our enemies, only for them to repeat the process and attack us. This war of attrition lasted three hours, until a lone player in a tiny sloop joined the battle and brokered a truce over in-game chat where everyone decided to fight the skeletons and split the treasure.

It could have ended there there, but as I battled the skeletons alongside our former enemies, my crewmates swam beneath their ship and blew up a cache of gunpowder barrels. In the resulting confusion, we executed them all, took the loot, and, alongside the peace-loving sloop captain, sailed into the night with a massive stockpile of gold. When our victims tried to chase us down, they were attacked by a kraken. We watched as they were once more drawn to the briny depths of the sea. Because Sea of Thieves is indifferent to what the player does, there are few repercussions for these displays of treachery and lawlessness. Every sessions holds the promise of a similarly spectacular tale of high seas stupidity.

This isn't a press shot. This is something that actually happened to me as I robbed someone's ship.

Each new encounter with another group of players asks the question: Are these people cool, and if not, what can we do about it? Fire-forged friendships fall apart once the loot is up for grabs, unlucky fellows are tossed into the brig without due process, musicians serenade each other as two boats pass in the night, a pirate achieves legendary status through shady means and ignites a community-wide debate. For a game that doesn't offer many different things to do, Sea of Thieves has a lot of things happening in it at any given time.

In spite of all this action, Sea of Thieves' greatest trick is its stillness. While the game can be downright joyous with friends, when played alone it has a unique feeling of repose. While some players will undoubtedly find that playing alone is not fun, it is soothing. Working the deck of a small sloop to trim sails and catch the perfect heading into the sunset is as tactile and memorable an experience as a rousing swordfight or storm-set galleon battle. The more you play Sea of Thieves, particularly in these stolen moments of solitude, it becomes more and more clear that Sea of Thieves is not really a thing you do but a place you go. Whether that's to laugh with friends or sail until you forget that argument you had with your partner, it doesn't matter. The sea is always waiting.

Sea of Thieves' biggest problems are practical ones that interfere with the ability to reliably return to the ocean. Poor server stability means that players rubberband on the deck of their ships or miss out on turning in loot when servers crash. The inability to easily manage your friends list in-game or set up a crew means the player will be forced to rely on Microsoft's atrocious Xbox desktop app or the clumsy Xbox One interface in order to organise a party. At launch, Sea of Thieves is a game that feels almost hostile to the idea of someone playing it, disconnecting players at random and summoning up as many error codes as krakens. It fundamentally undermines things, and the game won't truly shine until the seas are stable and organising play sessions is less of a hassle.

Much has been made of the fact that Sea of Thieves feels like a beta with the price tag of a finished game. For all of the beauty and excitement, it's hard not to feel like there could be a great deal more. Sea of Thieves feels doomed to speculation about the mathematically correct amount of content per dollars players spend. In a Steam discussion thread on Her Story in 2015 someone asked what they were supposed to do in the game. One person replied that they needed to decide when they were satisfied with the information they'd discovered. The original poster asked in response, "How do I decide when I am satisfied?" Sea of Thieves invites that question with each new voyage, but it never manages to provide answers. I'm not entirely sure if it needs to. You just keep sailing until you find what you're looking for.

For some players, satisfaction might be a fancy hat or a night of fighting skeletons with you friends. For others it might be pulling off a mean bit of treachery or locking a stranger in the brig for hours. For someone else, it might be watching the perfect sunset. The developers have said they're planning to add more things to do in the game, but even in its current seemingly incomplete state, Sea of Thieves is still rewarding. 


Comments

    but those willing to meet the game halfway

    Sorry, but I don't pay full AAA price to meet anyone half bloody way, that's not how it works.

      Especially in Australia. Which means you need to really impress us.

      I'm not really sure why anyone paid full price for this. You could have got a free 14 day trial of game pass to test it out, or otheriwise paid $10 for a month if you'd already used your free trial. You'd have to play the same game for 10 months straight to make your money back on the RRP.

        Only if you play it on XBox and put up with the really janky servers and the godawful app.

        If you want to play smoothly and problem free play it on PC.

        Until you get bored.

        Which won't take long.

          You can download it on pc using gamepass and trial it before refunding gamepass for full value.

          Acrually, Game Pass is available on PC too (Source - me, i did the thing).

          Also, I believe it had crossplay, so they were the same servers.

            Didn't know about the trial using gamepass on PC. Sorry, my mistake.

            It definitely has crossplay, and I play (played) with a couple playing on X Box. Problem is our other PC player and I spent a lot of time waiting for the X Box players to recover from a range of different beard crashes. I've also watched streamers have very similar experiences, with X Box players struggling to access the servers.

              Sounds like a client/build issue. That said, I got a whole mess of Lavenderbeard/Cinnamonbeard on PC too, so who knows?

      I found the opening paragraph interesting...

      feels a bit like working in a theatre before the set has been completely built.

      Except they've charged you the full ticket price to let you work there?

      Sounds like another half-baked online multiplayer game that'll probably be much more enjoyable for the people who pick it up on sale 6-12 months from now after it has had a few patches to flesh it out a bit. Early adopters of this kind of game these days pretty much know they're paying to beta test it.

        Yeah I'm starting to become a little suspicious of how hard they're pushing the game to be honest.
        All the articles seem to follow a similar pattern, "Yeah we know that there is some things wrong with the game like A, B, C and basically all the way through to Y, but if you just look at Z and try really, really, REALLY hard, put in all the effort yourself and pretend it's the only letter in the alphabet, it's pretty great!!

          Pretty much. I played it for two weeks, only with others.
          A lot of the time, quests are repetitive. Aside from trying to figure out the clues, there wasn't much to do.
          Dropping off loot is tedious. And repetitive.
          There just isn't much to do unless you're being a c**t.
          The worst thing is that Rare encourages this behaviour, not realising it is going to put off a lot of potential players.

            In fairness, it's a game about pirates. Being a c**t goes with the territory.

              Not really.
              Being a pirate was sticking to the Government and the big guy, not each other.

                Only in Disney movies, mate.

                  Wait, are you saying pirates didn't have zombie monkeys?!

                  They also only really bury their treasure in movies, yet that is acceptable?

              I cannot think of a better way to convince me that pirates are lame than that.

      It just screams “Help us make money by putting in more effort in than we have until it’s actually a complete product!”. I also get the feeling Kotaku have taken some form of kickback from MS at some point, but am aware it’s my own paranoia feeding that belief. I hope.

        Nothing wrong with paranoia, especially when the review has been reposted after two days.

    All these excuses in the article are the same bloody excuses for why no mans sky was so shit, nobody is buying these excuses for an empty game with nothing in it

    And no mans sky had more content than sea of theives and its a shit shit game

    There are many of us who only paid $12 (Australia) to play it...

    Why would anyone pay full price for a game when you could have gotten it for $12.

    Loving the game. Perfect game for chilling out and playing with mates after a busy day.

      To only play it for a month isn't it?

        Sounds like a month would be plenty :P

          If it bought one month of playtime it'd be fine :P Too busy playing other things to get more than a couple of nights out of it in the space of a month.

    As a guy who has played alot of WOW and other grindy games where theres always something to do. Even so theres too much, sometimes i just want to walk around the landscape and discover secrets the land has to offer. Thats why i love sea of thieves. I dont feel pressured into haveing to keep up with world quests or ensuring i do my weekly raid. I can rock up, do whatever the hell i want and log off. The best part of this online game is i dont even have to pay attention like other online games where ive always got to stay alert in a raid or pubg where i have to keep moving to avoid the circle. I can go off for 3 minutes and deal with my 3 year old and come back and still have that online connection talking to other players. This is whats sells it for me. No world quests, no aims. Just a beautiful landscape to explore and relax in.

    Man Kotaku is becoming dodgier and dodgier. This is not a good game. This game is a joke for a AAA title. You've pretty much done everything you can do within a couple of hours of playing. All this bs of. 'oh it is what you make it' or 'it's a theatre waiting for you to create your own story' can be said about literally any game. Maybe it's time to start up a gaming website and take in some of that paid review cash. Maybe this game will become good somewhere down the line but it's an. Overpriced, not finished empty shell of a game at the moment

      It's not just Kotaku, every review is saying something similar. But yes, ultimately, it is a game that sounds like it should have been early access at this point and it's not clear where the game is going from here.

      It's not just Kotaku, every review is saying something similar. But yes, ultimately, it is a game that sounds like it should have been early access at this point and it's not clear where the game is going from here.

      Sadly there are few alternatives to Kotaku in AU.

      There are some great writers here (Jason Schrier might very well be the best in the business) but if the comment section was removed like it was o Gizmodo, I wouldn't visit anymore.

      The typical comment backlash here gives me faith in my fellow Australian gamers.

        I actually don’t like how negative a lot of what I say in Kotaku articles comes out these days. It feels counter to my usual internet presence and I hate it. It’s not Kotaku’s fault, because I’m a grown arse man, but the inspiration comes from here. It only started in the past six or so months, but I’m finding I get so frustrated with how softcocked a lot of the content has become. I’m not going to go into detail about the descent, because I’ll just get into a fruitless bickering match with some random buttplug (which I need to fucking stop), but I actually give a shit about Kotaku. There was a time this place gave me no reason to be anything other than positive. I don’t wanna go all Member Berries about it, but I miss last gen Kotaku.

      Here's an example of "it is what you make of it":

      Our captain decided he wanted to take over a server, so we started offering ships loot if they'd add our captain to their friends list and invite him aboard. They could cash in, then he'd invite his friends to the crew, populating the ships with his friends, then returning to the main ship. We commanded a fleet of 2 galleons and 2 sloops, protecting them when they got attacked. The only rule for joining was: If the raid started at a fort, it belonged to the (now) Admiral. The raid appeared and the other galleon fixed to betray us and take the fort, so we rounded up the others and sunk them. We shared some of the loot, but got off with most of the haul from the fort. That happened across ~3hrs of treasure hunting, kraken fighting, deal-making, etc. If you want something more guided, Sea of Thieves won't provide it. If you want something with a little roleplaying (like I often do), then you could end up like me, playing it for hours each night with friends and family, and having a blast.

      Last edited 09/04/18 5:12 pm

        Yeah see how long that lasts you mate. As said in my original post, what you're saying can be done in any game. When I was 12 we used to play chasey in Super Mario Karts battle mode. Now it wasn't designed to be this way, but my imagination and limite choice in games meant we had to find new interesting ways to make the game fun. Now that was great in 1992 or whatever the year was when I was a kid... But an empty canvas with minimal tools is not something that can be peddled for 100.00 and be called a good game. Great that you're enjoying it and still have a good Imagination (reminds me of when Ark first came out and my friends and I rose to the top of the server and had some of the best gaming moments I've ever had - but even Ark had a bazillion more things to do it in early access for 30 bucks than Sea of Thieves has now in final release) and as a rule of thumb I'm one for saying 'if you enjoy something good on you'. The rest of us though can see the sad truth that Rare half assed this and like most games released this way, it will dry up and stop having support within year. Guaranteed.

          Seen the road map yet? That should satisfy folks in your position. 4 major expansions, weekly events to add new AI threats. Check it out if you haven't (the video goes into a lot more detail that the written release).

            I did see it. it's pretty much what I expected they would do... But will the community stick around for it? It's not pay per month to play so where's the incentive for Rare to keep making content? Maybe I'm being pessimistic, but I think it might be dead in a year. Happy to be wrong though. I can see there's a great game hidden in there somewhere.

      These are all Kotaku US articles mostly.
      Aussie ones said the same as pretty much everyone else.
      Too little, too expensive.

    There are what 4 outfits in the game you can purchase with gold but you got one for preordering, one for purchasing the controller, one for watching the streams, one for purchasing the external hard drives and now one from buying cookies, yeah games great and not a half baked cash grab at all

      But hey, nice sunsets, right?

        And the water looks really good.

          And you can “create your own stories” because your brain is the missing content.

            Unless you get hounded by jerks. Then you'll end up frustrated.

              Still a story, its just more The Purge than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

    It seems the industry knows we need Microsoft around for competitions sake. So some outlets are going out of their way to promote what is clearly an unfinished game.

    The mums and dads actually believe this stuff being written and buy Thebes game for their poor kids.

    I tried hard for two weeks to extract enjoyment from this game.

    The voice acting in this game is inexcusable. I blows my mind that they choose to use internal staff for voice acting, instead of paid voice actors.

    Were they really so hard up? Or were they just trying to be inclusive?

    My thoughts on the game:

    1) Looks incredible. Like a wonderfully modern take on Monkey Island.
    2) Waves and ambient sounds are fantastic.
    3) Voice acting is an all-time industry low. Literally ruins the whole vibe of the game.
    4) Too laggy for Australians.
    5) Pointless for solo players. Not all of us want to team up with 3 squeaky voiced / possibly obnoxious randoms.

    And that's totally skipping over the "no content" issue.

    This game is a hard miss, I'm afraid. Not recommended.

    I'm still having fun with the game and I played in the alphas and betas. I guess my fun is wrong.

      It isn't wrong, but I bet you can see where people are coming from when they complain about content.

        Absolutely. There should be more content. Like a storyline or campaign of some kind that feels different from the side faction quests to lvl 50 grind. I'm a tad special... I enjoyed no mans sky for the month or so I played it after work to zone out and de-stress. Found it very soothing, same as when it's a fracking beautiful sunset in SoT, just chilling after work... I literally talked myself into booting it up by writing this.

          Makes sense, SoT is a lot like NMS in terms of progression and content. To me it feels like Minecraft without the feeling of creation that MC has to offer.

    Things I like about this game:
    - It's pretty. Water effects are good.
    - Pirates.
    - Play with friends.
    - crossplay
    - snakes
    - The hurdy gurdy

    Things I dislike about this game:
    - Nothing to do when your friends are off-line.
    - One bad guy repeated again and again and again.
    - 3 missions - total
    - no variety - two ships, maybe three trees, half a dozen building repeated over and over and over and over again.
    - no progression - not in your character, your ships, your weapons - nothing (clothes don't count. I'm too old to play with dolls. There isn't even a lot of them)
    - no sense of achievement.
    - lack of engagement.
    - XBox servers blow. PC players spend a lot of time waiting for the XBox players to reconnect.
    - Lack of content at launch.
    - They couldn't even be bothered including the other musical instruments at launch.

    I wanted to like this game, but Rare made that impossible. It's empty, boring and I simply cannot feel engaged with my character and her lack of career. Sure, it's pretty, in a cartoony sort of way, but there is little or no variety to that pretty - very little variation in the assets. If I want somewhere pretty to relax I can load up Skyrim and sit on the side of a mountain and watch the sunset.

    Player numbers are already falling, and will continue to do so. Maybe they'll fix some of this as time marches on, but no-one will be there to see it. I certainly won't.

    These days there are so many games I want to play, but don't end up buying because of the price tag... Sea of Thieves and Far Cry 5 were the latest ones. I'm not too fussed about waiting for sales. I guess sometimes it's a good thing. Paying full price for a game you have to "meet halfway" is just a ripoff.

    Last edited 10/04/18 8:40 am

    I gave this a solid two hour crack and that was about it for me. I was super excited when they mentioned that all new Microsoft games would be coming to games pass on day one but after this launch that feels more like an admission that they are just incapable of developing a first party game that is worth paying full price for.

    *shrug*

    I've been having a blast. I can see clearly and easily where the criticism comes from, but I raise an eyebrow at the 'WELL I DON'T LIKE IT SO CLEARLY YOU'RE GETTING KICKBACKS FROM MS/RARE' crew.

    I get where you're coming from, I do. I don't disagree with you entirely either, but I'm having a hoot and some people seem more intent on telling me I'm doing fun wrong, or don't understand what fun is. They get so incensed by the idea too. It's fascinating, really.

    You do you, boo.

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