A Few Hours In: Sea of Thieves Closed Beta

Ahoy! As the title suggests, I’ve spent a few hours in Sea of Thieves. What I’ve played so far, I love. Aargh. I half-heartedly promise to keep pirate themed vocabulary to a minimum. But I’m sure there’ll be points where it’s required, ye scurvy dogs and/or landlubbers.

Platform: PC

This was originally posted at r/PCGaming

Sea of Thieves is a multiplayer, co-op, online, open world, pirate game. A MPCOOOWPG. You control a pirate from a first-person perspective. The open world consists of islands, forts and outposts dotted around a big ol’ ocean. You and your crew of other pirates/players take on quests or “voyages” at outposts and sail between them looking for treasure. So far, so pirate.

Strip away the nautical language and it all sounds pretty typical of any ol’ open world game. Multiplayer or not. Wander around fetching things. Snore. Pleasantly, where Sea of Thieves differs, is that it makes games out of the travelling and fetching. It’s all one big treasure hunt.

With your starting pieces o’ eight, you buy voyages (clues and treasure maps) from a vendor at outposts. You can then propose to your crew that you go on that voyage. You propose a voyage by putting it down on a table in your ship’s cabin and then sticking a knife in it. The rest of your crew then vote on it by sticking their knives in it. Or they can propose their own voyage. It’s surprisingly diplomatic.

Voyage accepted. You’re then presented with a map, or a clue. There’s a big map of the ocean in the ship’s cabin on which you’ll have to find your destination and then work out which way you need to head. It’s the only map of the world in the game. You can’t just pull one out of thin air whenever you need. There’s no minimap. And your compass is an object in your inventory that you’ll need to take out to know which direction you’re heading in on foot.

Anyway. You then set sail. And sailing is, as you’d expect, a big part of the game. All the usual ship things make an appearance. There’s an anchor. Which you have to raise by turning a wheel on the deck. The more people who help turn. The faster it rises.

There’s a wheel and compass to keep you headed in the right direction. You control ship speed by raising and lowering the mainsail(s). You can angle them too, to catch more wind and increase the speed further.

Altogether, this is hard on your own. But relatively easy with a crew. Especially when they communicate. You all have to work together to get where you’re going. Someone will have to keep an eye on the map too.

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The player whose POV this screenshot is taken from isn’t doing anything. Which will not stand. PLANK TIME!

Once you reach your destination. The treasure hunts begin proper. Clues provide directions in the form of riddles. They’ll lead you to points on an island that reveal more clues by performing a certain action or whatnot. Eventually you’ll find the last clue and it’ll tell you to walk a number of paces in a certain direction and start digging. Digging isn’t a chore either. You’ll know whether you’ve struck gold or not with the first strike of your shovel. And if you’ve followed the clues, you’ll be successful on that first strike.

That’s the basic gist of the game. With your booty you can buy more voyages. As well as cosmetic items for your pirate. There are some empty shops at the outposts, so I presume there’ll be loads more stuff to buy once the game’s released – there’s no confirmation either way on actual microtransactions.

There are things that can go wrong during your journey. Your ship can take damage from crashing into things or taking cannon fire. So you’ll need wooden planks to fix the holes. Otherwise it’ll fill with water and sink. You have to bail out water that leaks in when you take damage. Every player has a bucket. Again, like digging, this doesn’t take very long. So it’s not annoying. It just adds to the games commitment giving you a pirate adventure.

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Home time? Or doom time?

It’s possible to fall off the ship. But this is only down to player error. It’s not a mechanic. One guy I played with kept drinking grog and falling off. Which if anything, was just funny. Because he’d get so annoyed with himself.

Crews vary in size and you choose how big of one you want to join when you begin. Four, two or solo. It recommends you go with a crew of four. But that never seemed to work out for me. I had a much better time with a crew of two. Me and one other person.

I’ve not encountered many other crews in my time with the game. Apparently they’re programmed to only appear infrequently. But every time I’ve met one, they’ve attacked me or a member of my crew has attacked them. Each time I’ve been defeated.

One particularly galling defeat was when me and my crewmate set anchor in a bay and a bug (it’s a beta, so I’m not furious) caused our ship to start sinking. There was no way we could save the ship. So we started rescuing from the depths the six treasure chests we’d found over the previous hour of questing. Sharks appeared. He fought them off while I got the chests to shore. All good.

When your ship sinks. It’s easy to get a new one. Some kind of merman spirit appears in the water and teleports you to a nearby island where a new ship awaits.

So, my crewmate did that and went to fetch us a new ship. I waited with the booty. Then along came another pirate ship. I hid. But they must have seen me (there’s no minimap, and player names only appear above them when they’re very close) so they dropped anchor and came ashore. I didn’t stand a chance. I was murdered by four enemy pirates. Who, unsurprisingly, then stole all our chests. It was pretty crushing, especially when it was all down to a bug. Though I’m sure they’d have spotted our ship if it hadn’t sunk. I’m sure a similar plundering opportunity will present itself to me someday.

Regardless, it’s all entirely charming. It’s as kid friendly as it is adult friendly. There’s no blood or swearing. And importantly, the game never gets in the way of your pirating. Nothing feels like an inconvenience. SoT’s greatest strength is that it’s necessary for you to work together. But it doesn’t force you to. There’s a role for everyone in your crew. But equally, it’s possible for half the crew to sail your ship – though this is harder. And if something goes wrong. You’re all as equally doomed to a salty respawn. Sure, some players will be better than others at steering and navigating. But no one job is hard on its own. The challenge comes from getting everyone to work together. There’s an ingame chat feature with predefined messages, that are just about good enough to keep things running. But ideally you’ll want a mic.

The weakest aspect of the game is the combat. You get a cutlass, a flintlock pistol and a “long eye” sniper rifle. The shooting is fine. The cutlass works. But it’s very basic. And every PvP fight I’ve been in has been with the guns. There are enemies on the islands too. Pirate skeletons. They’re pretty boring to fight and are more of a distraction than anything. Perhaps later on in the game there are more interesting enemies.

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Ohh, eff off.

I’m yet to try the naval combat. But you can fire your cannons at any time. I can confirm that they make a mighty satisfying bang. There’s a finite supply, but cannonballs can be found all over the place. As can wooden planks for plugging holes in your ship. And bananas are used for restoring your health. Your ship starts with a supply of all of them. But it’s a good idea to keep them stocked up. You can find them on islands and then store them on your ship for when you need ’em.

Starting equipment for pirates other than the aforementioned weapons are: telescope, shovel, bucket, compass, pocket watch, hurdy gurdy and bandoneon.

Those last two bits of kit lead me onto my favourite thing about the whole game. The music. As soon as you load it up, some low key piratical music starts aplayin’. It’s more than enough to know this game is definitely all about pirates. As soon as I heard it, I couldn’t help but smile.

Back to the kit. You can use the hurdy gurdy and bandoneon at any time and play one of several tunes. All you have to do is hold the fire button and your pirate plays perfectly (unless you’ve been on the grog) and the rest of your crew can get their instruments out and they’ll play the same tune too. There’s nothing quite like sailing across a stormy sea as your pirate orchestra plays a piratical rendition of Ride of the Valkyries. Yargh!

Performance wise it runs excellently. You can find my specs in my flair. I’ve had no trouble running everything at “Mythical” (Ultra) at 4K and maintaining a near constant 60fps. And wow. It’s worth noting just how good this game looks. It’s style is cartoonish, so I’ve no doubt it’ll still look great in twenty years. Of particular note is the water. It’s beautiful. I don’t know that I have the vocabulary to describe how good it looks. So I’ll just list the relevant water cliches: The froth at the peaks of waves. Oh, the froth. It sprays as it laps around things. It ripples in the wind near the shore. Out at sea there are waves that are metres high. It ebbs and flows. It behaves like you expect water to behave. And looks fantastic while doing it. It’s worth having a look at the gifs in this article for a taste of its salty goodness. Ahem.

According to reports it runs really well on more modest hardware too. And the only bug I’ve encountered in the beta is the one I mentioned before.

So, all in all. I’ve loved my time with the Sea of Thieves Closed Beta. I can’t wait to play some more when it’s released in March. Aye.

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