The Kraken. When you think of it, you imagine a massive sea monster with gigantic tentacles and a mouth that could swallow a ship whole. It is always a crucial piece of any pirate fantasy, and of course couldn’t be left out of Sea of Thieves. The beast can attack any given player’s ship as a randomized event; sending its tentacles flailing out of the water in an aggravated display of power. At face value, the Kraken is huge, and its daunting. However, if you go below the surface of the water, you can’t see the monster, only the black ink around it. In fact, there is no body at all, Rare only modeled the tentacles and blacked out the rest to make the monster appear as if it were there. The same thing can be said about Sea of Thieves itself, and when looking below the surface of the game, nothing really seems to be there.
Sea of Thieves is an open world pirate adventure game. It is a multiplayer sandbox playground for any player to become what Rare calls “Pirate Legend.” Players sail the open seas looking for treasure, taking out skeletons, and fighting other pirates going on adventures of their own. Every adventure is based on emergent gameplay, meaning gameplay that thrives on randomness. Sea of Thieves wants the player to have their own unique pirating stories to tell, like a player going treasure hunting, only to run into another ship, and fight for so long that a storm comes and throws everyone off course in a frenzy of lightning and waves. Maybe a player wants to shoot themselves out of a cannon and onto the nearest island, finding themselves face to face with angry skeletons.
For my first few hours in the game, I was completely enthralled with the beautiful pirate world. Everything is so colorful, and the water looks incredible. I have never seen an ocean with waves that looked and felt so realistic in a game until now. Sailing on that water was my favorite part of the game and it takes up most of the time played. Sails must be raised and lowered, or turned depending on the direction of the wind. The anchor has to be manually controlled and, of course, you must steer the ship and follow your compass at the same time. This is even harder, but more engaging with a full four-man crew.
Whether by myself, or with friends in a crew, I spent those few hours picking up quests from one of three factions, completing the quest, and returning it for some gold. In turn, the gold is used to buy a very limited selection of cosmetic items to make you look a little more like that legend. It was all incredibly fun at first, as each island was new, and I was excited to see where the game might take my crew mates and I as we sailed around, trolling each other for a majority of the game. Sea of Thieves truly shines when playing with others, but when I picked up the game the next night and the night after that, I began to really see below the mesmerizing surface.
On day three, I was doing the same exact quests that I was doing on day one, only having to stop at an extra island or two along the way. By this point I had already seen every island, attacked a skeleton fort, and fought other four player crews, yet I was exactly where I was when I first started the game. There is almost no progression at all to be had, like a leveling system or new upgrades; there is only the limited cosmetics. This keeps the PvP aspect of the game at a level playing field, but PvP isn’t deep mechanically in the slightest, and there isn’t much skill involved at all, so progress in terms of skill is not rewarding. Not to mention that defeating another crew and taking their loot means nothing, because all you get is more gold to buy a new jacket or red stripes on your boat.
If Sea of Thieves had a story, the lack of deep PvP and player progression might be overlooked, but there is absolutely no story. The game relies on the emergent gameplay to tell a story, but what happens when nothing emerges? Or what happens when the low amount of content that can be seen entirely in a day or two is no longer interesting? Players are then met with a stale and boring experience that gets old quick.
Even the world itself feels static and deprived of content. Every island contains the same barrels of bananas, planks, and cannon balls, with the occasional extra chest, but because there is no new equipment to get, exploring is pointless. Each enemy you find on an island is also the same. There are skeletons, metal skeletons, and sometimes tougher black skeletons. They are extremely easy to kill, and they also offer nothing in terms of reward, skill progression, or sheer excitement. This lack of reward or incentive can also plague the PvP aspect as well, with players attacking ships over and over again when they have no treasure. When you die, you simply go to a spirit realm for thirty seconds, then come back an island away with a new ship and no penalty. I tried it myself, and I was able to continually attack a crew eight times as I grew bored of sailing from island to island on errands, and I even got some of their loot. They had no way of stopping me, and I was a pest ruining the game for that short period of time. It was funny to me and my crew, but is certainly frustrating to the other crew, as I have been on the tail end as well.
So, what exactly lies beneath the surface of the spectacularly crafted ocean of Sea of Thieves? A regrettably unfinished game with loads of potential. The foundation is there, and there is a beautiful coat of paint. I truly wanted to the game to be great, and that first day was genuinely exciting, but there is nothing here. There is no story, there is no progression, and the PvP feels like a mini game gimmick compared to so many other PvP games out there right now; which are also cheaper than $60. Sea of Thieves doesn’t know what kind of game it is and suffers entirely because of it, becoming an ocean that is miles wide on the surface, but only a few feet deep below.