TL;DR Eh, probably not. But it was somewhat fun while it lasted!
When my household first dipped into Game Pass, Sea of Thieves almost immediately went on the “play later” list, along with several other multiplayer offerings. Like so many other live service games, this one came with its own story of redemption. After a rocky start in 2018, the game chugged along with lots of loyal fans in tow. Rare pushed out update after update, improvement after improvement, making the game bigger and better. Now in its seventh season, and having attracted the likes of one Jack Sparrow for a particularly intriguing storyline, SoT hasn’t shown any signs of letting up. As far as its community is concerned, it’s a pirate’s life or no life at all!
From my end, however, I can’t say of all the Xbox multiplayer opportunities, that SoT was high on my to-do list. Though I’ve become more receptive to playing multiplayer games/MMOs, it doesn’t mean that I outright enjoy them. I have come to appreciate the sense of comradery multiplayer instill, but it sits a far second from my preferred insular existence. This is why I’ve found that if I’m to have a lasting relationship with any multiplayer game, online or not, it has to either be able to be played solo or provide instanced sections to serve as respite from all the exterior nonsense. From all outward appearances, SoT had neither. I watched not only my husband try it out with a friend but also several other let’s plays of the, and all I saw was impossible progression thanks to all the “pirates” cannonballing each other’s ships. Truth be told, however, the game’s world and aesthetic courtesy of favorite developer Rare looked very compelling; and the exploration the game offered was right up my alley, so it wasn’t all bad at first glance.
Time passes, and eventually, over a quiet summer weekend, SoT comes up in our queue as a possibility, and I say…okay, sure. At that point, it had been quite a while since the game was on my radar, so I checked out its site while the game is downloading. Turned out that in the interim, Rare had added story-driven and mostly instanced adventures called “Tall Tales.” That sounded good to me! Upon finally getting into the game, we decided to tackle the most recent “Tall Tale” called “A Pirate’s Life,” which featured the aforementioned Jack Sparrow. While sailing from point to point occurred in SoT’s shared world, indeed, within each quest, it was just to two of us going about our business as pirates trying to solve what turned out to be an intriguing mystery.
As much as I might equate SoT to an MMO, that it is not. Rather, it’s a first-person, action-adventure, PVP sandbox. After choosing characters from a “wheel” of randomized looks – there is no character creator – players are let loose in the world, and that’s that. There’s no leveling, skill tree, or inventory to manage. Everyone’s equal from the beginning, with the same access to quests and resources, ships and cosmetics, with the latter available for purchase with gold, the in-game currency. (And there’s a shop in which to spend real money, of course.) There’s nothing available to give anyone a “leg up,” so to speak. Rather than levels, players gain “reputation” with the game’s trading companies, which offer various quests. Ship, weapon, and player customization is literally only skin deep; success is primarily derived through gathering enough resources, which can be lost, and teamwork, which can also be lost depending on how pirate-y people act. Customization is not required, however, for anything. With enough gold, players can purchase their own ships, but one will also be bestowed to groups – three different ships depending on the group’s size — upon starting. Players also receive two weapons, a gun and a sword, and the gun can eventually be swapped between short- and long-range versions. Adding cosmetics to a weapon makes them no more or less powerful or different in capabilities.
Once I got into the game, discovering all this mildly took me by surprise. For a time I kept expecting notifications to pop up telling me to check this, or apply points to that, or remember to clear my inventory, but nope, I was fully left to my own devices. (Not that the game has no notifications, there are plenty to help direct players across the seas.) Once we figured out how to group and start the five-episode adventure, “A Pirate’s Life,” we set off as strangers in a strange land. After letting go of any preconceived notions, we had fun! No kidding, each episode of the adventure proved truly enjoyable, with great storytelling thanks to the game’s rendition of Jack and Pirates of the Caribbean generally, both the famous Disney ride and movie franchise. Each episode featured a new area to explore, a decent amount of puzzle-solving, and combat that proved neither too easy nor too difficult. They were also nicely timed out at about two to three hours each (at least for us), the perfect length for an evening of gaming.
All this said, if “A Pirate’s Life” was a fun experience, why did it turn out that a pirate’s life wasn’t for me? Well, once we completed that journey, we were left with what the game actually was, a PVP sandbox. An older set of “Tall Tales,” offered something similar to “A Pirate’s Life,” except that they took place in the shared world, which opened us up to player attacks and intervention. Interestingly, while we were playing “A Pirate’s Life,” we never encountered a single other ship of players, even when the game indicated we were on the open seas, i.e. the shared world. But as soon as we ventured out in regular fashion, PVP happened almost instantly. (It felt a little forced, given that the game’s world is large and only a few ships are allowed per server.) Our crew of two tried to make it through a couple regular sessions with the game, but I’ll admit that I was the first to call it quits. I just don’t possess whatever mindset is necessary to enjoy PVP. It’s the one thing that will keep me away from any game in which it is the focus; and in SoT, it is definitely the focus.
If PVP is your bread-and-butter however, and you like the idea of being a pirate, you can’t go wrong with Sea of Thieves. The game looks great, plays great, and contains enough content to keep even the most diligent players busy for a while, “Tall Tales” included. As for me, while I did have fun dipping my toes into the game’s swashbuckling waters, pirate PVPing was tedious and unhappy. It’s best that I stick to solo adventures and merriment, because more happy and less angry is how I prefer to spend my gaming time.
All images, including lede, were captured by author during Xbox gameplay of Sea of Thieves (© Rare).