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Why 'Sea of Thieves' is One of the Best Games I've Played in Years

Adventures in Piracy reviving childhood fun.

Picture is from Polygon.net (All rights belong to Rare etc.)

Rare's 2018 Open World RPG Sea of Thieves had a rough start at launch. For the first month of its release, the game has had a decent share of bugs, glitches, and a peculiar case of disabled achievements that I've never seen happen in gaming history before. Yet, despite the minor setbacks plaguing the system at release, I haven't had this much fun playing a game in years.

The mechanics of the game are relatively simple, you sail around, find loot, kill skeletons, and make it back to Port without losing your hard-earned treasure to storms or rival players so that you increase your standing with the three in-game alliance factions. The Gold Hoarders will send you on voyages to islands with maps and riddles in search of treasure, The Order of Souls will provide you with bounties to hunt down undead skeleton captains and return their skulls, and the Merchant Alliance will task you with delivery missions where you have to seek out animals and resources and deliver them to a specific location in an allotted timeframe.

Most players will find the missions repetitive, and rightly so, this game isn't for everyone. The Grind for gold and reputation will take awhile to reach the end game status of Pirate Legend, but I will admit, it doesn't bother me one bit. Keep in mind I'm one of those players that despise grinding, whether it was hoarding souls in Dark Souls just to lose them or slaving away for light in Destiny, I abhorred grind-y games because I felt like it was a barrier preventing me from completing the in-game content. With Sea of Thieves, the grinding feels more organic and less limiting. There's nothing stopping me from doing whatever I want on the high seas, there aren't any individual player levels preventing me from partaking in a quest with more experienced Pirates or accessing certain parts of the world. Alliance reputation allows me to attain higher ranks and purchase higher level voyages, but there isn't anything holding me back from joining those same high-level quests with other Pirates tiers above me and earning a cut of their loot.

That's where the strength of the game lies, in the cooperative gameplay. Playing solo can be a nightmare most days, there is no tutorial, the game doesn't hold your hand and you need to learn fast because griefers prowl the seas like sharks. Although with a good crew at your back, the potential for fun multiplies sevenfold and you actually stand a chance in the world. It was during those moments of camaraderie that I made fond memories within a game for the first time in what felt like years. Whether we were emerging victorious from a 4-way galleon battle, escaping the death throes of a skeleton fort with treasure in tow, or defeating a mighty Kraken, adventure could always be found just around the corner. I haven't had this much fun in a game since the days of playing Halo 3 online with my pals, the hijinks on the high seas are an absolute riot, and the hilarity that can ensue is totally worth it. At one point during a game session, a team of griefers sunk our ship and we lost our loot, but not before one of our teammates shot themselves from a cannon on to the deck of their ship, proceeded to murder their stockpiles of chickens, and detonated a gunpowder barrel in their hold sinking the wretched vessel.

I love the simplicity of the game mechanics, there are no XP levels or skill trees to give people an unfair advantage, everyone is the same and all you can depend on is your own skill and the skill of those around you. The world itself is gorgeous, divided into three zones known as The Wilds, The Ancient Isles, and The Shores of Plenty, these areas all offer different locales varying from bright blue Carribean seas to dark and stormy islands of jagged rocks that look straight up Lovecraftian. Eventually, you'll have visited all the islands on the map, but even on return trips, you can find randomized treasures that aren't quest related. Sometimes you'll find a treasure chest lying on the beach, skulls, and artifacts poking out of the sand, messages in bottles and lost journals that will open up more quests. The mechanics of letting players continuously find and discover keeps the adventure going for hours on end. 

As great as the game is, it does have faults that need to be addressed. Occasionally the game will glitch and prevent you from switching weapons, it sounds like nothing but when facing a rival crew switching from your sword to a firearm can be the difference between life and death. Other times you'll find an awesome piece of loot and then it will suddenly disappear taking any prospect of gold or alliance reputation with it. These bugs aren't necessarily game breaking, so they should be patched rather easily with future updates to the game.

The aspect of the game that seems to bother people most, is the way the rewards system works. Aside from the rank system in each faction, all the rewards that you can earn are purely cosmetic, so while you may don awesome outfits for your pirate and have a customized ship, there isn't anything that will give you any tactical advantage over players. Simply trying to earn rewards can be difficult for small crews and solo players, primarily because griefers are absolutely ruthless. If you don't have the manpower to divide the labor, doing simple quests can take an extremely long time. A solo player will have to man the ship, go ashore, find the loot, dig it up, kill skeletons, return to the ship, and repeat the process if there is more than one item, all while keeping an eye out for other players. I played solo for an hour and a half collecting chickens just to lose my ship and inventory to a duo crew of griefers that camped out by a port. Not to mention when you die, you don't even gain a minutia of Voyage XP or gold as compensation for time spent. 

When it comes to human contact 80% of random players will just engage in combat the minute they see you, but the other 20% will actually be civil if you can get them to notice your characters emotes, but communication is still lacking. The sailing aspect of the game is relatively simple in terms of raising your anchor, hoisting the sails, angling them into the wind, and steering the ship from the helm. However, there could still be MORE. For instance, the game is about Pirates and you can't raise a flag, it would be amazing to run into ships and either flag them down as allies or raise the black right before you try to plunder their vessel. Sure you can get drunk and throw buckets of vomit at people, but I think that along with the fun goofiness of this cartoonish pirate world, they could add elements of realism that would help with player communication. The game should be about making allies just as much as it creates enemies.

Sea of Thieves is barebones, but it's a fun set of barebones that players can stomp around in and fulfill their childhood dreams of piracy. The lore of the world is vague enough to keep you interested without losing its mystery, and curiosity is around every corner. Keep in mind, this game isn't about the destination, its about the journey. As cliche as it sounds, this game was MEANT to be played with friends, it's about making memories more than it is about making gold, and it achieves that surprisingly well. I haven't laughed or cried as passionately playing a game like this in years; whether my pals and I were finding treasure on sunken ships or sailing to the blood red seas at the edge of the world, or even just taking in the beauty of the Aurora Borealis while we played a song on our musical instruments, multiplayer sessions became something more than just the monotonous competitive run and gun of your competitive PVP formats. Those moments become bonds of endearing friendship.

The game is not for everyone, but it made enough of an impression for me to give it a chance, and while the core mechanics of the game is relatively bare, I'm excited to see the new content they have in store for the future. It's far from perfect, but for the meantime, I'll be having a blast sailing with my friends out there, on the Sea of Thieves.

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