Ready for a proper pirate adventure? Better get your mates together! Sea of Thieves is a co-op pirate game coming in 2018 for Windows 10 and Xbox One, and after a low-key reveal at last year’s E3, it’s got plenty of wind it its sails at this year’s show.
In Sea of Thieves, you’re part of a pirate crew — you can dispense commands to your fellow pirates, but you’d better expect them to talk back. This is a co-op only game, so when you set sail, you’ll be doing it with three other players as part of a team. Voice chat is essential, with groups of players talking out plans to find some hidden treasure or jointly figuring out how to steer a ship through rough waters. It’s going to be the most fun with friends, but there is a matchmaking system the will group together solo players, too.
Once your crew is in the game, you’ll have a huge open world of high seas and islands filled with hidden treasure, quests, and skeletons proficient in firing cannon. The development team used a lighthearted design, and while the calm (or choppy) seas look terrific, you’re mostly looking at environments on the cartoonish side. The visuals definitely don’t take full advantage of the new power in the Xbox One X (except for the sky and water, which will now look amazing in every game ever), but we’re betting more refinements will be made before the game is released next year.
We haven’t even gotten to the best part of the game. There’s something much more dangerous lurking on those seas — other players. While you’re sailing, you might see another ship on the horizon manned by a crew of four players just like you, and because this is a rad pirate game, what else are you going to do but pull up broadside and instruct your crew to fire away? I mean, you can trade with them, I guess, but that’s not very piratey.
If your ship is on the receiving end of a cannonball, you’ll need to take action to stay afloat. Holes in the hull will need to be patched up, and you’ll have to use buckets to toss water out of the depths of your ship. The mechanics aren’t complicated — these are all simple one-button actions — but it gets surprisingly fun when you and your fellow players really get into the action over chat.
When you do encounter other players, the game does the coolest thing with voice chat. During the game, your shipmates will always be able to hear you, but rival players on the map won’t — unless you’re near them. Want to raid someone else’s camp on the sly? You’ll have to agree to plan ahead and mute those mics when you pull up to the island to avoid drawing attention. Or, you might be doing some treasure hunting and hear voices approaching — get your party quiet, and you can try to figure out where the voices are coming from and stage an ambush.
If you want to roll with a new crew, that’s fine too. In Sea of Thieves, you’ll create your own character with their own wallet and gear that they’ll bring to each session, regardless of who you play with. That will include the plunder you’ve scored in other sessions, which you’ll get when you return hidden treasure chests to drop points scattered around the map.
A couple of us got to play through a half hour of the game, and it’s pretty fun! After we boarded our ship (some had more difficulties than others), we had to figure out how to set sail. This alone reveals what can make the game so fun — I took the wheel, while a couple other players raised anchor. Someone else took navigation duties, heading down to the cabin to peek at treasure maps and chart a course to the right island. They gave me guidance, which was much needed — when those sails are down, the captain can’t see past them! Meanwhile, another one of us clambered up to the crow’s nest to keep an eye out for rival ships. We absolutely found some, and I did my best to keep us in firing range while a few of us manned the cannons.
When we finally made it to dry land, we hopped off the ship and went chasing after that red X. We scattered, reading our maps and trying to get the lay of the land to find the hidden treasure. After a little skeleton slicing and land surveying, we dug up a suitably cursed-looking treasure chest and set sail once again. Exploring and sailing is light fun through and through, and the stakes are low — if you die (from rival pirate or hungry shark), you’ll just respawn on your ship after a few seconds.
But, the game relies heavily on team banter for fun. The mechanics — be it fixing the ship or fighting off a boarder from a rival ship — are very simple, and the AI skeletons are about as bright as you’d expect skeletons to be. The game was a blast for that half hour, but it’s easy to imagine it getting repetitive pretty fast. The trick for the developers at Rare will be to keep the ship afloat after launch — there’s a foundation for something great here, but to make up for shallower gameplay, they’re going to have to keep adding a lot of compelling new quests and events to keep players invested.
The game’s still six to nine months away from being completed, too, so expect a lot more news and improvements before the game comes out next year — the team has been doing a lot of alpha testing, making tweaks according to tester feedback. Right now, Sea of Thieves is expected to come out early 2018, and being a Microsoft Studios production, will be exclusive to Windows 10 and the Xbox One.
Check out more of our E3 2017 coverage right here!