Do you want a big ship or a small boat? And will your crew be little or large? These two questions are the first to greet you after you've selected your pirate in Sea of Thieves. What the former really means is choosing whether you master the waves in a sloop or a galleon, and after making that choice, choosing whether to play by yourself or with a friend in the small boat, or alternatively with a crew of three or four people in the big one.
It should be said straight away that Sea of Thieves is really not a game that will entertain the lonely among us. Of course, it's possible to sail around in a sloop, but it's completely impossible to beat the scurvy opponents that will appear from time to time. Therefore, first make sure you can't find someone else to play with, and if you can't consider choosing a bigger crew and hope that you're automatically paired with someone nice.
Once your adventure begins, you'll find yourself in a dark and gloomy bar with strange characters. No instructions are given otherwise, and it's easy to feel overwhelmed by what is basically a rather intuitive and easy-to-play title. With a press on the LB button you get your menu of items and there you'll find stuff including spades, binoculars, compasses and the like, and pressing X will give you additional options like instruments. Although you really don't need it, we recommend you start off your journey by walking to the bar and asking for some digital grog. Then select your tankard from the menu and have a nice drink. If you do that two or three more times, your trip in Sea of Thieves will start off as a stumble on unstable legs, but it feels in many ways fitting introduction to a game where everything is all about creating your own entertainment.
The first thing you should do since leaving the bar is to look for barrels nearby. The ship is waiting for you at the port, and regardless of what you're sailing, it has a fixed number of cannonballs, planks, and bananas on board. The cannonballs need no further introduction, but the planks you'll use to fix leaks in the hull, and the bananas give you health back. Bringing more of these resources gives you a small headstart as you'll have extra of everything.
You can choose the barrels on board and unload the stuff you're carrying, but you definitely need to keep a couple of each so they're ready when you need them. If there's a ship sailing against you and firing cannonballs, you want to quickly return fire and be able to reload, as well as fix holes in the hull without first having to fetch planks. On top of that, on almost every island you visit there are some barrels that contain the things you need replenish these three key supplies, so before you get off the boat make sure to store your bananas, planks, and cannonballs so you can bring even more back with you when you're done exploring.
But before we even start thinking about sailing somewhere, you need to get yourself a mission. Gold Hoarders, Merchant's Alliance and the Order of Souls are the three trading companies currently available for Sea of Thieves. Everyone offers simple missions to invite newcomers and we would recommend you start with Gold Hoarders, which you find in a tent near the boat dock. This is Sea of Thieves in its most primitive form; it's about treasure hunting and you're looking for a chest buried on an island somewhere. Naturally, a red X marks the spot.
The Merchant's Alliance, on the other hand, offers missions to collect animals. Initially, it's all about finding hens of different colours. Meanwhile, the Order of Souls offers battles with more difficult enemies. At most, you can have three assignments at a time, so when you've picked three you're ready to start off the adventure. The first thing you do when you go to the boat is to choose one of your missions and put it on the table in the cabin (people with experience of seafaring are more than welcome to criticise our lack of correct sailing terms). Your fellow players may do the same and then you vote on one of them. It is the majority decision that applies, so when someone gets enough votes it's time to start sailing.
Here we'd like to add that if you are doing a Merchant's Alliance mission, after the vote you need to go back to the person who has these missions (usually they're based on the dock) to pick up the cages you need to keep the birds. Otherwise, there are cages on some of the islands, but it is extremely unreliable and will make it take five times longer for you to complete the mission if you have to source the cages too. It's a mistake you'll only make once, and we should know as we've sailed for what feels like hours looking for the cage needed to complete the quest.
If you end up betting on a Gold Hoarders mission, tap RB to see your other radial menu, the one for mission objectives, maps, and any letters you might find in bottles. Choose it, then press LT to show it to your fellow players (it can save time sometimes) or RT to take a peek yourself. Remember how it looks and go to the table with the big map to locate the island, mark it with the A button, and then you're ready to set sail. If you chose one of the other two, you will either have to search for animals on your own or get instructions on where to find the enemy you are supposed to kill. Often these assignments are timed and you have a watch that you can check to see how long time you have left on this mission after it has been activated.
Before the anchor is raised, we suggest that all the cannons (two on a sloop, eight on the galleon) are loaded and that it's clearly communicated in which direction the person at the helm should steer. Then just hoist down the sail, rotate them for the best possible wind, and get going. Remember to keep track of the wind at all times, so it works with you and not against. The sail will need to be adjusted more than once if you want good speed - which gives you the opportunity to handle more missions on less time and thus make more money.