It is easy to see why there are so many poems about the ocean. “My heart lies in the sea, at anchor”, and so forth. Not many games manage capture this feeling, an intangible, deep enjoyment of sailing. Not only does Rare Ltd pull it off but spectacularly so, crafting an experience so engrossing time slips away, day turns to night as you navigate under starry water-colored skies. But this is no ordinary seafaring simulator – these waters are a veritable nest of knives; a voyage punctuated by completely unhinged PvP hijinks and peril. Sea of Thieves is a masterpiece-in-progress.
Pirates, In Progress
The beta being a slice of early gameplay features just one of the quest-giving characters at the starting island, and most of the character or ship customization has been kept under wraps for now. Your pirate is randomly generated for the beta, and you start with all of the basic equipment you’ll need and a ship appropriate to the size of your crew. If you begin alone or with just one teammate, you have a single mast, two-cannon ship that is smaller, fast and relatively easy to manage. Team up with three friends and you get an impressive warship with three masts and a mouthful of cannons, but have more to manage in terms of keeping sail length and angle ideal for wind conditions. Other tasks aboard include repairing the hull should it be damaged by rocks or cannon fire, bailing water from any number of ways it can get aboard, reloading cannons and keeping a sharp eye out for other ships. Between destinations you can get fall-down drunk, dance and play music together with your crew. Players must communicate to navigate, as the ships map and wheel cannot easily be crewed by the same person – and definitely not when the pressure is on. It is important that everyone on the crew is able to do most of the tasks required to keep the ship off the rocks and in fighting shape, as once combat starts all hell breaks loose.
Dying in PvP is worth a brief stay on a ghostly Ferry of the Damned; a short time-out before returning near your last location. Shoot, stab and outwit the opposing crew, steal any treasure they may have had and protect your own. Escape, or for the truly committed: sink their ship. More than likely, a lot of the above with perhaps a pursuit mixed in. The penalties for dying are only relative to the risk of losing the treasure chests, for which the treasure maps may have cost some gold. This dynamic fuels a nothing to lose, winner takes all spirit. As of closed beta there is no strict PvP ranking, scoring, tracking or advancement other than the standard advancement for turning in a treasure chest. As-is, this works great and keeps superfluous concepts of kill-death ratio off the table, and negates some potential for griefing or other bad behavior. That isn’t to say you wouldn’t run the chance of encountering a crew with underhanded intentions or find yourself attacked while vulnerable, but rather that the reward for attacking a smaller crew isn’t measurably better than sailing to find your own treasure, nor is the setback for failure. As the game heads to retail release I hope any system added later to augment or celebrate PvP maintains some code of honor to preserve the current zany feel of ship to ship combat.
In spirit of full disclosure, my very first treasure chest was quickly swiped by a pirate who had trailed me to the island and watched me dig it up. He however had forgot to put anchor down on his own ship. I didn’t get the chest back, but he had a long swim back to that ship, if he ever got there. I think I saw sharks. Lessons, learnt.
Scanning the horizon
Tangle with a few well-coordinated crews and you’ll develop a good habit to mind the horizon. You will also do well to keep good friends. Sailing alone, as well described right in the opening menu of the game is quite dangerous. Crewing your ship solo is difficult enough without a cannon in sight, and truly frightening when you spot the topsail of a triple mast ship… with lanterns dimmed and bow in your direction.
Beta only provides a basic glimpse at how character advancement will work, which appears to follow an intuitive “get maps and find treasure” curve. More advance maps have multiple treasure chests and may also require solving riddles or locating and defeating enemies. As you rank up better gear and more advanced objectives unlock. Presumably this will include ship and character customization in final release.
I really enjoyed every minute of beta, and am excited to see the final work at release. I recorded a few clips of solo game play from one of my return voyages, mostly just sailing, but they show a glimpse of how pretty the game is.
I hope to see you on the high seas!