The long awaited Sea of Thieves finally releases this March, and to tease us further- and presumably iron out some of the bugs – the closed Beta has kicked off. We were lucky enough to set sail and enjoy what’s on offer in the multiplayer focus pirate sim, and so far we’re impressed.
Indeed, the beta is pretty bare bones but gives you a pleasant feel for the missions and multiplayer hijinks, both cooperatively and competitively. Three options are available in the lobby: solo players and two player crews receive a two gun, single mast sloop while four players receive an eight gun, three mast galleon. The experience of sailing each of the ships is significantly different; turning circles, sail positions, multiple decks, everything is scaled up and made that much more complex to meet larger player numbers. It’s great.
The sloop is small enough to manoeuvre quickly and allows the helmsman to see ahead of them without too much obstruction. Meanwhile, the sails of the galleon easily block the view of the helmsman, leaving you at the mercy of your crew to help navigate the high seas. However, even with good visibility, navigating to specific islands really requires two people, the aforementioned helmsman as well as someone reading the map in the captain’s quarters and shouting up compass headings. Additionally, the sails need raising and lowing to manage speed, as well as angling to best catch the wind. Then there’s the dropping and raising of the anchor to stop and start your vessel, the arming and firing of cannon, and the patching up of holes and bailing of water to keep you afloat. There’s plenty of jobs for the crew to get involved with, and after a little practice you can become a well-oiled machine of pirating.
Managing your ship is but one aspect of the experience, combat with other vessels and island fortresses, as well as going ashore on islands to search for treasure are also present. Right now the treasure seeking is facilitated through missions – or voyages as they are known in Sea of Thieves. These can be purchased from a vendor at outposts then activated in the captain’s quarters. You’ll be given a map of an island which you need to find on the ship’s larger map, sail to the island, then dig at the red cross, or sometimes you’re offered a destination and a riddle to solve to determine the whereabouts of the treasure. These span different lengths of time, with half day voyages taking you to one destination and full day ones taking you to multiple.
Completing these voyages means finding treasure chests then bringing them back to an outpost to sell them, granting you gold you can use to purchase new items. Currently, at least two of the stores appear to be closed, a mystical shop and the blacksmiths, however several others offer new equipment to buy as well as cosmetic items. The missions can then be repeated but fortunately the island destinations are random so it’s not a matter of returning to the same old islands again and again. Still, it does get repetitive after a while.
Unfortunately, beyond these treasure seeking voyages the islands don’t currently hold any mysteries or treasures to entice you to explore. The teasers and trailers over the past two years promise much more than the beta offers, it’s just a shame we can’t experience any of it just yet. However, sunken treasure can be found from the ruins of ships, with some of these treasure chests inducing a status effect on you while you carry them, so exploring the oceans has at least some reward. And venturing into the depths and facing off again sharks is truly terrifying, despite the cartoon visuals.
Speaking of visuals, Sea of Thieves looks stunning. The carton visuals are crisp and full of character, meanwhile, remarkably realistic lighting really bring everything to life. Add to that some of the best water visuals I’ve ever tipped my digital toe in, as well as excellent, thundering cannon and firearms sound effects and a varied assortment of pirate themed music you and your crew can play with the instruments you carry, and you have top notch presentation.
But of course, the true meat of the game is when you face off against other players. The complexity of efficiently managing a ship mixed with the intensity of player verse player combat results in some heart pounding and truly enjoyable competitive multiplayer. Meeting another vessel on the ocean and exchanging fire through cannons, pistols and the neat sniper rifles you also hold, proves to be thoroughly entertaining, especially as you patch up holes in your vessel and desperately bail out water to try and keep her afloat. Additionally, firing yourself or a crew mate via the cannons onto an enemy ship is hilarious each and every time.
You can get a small taste of the combat and hilarity that can ensue from a meeting of two player ships in our video below:
When you die it’s off to a wonderfully creepy ship of the damned while you wait for a door to open and bring you back to life, which only take a minutes or so. When back amongst the living you respawn on or near your ship, allowing you to get back into the fight very quickly. This is a blessing and a curse. For those that have died, it’s a relief to so quickly get back into the action, but for the victors it means respites are few and far between and stealing another crew’s vessel isn’t really viable. Stealing treasure chests, on the other hand, is absolutely possible, so some good old fashioned pirating can still be done without resorting to sinking your victim’s ship, although the temptation is mighty strong. And if your ship does go down, all the treasure chest aboard are lost but a merman appears to teleport you to an outpost where a new ship awaits. It all works together to make the action intense and satisfying yet the lull after the battle short enough so the defeated can get back to pirating before any frustration kicks in.
Right now, beyond the odd cannon emplacement firing at you from an island, a few skeletons rising from the earth, and those terrifying sharks, there’s not much to fear during exploration. We’re sure they’ll be more to come when Sea of Thieves launches in March, and we can’t wait to see it. Already we know islands will hold more mysteries to uncover and a Kraken lurks beneath the waves, what we hope to see are AI ships we can engage, more quest givers beyond the creepy chap in the tents at outposts, More ship variety supporting large groups of players or fleet support for multiple groups, but I guess time will tell as to what the full package contains. Certainly, from what we’ve seen so far, we’re impressed and excited for March.