We dove into fan-favorite developer Rare's closed beta for their new pirate MMO Sea of Thieves, and are here to report to you what we've learned. Promising tense sea battles, swashbuckling combat, and treasure-hunting missions, the question leaping to everyone's mind is this: is the game any good?
There's some good and bad news, given what the beta offers. The graphics are pleasingly cartoony, with a 3D Monkey Island vibe, but the gameplay is extremely shallow, as is character customization. You can pre-order this XBOX One and Windows game now.
Sea of Thieves contains plenty of atmosphere, but what kind of story structure will ultimately be present, if any, isn't on display in the beta. With that said, the music, lighting, and crisply colorful Caribbean-themed world creates a good rum-drinking vibe.
As far as movement, SoT offers tight first-person controls with a jump and no crouch, as well as a much-welcome field of view slider in the options. Starting pirates begin with a pistol, sniper-rifle musket (just go with it), and a saber. Person to person combat is fun but rare, at least in the beta, and plays like a much stripped-down Skyrim. One would've loved a robust parry system (Condemned, anyone?), but what's there works well.
The best aspect of the gameplay is the ship management. In order to launch a ship, the anchor has to be raised, the sails lowered and angled, and someone must man the helm to direct the ship. SoT is a game that doesn't just reward coordination among players, but requires it. The beta contained zero tutorials, and hopefully that will be remedied, because relying on strangers to teach newcomers about sailing and the quest system is a recipe for disaster.
Certain on-board tasks go faster with more hands helping, such as the laborious raising of the anchor, and when players coordinate things, setting sail and reversing the process to come to a stop are pleasures. Unfortunately, the sea-traveling in between these acts is a barren, time consuming non-event. Rare seems aware of this, and pirates can buy various instruments to play while waiting, but it's a shallow experience parallel to dancing in WoW.
Careless sailing can damage a ship's hull, and the patching system, which requires boards to be collected below deck and placed over leaking spots, is as simple as it sounds (press a button to grab a board, hold a button to patch). Similarly, bailing water out consists of grabbing a bucket, clicking the water, and clicking to dump it overboard once at the edge of the ship. Again, it's a lack of depth to the mechanics of the game that hurt enjoyment.
The quests are also fairly shallow affairs. Initial treasure hunts send players to "X" location to dig and retrieve "X" treasure, only to return it to your base for a cash reward and a reputation boost. Later missions become somewhat more complex, but are generally just variations on the "go here, get this, defend this, return here" variety. I've heard a lot of positive talk on how Sea of Thieves is somehow a breathe of fresh air into the MMO structure, but I don't see much difference in this versus Destiny 2, except with an open world and no loot system.
Yes, that's right, you really don't have much in the way of loot, at least not in the beta. You can complete quests for cash, and use it to buy cosmetic upgrades and some tools, but the thrill of finding hoards of loot on the hunt is absent. This is a sorely missed opportunity, especially since it degrades the idea of treasure hunting and the pirate life altogether.
What it comes down to is that there doesn't seem to be enough here to qualify this game as a purchase, even if the beta is only the basic structure of the title. While games like Fortnite offer robust free-to-play models where players feel constantly rewarded for playing even a single match, Sea of Thieves comes up lacking.
graphics And sound
The graphics are crisp and cartoon-like, and the Rare style is omni-present. It really does feel as though Banjo-Kazooie turned into a pirate caper, which will make fan's of the developer happy. It won't necessarily float so well with people looking for more grit in their pirating escapades, and people hoping for a better alternative to Topware Interactive's polarizing RPG Vendetta: Raven's Cry will have to keep waiting.
One graphical area in particular deserves note, and it is the water effects. They're the best and most admirable aspect of Sea of Thieves, and they make falling overboard and getting eaten alive by sharks a pleasure.
The sounds in the beta are good, but there were issues with some player's mics not working, which further hindered (and in some cases downright destroyed) the oh-so-necessary player cooperation. The non-mic chat system is downright useless, offering a handful of ineffective commands that are easily ignored.
Ultimately, there doesn't seem to be enough here to qualify this game as a purchase, even if the beta is only showing the basic structures within the title (which I think it is). While games like Fortnite offer robust free-to-play models where players feel constantly rewarded to play even a single match a sitting, Sea of Thieves comes up lacking.
If you want this player's advice, wait until after launch to see in full what this game has to offer, as what's on display now suggests a free to play title without enough meat on its bones.