It's kind of hard to not want to jump right into Rare's upcoming, super-charming, pirate adventure. The graphics look really awesome, the co-op aspect of it is hilarious, and the quest for loot is tempting. Rare has been working on Sea of Thieves for quite some time by now, and they've been inviting lucky souls to take part in their technical alphas throughout the last few months. It's shaping up to be an exciting game set in a shared-world where you could, if you wanted to, simply stand around on your ship and drink some rum, or play the accordion with your friends. It's up to you.
That is one of the things that looks so inviting with Sea of Thieves; you can enter its world and do whatever you want to do, anything you're in the mood for. Stories will be created by players in a number of ways, that's for sure. We got to play what was actually quite an extensive demo at E3, as part of a full team of happy pirates, and we came away from it wanting more.
The setup and immediate goal was simple. Look at your treasure map, find that treasure, carry it back to the ship, fighting some nasty skeletons on the way. If you happen to be the lucky bastard who's carrying the treasure, you better hope that your team has got your back, otherwise it might be tough to make it back in one piece (although players share the loot out evenly, so they've every incentive to protect you). To find the sweet, sweet gold you must first locate which island it's on, then you've got to travel to that island, which might be easier said than done, especially if you're playing with random people and not a dedicated group of friends.
You need to coordinate everybody on the boat just to get it to move. Someone has to steer while somebody else hoists the sails, and then another person needs to keep lookout and keep an eye on wherever it is you're heading to. When you finally spot the island in question you will have to leave the ship and swim the final stretch. Oh, and then you've got to find the dig site.
"You've got the freedom to assign roles dynamically, that's what makes the game so different," design director Mike Chapman told us at E3. "Because you see all these kind of possibilities in the world and your crew reacts differently. But the skill of that, imagine the communication, that's what makes the difference between good crews and excellent crews. It's how they communicate, how they strategise in the world, how they work together as a pirate crew, that's what makes a difference."
On the islands you need to be aware of your surroundings because the layouts are not only complex and confusing, there might even be enemies lurking below the sand, waiting for someone like you to put a foot wrong. In terms of the combat in Sea of Thieves, we had access to a basic rifle and a pistol, and they pack quite the punch while also being kind of difficult to use. The skeletons that pop up from the ground don't just stand around waiting to be hit either, they will try to circle around you making it a lot harder to line up those headshots properly.
There are of course battles at sea as well - ship versus ship - and these showdowns are actually really interesting. Again, you really need your crew to work together, each one of you doing your part, because those cannons won't fire by themselves and someone has to steer the ship and line up those shots properly. These skirmishes get really intense, but it feels great when smoke fills the skies and the debris floats in your wake as your crew sails away victorious.
Guns, skeletons, pirates and treasures aside, what really matters in Sea of Thieves is just that, the sea. The vast ocean is gorgeous while still frightening to look at, and it hides a lot of secrets that only the bravest adventurers will ever find. Even after we'd played it at E3, it's hard to speculate at this point in time everything that we'll be able to do in the final game, but we're sure there will be a lot of ocean to explore in the final game. Just look out for the sharks.
"There is going to be a whole variety of quests," Chapman explained, without giving too much away. "So we've showed off treasure hunting, which is a classic pirate trope. Players are going to spend time in the outposts, they'll be able to visit NPCs to get quests, quests that are around different play styles. Then you head out there into the world, anything can happen along the way."
One thing that it certainly looks like it won't be, is a linear advanture, mostly due to the shared-world setup. "You'll be playing with different people, so it's not about having a linear story, but it's about having a meaningful progression of quests. So the more you play the game [...] the more these quests mechanics will reveal themselves to you. So you'll still feel like you're going on that pirate journey."
From what we can tell, you're going to have a good time in Sea of Thieves, especially if you set sail with some loot-hungry friends. Exactly how the overall setup will work or what your end goal might be is still a mystery, but everything in between should make you laugh, cry and scream, possibly all at the same time. But that's what any good game should do, right?