Sea Of Thieves is a pirate simulator where you gather a crew and sail the high seas. It is a sandbox game with few restrictions and no story to speak of. Create your own adventure, ideally with a crew of four friends.
There is no in-game tutorial and no tips at the loading screen. You start at a tavern and figure out how things work from there.
This is refreshing, compared with the hand-holding by modern games. But it can be confusing and possibly frustrating, especially with this being a multiplayer game and you may not learn the game before other pirates intrude with drawn cutlasses and loaded guns.
Much revolves around sailing. A four-man crew sails a galleon while a single player gets a smaller sloop. Sailing is more complex than steering the ship. The crew has to adjust the sails, raise the anchor and man the cannons. The experience is brilliant when everyone is pulling his weight and working together.
But it takes too long to go from point A to B. There is nothing much to do while travelling, though I must admit the game probably has the best-looking water ever. The weather effects are excellent, with the choppy waves and lightning done just right.
To fend off boredom, you could play a sea shanty with your crewmates. Or get drunk on grog and puke all over them. But these activities get old after a while, especially when there are only two songs.
There is an end goal, of sorts - become a pirate legend by completing quests from three factions. Each faction offers a specific type of quest.
PRICE: $74.90 (Windows, version tested; Xbox One)
GENRE: Action adventure
For example, The Gold Hoarders sends you to find buried treasure.
Completing quests and selling items to a faction will increase your standing with it. Gold earned from your adventures can be spent on cosmetic upgrades, such as a shiny gold cutlass or a fancy ship figurehead.
But there are no upgrades that improve your pirate or the ship because developer Rare wants to ensure a level playing field for all, not just those who have invested more time in the game.
This philosophy is commendable, but is ultimately let down by the limited cosmetic items available.
Repetitive manual tasks that have been eradicated in most modern games make their comeback in Sea Of Thieves. Water filling up the holds? Grab your bucket and start bailing. Want to cash in on the treasure chests you found? You have to carry the chests one at a time to the shop from your ship.
My cynical self believes such realistic busywork is to stretch the game. For one that spent four years in development, its content is paltry. There are only two types of ships and four types of skeleton enemies, snakes and sharks. The quests are randomly generated by the game and feel similar.
Also, there are no AI-controlled merchant ships or towns to raid and plunder, which is strange for a pirate game.
Instead, your targets - if you choose violence - are other players. But with a maximum of 24 players (or six crews) in each game instance, you could end up sailing for hours without seeing any other players.
This could be a good thing. Encounters with other players frequently become violent. There are no rules or restrictions on player versus player engagements and there are no safe zones, not even in the small outposts where the non-playing characters are located. Be prepared for grief or harassment, especially if you are playing solo.
With a competent crew under a good leader (preferably with a headset to bark orders), Sea Of Thieves can produce memorable, often-unscripted moments of brilliance. But they happen far too rarely to balance against the tedium.
I reckon it would have been a better game if it was simply called Sailing Simulator and added more complicated sailing mechanics along with different types of ships.
If you love to role-play as a pirate and goof around with like-minded friends, Sea Of Thieves is perfect. For those who prefer more meat in their games, wait to see if Rare will flesh it out with future updates. Those who are undecided can try it via the Xbox Game Pass service (14-day free trial).
•Verdict: When all the stars align, Sea Of Thieves can be loads of fun. But it quickly becomes boring once you have seen its limited content.