The open beta for Sea of Thieves came and went about as quickly as the pleasure involved with losing your virginity. It starts, it stops, and while you may have had a good time in between, you’re likely going to need more time before you can make a final verdict on if the experience hit all the right pleasure centers to certify if it’s a good fit for you. Well, the Sea of Thieves‘ open beta was kind of like that.
The final test before launch was an open invite for Xbox One and Windows 10 users. I didn’t even waste time looking at the game in the Xbox store because I knew hands-down I wanted to play at 60fps, and there was no way I was going to get stable frames off of a five year home console.
After the 19GB beta downloaded and installed, you’ll boot it up and will be greeted with the option to create your own pirate… except, you can’t really create a pirate at all. Instead you pick from a handful of randomly generated pirates, and if you hate the way they look you can press a key and randomly generated a few more, just until you find a pirate that doesn’t look so bad.
Why is this janky character-creation system a thing? Well, according to Rare’s art design team they felt the burden of choice was too overwhelming for some (casual) gamers, and decided to do away with sliders and knobs and just have the system randomly create male, female, light, medium, and dark pirates. From there, players choose their base pirate that’s as close to what they would personally like and then purchase things like hair, clothing attire and accessories once they get into the actual.
Personally I think the system is terrible, and it would have been better to allow those of us who know what we want and how we want it to create the kind of pirate we want.
Anyway, I did manage to settle upon a not-bad-looking pirate who seemed scurvy and manly enough.
Hopping into the game, there’s no real heads-up on what you do or how you do it. But it’s not hard finding your way, even if you do not know the way.
Before diving into the world you have the option of selecting a small or large ship, and whether or not you want to play by solo or with a crew. If you choose a crew you can invite a friend or allow the random matchmaking to pair you with some people.
For most of my time in the beta I chose solo because I didn’t have the energy or patience to communicate with other people. This worked out for the best because I got to muck about and mosey around at my own pace, figuring out the ins and outs of the system; and let me tell you, there’s not much to figure out.
Rare kept everything simple: you have an attack button, an alt attack, a run, jump, walk, inventory select, and emote select button. You have a sword, pistol, blunderbuss or sniper rifle to choose from, but you can only carry two weapons on you at any time. It’s all really simple. You can’t duck, you can’t roll, you can’t dodge, and you don’t have to worry about spending an hour learning the controls like in Monster Hunter.
If you get stuck somewhere the game teleports you back to the ship. And once you’re ready to embark on a quest, you can just pick a quest from one of the merchants or gold hoarders and be on your way.
Essentially the merchant quests and gold hoarder quests are similar, but the merchant quests are a lot less adventurous and usually don’t require venturing to multiple islands to find hidden treasure. You usually have to grab a cage or a crate and collect some items for the merchant, such as bananas or chickens, and then return the items to the merchant.
I could never properly complete the merchant quests because my ship always got buggered by the pointed end of another ship… usually a much larger ship with a much meaner crew than my own.
And here’s where the solo part came back to bite me in the rear like Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct came back to ruin his career: Whether you have a small or large ship, having multiple crew mates helps a ton. The ship setup is almost identical to Astrum Nival’s astral ships in Allods Online.
You have a helmsman, a navigator, repairmen, and sail operators. If someone is at the helm, someone else will be required to navigate from the captain’s quarters. Someone else might also want to take charge of the sails, raising and lowering them as well as changing their direction to achieve maximum speed. You can also load and fire cannonballs. As I mentioned, it’s very similar — almost identical even — to the astral ship setup from Allods Online.
The ships in Sea of Thieves are a heck of a lot smaller, though, and the stress of battle isn’t quite as high as in Allods Online since you don’t have to worry about astral demons attacking you. If you’re good, you can avoid a lot of the battles in Sea of Thieves by being smart and using your telescope to spot potential enemies in the distance, adjusting your course as necessary.
You can also mask your presence by riding low into the waves to avoid being spotted, or you can risk going into a storm to avoid conflict.
I wiped several times because crews of more experienced players would either do a drive-by mugging and blow up my ship while I was on an island, or they would hound me down and blow up my boat and take my treasure.
Eventually I joined up with another fellow and we had some seafaring fun. Now, as I mentioned earlier on, if you join with a crew you’re expected to communicate, either via text or voice chat. The guy I teamed up with was an easy-going chatterbox, and we managed to hit a handful of islands and gather up just under a dozen pieces of treasure.
He did the steering and I did the navigating; and since it didn’t require third-party 3D cartographer programs like in Allods, we were able to reach our destinations fairly quickly and complete the quests. There is no waypoint indicator on the HUD so you will have to manually check the maps and use your compass to know where you’re going.
We did get turned around for a bit when we ended up lost in a storm. The interesting thing about storms in Sea of Thieves is that it sends your compass into a tailspin, so trying to navigate out of a storm is fairly difficult.
On the upside, the weather can play a big part in allowing you to stealthily reach some islands, while at other times the weather can work against you by causing damage to your boat, which then requires you to repair it.
Repairs are done by using planks, which are stored on the lower deck. Once you fix the leaks you have to switch over to your bucket and dump the water overboard, otherwise the boat will fill up with water and you’ll sink.
When I partnered up with the other guy, our main contention was the weather and landing safely at our destinations, for which we had a few rocky landings that put some holes in the hull.
Along the way we busted out some instruments and played some music while a blood orange sun set against the dancing waves of the dark blue ocean. We traveled off the beaten path a few times by following the flight patterns of birds and found a rare treasure by a tall rock on a seemingly deserted island. We picked up a silver goblet laying in the sand just in front of two tiki torches that greeted us on the beach. And we narrowly missed a few other players who were traveling in the distance, mostly minding their own business or moving away from the small islands we were about to explore.
While I’m almost never in a good mood, I did find myself cackling and smiling throughout the journey – especially as we played music on the deck during the slightly longer travels between destinations. There’s a calming zen element to Sea of Thieves that makes it almost hypnotically harmonic when you’re rhythmically riding the untamed waves that push and yaw the boat wherever the wind pleases.
I found myself simply enjoying the ride, and this is something that very few other games manage to achieve. It wasn’t about trying to get the most score, or pulling off 360-no-scope headshots, but instead it was just me and this other dude who were enjoying ourselves on the sea, racking up plenty of treasure chests, turning them in, and earning enough gold to buy new weapons and clothing accessories.
I can definitely say that was I surprised at how fun it was despite it being rather simple. The fact that the game encourages some element of camaraderie while also maintaining strong PvP elements is also interesting. Not having to worry about stat-based items, weapons and clothing also helps. You’re inclined more-so to find better ways to play rather than just relying on stat-stacked equipment to do the heavy lifting for you.
My only main concern is if Sea of Thieves is solely gong to be an online-only game, because if it is it’ll likely never see the light of day in my software library.
Even still, it was easy to see the hours breeze by, even while doing little more than just introductory missions during the beta. It then dawned on me that I was actually having fun with the game, and in some ways I wanted to play more. I wanted to see more. I wanted to do more. It was a rare moment for an AAA game where I wasn’t distracted with the mechanics, microtransactions, or the hidden payment schemes; instead I was just having fun.
If the crux of Sea of Thieves is fun over financial finagling, I might actually buy the game.