As Sick Critic’s resident Xbox One user, this was a worrisome time.
While it’s well-established that Microsoft and console exclusives go together as well as their audience does with a DRM, Xbox really needed something gripping as of late. Crackdown 3 is still a long way away, and you’re off your rocker if you think State of Decay 2 is going to attain mass appeal. My point is that with a game like Sea of Thieves, you seemingly couldn’t go wrong.
Sea of Thieves is the first game that developer veterans Rare have released in 11 years. ELEVEN, not counting the superb Rare Replay collection. The last time Rare donned a massive AAA title was the rather humdrum Kameo: Elements of Power, a title that had the soul of a Rare title, but no punch behind it. Since the Kinect fell through, Microsoft threw them back into the coal mines for Sea of Thieves, a game that’s been seeing a lot of buzz from all angles.
There’s no story behind anything, you’re just playing as some randomly-generated deck swabber, and with the choice of a Galleon or a Sloop, the world is now yours to explore. If you actually want context behind your adventures, there are three enterprises that you can do certain missions for, be it delivery, bounty hunting, or treasure hunting. From there on, you just have to grab 3 of your friends, and this sea is yours to plunder, cap’n.
Admittedly, I’m not the biggest fan of pirates. I believe that Curse of The Black Pearl is the best piece of pirate-related media… ever, and the line is drawn there. However, you couldn’t stop me from donning the hat and an eye-patch, ready to make these waters my own. We here at Sick Critic jumped onto the game together, and here’s the leader, Devin Pratt, with his capsule review!
“Sea of Thieves needs as many patches as your ship does right before sinking.”
– David Fraley, PR Manager, founder of the LawBreakers Defense Unit
Ah. You see, this is where the metaphorical ship breaks down.
Let it not be said that the game didn’t start off promising. In fact, one might compare it to the first few hours that similar false-starter No Man’s Sky gave us. Before we get to that however, the character “customization” needs to be addressed, or rather, the lack thereof. Instead of making your character from the ground up, Rare gives you a roulette wheel of 6 randomly generated boys and girls, which begs the question:-
If you were so proficient as to make a random number generator, with all of these different algorithms put into making your character you, then why not just put the middleman of customization in? There is no concrete reason as to why it should be omitted, and no matter how hard you try, you simply won’t get a pirate who isn’t ugly, fat, skipped leg day, or some combination of the above.
Regardless, when you’ve made your grotesque pirate, you’re plopped onto one of the island outposts, where a safe haven is all but guaranteed. In reality, as soon as you spawn in, you’re anybody’s game, be it the skeletons or the sporadic player ships you’ll come across. That’s good, it brings more immediacy to the objective at hand, which is… erm… hmm… I’ll get back to you on that.
We already know that there are actual things to do, but it all boils down to “go to a thing, find a thing, and bring it back to the place”, with only the delivery missions having a set time limit and specific goal location. It’s a shame because the delivery missions are an utterly miserable slog, but we’ll get to that. First, let’s christen the ship.
Here we are, on the SS Big Booty, and it is exhilarating. The sea was in our hairs, the islands dotted around provided wonderful vistas from our crow’s nest, and the environment was comfy to the point of charming. Sailing the ship perfectly was difficult, as it’s meant to be. With a coordinated team, however, it’s a breeze and easily the highlight of the game. Riding with your buddies through this endless ocean is an unmatched feeling.
You could all be in a Kuruma in Grand Theft Auto, a Dacia in PUBG, or any other co-op adventure, and nothing would compare to the sights held here… well, when the horizon isn’t rendering, at least, but that’s the least of our issues. After an hour in, the high had disappeared, and we began to question what the point of anything was.
You see, the world of Sea of Thieves is kind of like ordering rice as a main course. You’re weird if you think it’s serviceable, and you’re unaware of the possibilities that could be expanded upon. Yeah, sure, there are missions to do, but what does that go towards? Gold. Gold that simultaneously goes towards nothing substantial, aside from cosmetic items. Cosmetic items that aren’t that cool.
From hooks to peglegs, from gun camos to ship skins, everything’s on display for a really hefty price. Prices that will take a long long time for you to cough up the cash for. When you do finally get that 50k in order to paint your ship black, you get that bittersweet feeling, where you realize that no one is going to look at the ship, or you, for that matter. Also, paying for facial customization is stupid, especially considering just how crap the character customization is in the first place. I mean, where’s my ship upgrades or weapons variations? Everything looks the same.
I know why they’ve done this “cosmetic-only” route. It’s so the whale with 4000 dollars to spend doesn’t grief you with the Blackbeard Dick Slapper 5000™ that he got from his premium Pirate’s Booty Loot Box, but this is easily solvable. How you ask? You make all of the ship abilities passive. Faster speeds, faster-turning sails, a more slender ship or… whatever. Yeah, it might make some victories a bit cheaper, but considering just how borderline-broken the PVP is in the first place, I want something else to work with.
Whatever servers Sea of Thieves works on must be stitched up with boot strings and Pritt Sticks. Constant stutter lag is the dish of the day, with your character sometimes just deciding to say “YEET” and jump out of the boat for no reason. Pairing this with the occasional ship skirmishes was lethal, and brought up an even bigger flurry of problems, those relating to the utterly crap combat.
Against skeletons, your shit pirate will do well. Sure, the A.I is near brain-dead, but they’re easy to fight, they telegraph their melee attacks, and there’s a fun level of skill behind the higher-up skeleton captains. When it came to other players? It’s whoever draws the Blunderbuss first, and even then, it depends on who the server favours. We here at Sick Critic practically gave this pirate the ED-209 treatment with our Blunderbusses, and he still managed to one-shot all of us and sink the ship. ON HIS OWN. We were in shock.
The guns can also get fed to the dogs. Your Flintlock Pistol is useless against anything that decides to move, and the Blunderbuss’s range can vary on the tip of a hat. The Sniper? It’s not even worth talking about, it is such a non-option of a weapon that you might as well throw wooden planks at your adversaries.
“Oh, but what about the rest of the world?!”
Even if you were to avoid the see-saw of non-quality combat, and focus on grinding your gold to a respectable number, the world-building does absolutely nothing to welcome you. The soundtrack is non-existent, and the audio mixing so bad, that no amount of option fiddling will be able to save you from the unending drones of the crashing waves. When you do finally get to an island, it’s all about running around like a headless chicken until you stumble into your objective or vice versa.
Again, yes, that’s fine on its own, but why was so much effort put into the background detail only for it to not pay off? When searching random islands and coves, you’ll occasionally come across a small cavern or shrines dedicated to caveman drawings and possible Gods. “Hmm”, you think, “Maybe this will lead into a story element, and we can get some context behind this land and who really gove–” Calm down there, Big Brain, Microsoft doesn’t believe you can think that hard.
No amount of delving into supposed lore will reveal any nuggets of knowledge. Your actions have no consequences. Your swordsman skills won’t get you recognition and fame, and no matter how many jobs you complete for these boring individuals, you won’t gain any respect. The goal of Sea of Thieves is to fill a bar. Once that bar is filled? Fill it again, but better, and hope that the servers don’t crash this time.
See, this is the problem with relying on player interactions for your main source of entertainment and tying all your progress to servers; at any time, said servers could fizzle out briefly and all that effort? Lost. I lost a possible 40,000 gold because it booted me out of the game, and what happened? GONE! All of it! All those chests and bounties, vanished, like tears in the pissing rain.
Aside from frequent server downtime, the game also hosts a multitude of glitches for your starry eyes to behold: moonwalking underwater, too many cannons firing at the same time causing the game to crash, and the Galleon ships looking like they’re trying to breakdance if you zoom in on them from about a mile away. The latter ended up being one of the highlights throughout my 30-hour playthrough, but what did you expect when this game offers nothing?
There is one final kernel of hope, however. If Rare could pull this off, then all would be forgiven. After all, it’s one of the game’s only selling points, and if they messed this up? Then a plague on both Rare and Microsoft’s houses. You already know what I’m talking about, it’s the Kraken, baby. That big ol’ tentacled bastard of the Seven Seas.
First off, you have to wander about the place hoping that you’re near his spawn point. A Kraken will spawn if you attempt to escape the map, but that’s invincible, as far as I’m aware. Scouting around the map for its possible location, the game crashed twice when we were in proximity to the beast because of course it fucking did.
The third time was the charm, however, as we finally came face-to-face with the monster. Loading our cannons and training our sights, we gave our new friend the grapeshot treatment for a good while and it was glorious! We were having this bombastic fight that wasn’t exceeding expectations but dammit, it was the only thing waking us up at that point. Finally, the Kraken faltered, the blood, sweat, and tears of our characters telling the story.
We were in a state of euphoria, all of that hard work finally felling the beast. Now, what would you say is going to be the reward for conquering such a worthy adversary? A chest filled with a massive pile of gold? Exclusive cosmetic items, like a shirt that says “I Killed A Kraken, And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt”? No? Well, what then?
One achievement. 15 Gamerscore. That’s it. I just… I give up on you, Rare.
I don’t care about your achievements, and I don’t care for the excuse of “personal accomplishment”, because once that Kraken returns, it just becomes busy work. If there was a REWARD for the actions, then yeah, I’d put more incentive towards facing the beast again, but there isn’t. It’s just there, plopped into the game because “Iunno, it luks kewl!”
There’s absolutely nothing that this game has, that other games have done better. Black Flag is a more interesting swashbuckling adventure. Blackwake puts more of an effort behind the combat, The Solus Project offers better beach-side vistas, and Halo 3 has better water graphics. The only thing Sea of Thieves has going for it is that it has better fish A.I than Call of Duty: Ghosts.
In the end, Sea of Thieves made me bitter, as it was another product that is more proof-of-concept than anything released recently, with the insult coming from the fact that it’s an AAA title that Microsoft needed. It’s incredible that the game launches with fewer things to do than Destiny did in its first year, so kudos to Rare for that, and a swift middle finger. “Oh, but more content will be coming soon!!” No. The damage has been dealt.
No amount of content planned can excuse the fact that Sea of Thieves has the most boring world recently put into a video game. Dull combat, dull sailing, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it battles, and a meager reward for your hard work makes this game one that needs to be avoided. The once-magic touch of Rare’s skill has been lost, and now Sea of Thieves can join the Conker revival and the death of Perfect Dark as one of the many fumbles the Rare + Microsoft pairing has had. Woe. Woe and misery.
Actually, if Crackdown 3 suffers the same fate, then that’s it. Bugger this generation, I’m going back to the Commodore 64.
This review of Sea of Thieves is based on the Xbox One version of the game.
Whatever promise Sea of Thieves had at the beginning falters soon after, to the point where this is a hot contender for The Most Boring Game of 2018.
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