Rare's swashbuckling adventure Sea of Thieves has finally hit the shores of PC and Xbox One allowing many of us to live out our childhood dreams of being a pirate. The long-anticipated nautical adventure has spent four years in development and sees players band together with a crew of equally scurvy-ridden sea dogs in search of adventure and precious booty. The title is the first Xbox One exclusive of 2018 and has launched as part of Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft's games on demand service that has been touted as the Netflix of gaming. So, is Sea of Thieves the system seller that the Xbox One desperately needs, or is it just another shipwreck in a vast ocean of missed opportunities?
After selecting your pirate hero from a rather limited character creator, you are then set free to begin your adventure. By speaking to merchants across the island, you can purchase quests from the three main factions: the Gold Hoarders, Merchant Alliance, and the Order of Souls. These see you hunting for treasure chests, capturing pigs and chickens, and laying to rest skeleton crews that haunt the shores of nearby islands. After voting on which voyage to undertake, your crew must identify which way to head, working cooperatively to reach your destination and keep things afloat.
Sailing alone is an option, but it's not much fun and we would strongly recommend that you recruit a crew. There's flexibility here, however, as pairs can select speedy sloops that are easier for small crews to handle, while larger groups (up to four-strong) can opt to sail out in a galleon. Playing together in a team you can split duties between each other, so one of you can check the map while someone else can steer the ship, with another player adjusting the sails. When playing alone there are simply too many responsibilities to handle and you'll find yourself constantly having to abandon the ship's helm to complete other urgent tasks. Fending off attacking groups of skeleton soldiers can also be difficult alone as they easily outnumber you and will respawn during Order of Souls quests. Fortunately, if you don't have any others to play with, there's a seamless matchmaking system and there are text commands for those without a mic. It's not ideal, and we'd recommend playing with friends in a party, but at least there are options for lone sailors.
Gold coins earnt from voyages can be spent on a boatload of cosmetic items for your weapons, ship, and character. Among our favourite purchases were an eye patch, a shiny new accordion, and a spooky lantern illuminated by the souls of skeleton warriors. As you do more quests for each faction your rank with them will strengthen and you'll be able to undertake more advanced quests. Cosmetic items serve as the main form of reward for quests as there's no levels and XP or stat upgrades for your character or gear. This lack of progression outside of upgrading your relations with the three factions will certainly disappoint some, but we understand that Rare was seeking to create an experience where every player is equal.
Perhaps our largest complaint with Sea of Thieves is that its gameplay loop feels repetitive due to a lack of variation in voyages. You'll find yourself repeating the same three fetch quests with the more difficult ones just adding riddles and additional objectives to spice things up. Due to this, it's easy to feel like you've seen everything the title has to offer after just a few trips across the ocean. Exploration is, of course, a great timesink here but if you're playing with a group of strangers you'll likely want to do something that's more focused. These quests offer a solid foundation, but we just wish there was more here to keep players engaged in the long-run, and for those who take comfort from playing within a defined narrative structure, there's just not enough here at launch.