Rare's piratical sandbox adventure started off good and then got better and better.
Rare's online pirate-themed open-world sandbox adventure launched a little light on content, but over the year the studio has poured more and more into the game, adding richness and gameplay variety to a title that was already engaging and full of light-hearted fun. Sea of Thieves is, for want of a better description, a scallywag simulator. It's a game where it pays to sneak aboard another ship, grab someone else's hard-earned loot when they ain't looking, and then jump off so you can cash it in and steal their winnings. That said, there's something to be said of the benefits of cooperation, and over the year we've seen plenty of crews come together in search of shared glory and mutual remuneration.
Rare has gone to great lengths to build tools that facilitate these shared adventures for unconnected players, whether they're in the same team or on opposite ends of a spyglass and looking to collaborate on a particularly dangerous assignment. There's often a thin line between friendship and rivalry in Sea of Thieves that makes it an experience unlike any other, where one minute you might be working with another crew to take down a particularly demanding challenge, and the next moment one crew is chasing the other after they made off with the loot.
The colourful art-style stops things from being overburdened by seriousness, and we think that the quality of the overall visual design is absolutely sensational, with characterful pirates battling sinister-looking skeletons and sharks, digging for treasure on lush islands, and chasing quirky-looking chickens to trade in later for some gold. And then there's the water, which needs a special mention. Let's call it what it is: the best in-game water ever. That might not sound like a particularly big deal, but in a game that's all about sailing into the sunset, it makes all the difference. Whether you're coasting across sun-kissed waters or zigzagging through stormy waves, the physics look and feel so authentic that it's hard not to be impressed by the technical quality of what has been created.
The bold art and superb water physics feed into the overall atmosphere of a game that revels in being just a little bit cheeky. The design, in general, is cohesive to an impressive degree, and the audio effects complement some deft visual touches that really bring the world to life, meaning we were utterly immersed in the world whenever we visited it. Indeed, one of our favourite moments of 2018 was when we stepped onboard for the very first time, and we could do nothing more than soak up the incredible atmosphere. Sea of Thieves took us to another time, another place, another world, and although it's far from perfect in many respects, there are very few games that can match it in terms of elegant design.
When we reviewed the game back in March we criticised the lack of content, but we also noted that Sea of Thieves at launch was just the start for a game that would then be expanded with new activities and challenges to overcome. Since then we've seen some significant updates, adding new quest-types, environmental dangers, and more. If things had been left as they were at launch, there's no chance we'd be talking about the game here, but Rare has done a sterling job of supporting it, talking with the community, and implementing changes based on the feedback they've received during that time.
That proactive approach has allowed the studio to build on the rock-solid foundations that were laid down and revealed properly back in March, and the game has improved a lot since then. It certainly helped that the community that has built around it is rather strong, reinforced no doubt by its inclusion on Xbox Game Pass, a move which turned out to be mutually beneficial. The improvement we've seen since the game launched looks set to continue into next year too, with new ways to play the game already preparing to set sail, including more focused adversarial modes for those looking for danger. Given how much fun we had with Sea of Thieves this year, you can bet your peg leg that we'll be revisiting this plunder-filled world of adventure in 2019 as we search for more hijinx on the high seas.