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When I first heard about Sea of Thieves, I was hesitant, honestly. A free-roam pirate game sounded cool, don't get me wrong, but I had trouble seeing how such a game could keep gamers interested beyond a month or two. The animation was described to me as "kind of like Fortnite's animation, in that it's cartoony and a little exaggerated." I honestly was not impressed by that. I enjoyed playing Fortnite when it first came out, but the animation and graphics sometimes annoyed me. I decided to not let this reservation keep me from being interested, and decided to pre-order it off of Amazon in order to get the Beta play.
In short, I was amazed. I have played free-roam games before, but this beta was truly wide-open. The animation was, yes, cartoony, but the graphics were stunning. They were even more stunning on my friend's 4k television set. The gameplay was great as well. I enjoyed the idea that you had to do everything yourself, which made it more engaging and more immersive. I enjoyed rigging the sails, keeping with the wind, and scooping water out of the lower decks. There was no monotony when playing with friends, either. We had endless adventures for the month or so that the beta was out for.
When the beta ended, I immediately set up an Xbox GamePass account to get Sea of Thieves for basically free. I can easily say that Sea of Thieves has been my most consistently played game since its release.
The game itself is pretty straightforward: You are a pirate on the high seas, and you perform quests to earn golden doubloons, which in turn can be used to purchase cosmetic upgrades. There are three types of quests: Gold Hoarders (in which you hunt for buried treasure chests), Merchant Alliance (in which you receive a list of animals with pens to catch them in, to deliver them to an outpost by a specified time), and Order of Souls (in which you hunt skeleton captains and return their skulls to an outpost). You have to battle the elements, wild animals (so far only snakes and sharks), and other sailors to achieve your goals.
Collecting doubloons opens you up to a wide assortment of different cosmetic upgrades. For example, there are endless combinations of hats, shirts, jackets, trousers, and boots to choose from for your pirate, with different choices of pirate hooks, eyepatches, tattoos, and facial hair to accessorize them. You also have a good handful of customizations for your ship itself, ranging from sail color, hull color, masthead designs, and flags for the tops of your masts.
This freedom for so much customization and unique expression is pretty uncommon for a game of this type. What else is so uncommon is the push for unity in the game. Sea of Thieves had initial complaints of bully pirates and people who were mean because they were skilled enough in the game to be mean, so developers posted a "Pirate's Code" of conduct in each of the taverns. It helped slightly, but it was not enough. Now, they have designed these miniature quests, in which you sail around the map to find thrones to sit on for points and special doubloons. The catch is, half of the thrones have to be done with a different crew. This was a brilliant move by developers, and really set up opportunities for more comradery and general decency in-game. This, combined with the developers making it easy to announce your intentions to other players (there is a "speakerphone" tool in the inventory that allows you to talk to players in-game chat from a far distance and enables you to announce yourself as friendly), has made Sea of Thieves a truly remarkable experience.
The game is truly immersive, and it is easy to lose yourself in it. There is just enough basic structure to keep things organized, yet there are so many opportunities for your own imagination to run wild that there is little chance for boredom in the game. Everything, from the sailing to the combat, to playing sea shanties and getting drunk in taverns, truly makes you feel as if you are a pirate after all.
Sea of Thieves sets the standard for future games because it really wants its players to build communities with each other and have fun with each other. Yes, there is a lot of combat and competitiveness involved, but there is still a push for working together, making allies, and just simply having a good time with new people. I can think of very few games that have this opportunity, so I cannot say enough for how Sea of Thieves has made itself innovative. With the ability to build communities and make new friends in an engaging open-world, Sea of Thieves is here for the long haul.