Sea of Thieves full review

Xbox fans would be forgiven for feeling that Rare hasn't always lived up to their hopes since the developer was acquired by Microsoft back in 2002, mostly producing remakes, Kinect party games, and the commercially disappointing Viva Piñata - all a far cry from the studios golden years for Nintendo, producing the likes of Donkey Kong Country, Banjo-Kazooie, and GoldenEye 007.

Enter Sea of Thieves, the number one game in the UK according to first-week sales. The vast online multiplayer pirate game has sparked hopes of a return to form for the fabled developer - not to mention a promising exclusive for the Xbox One at a point where those look rather thin on the ground.

We’ve spent around 14 hours in-game so far, joining up with other swashbucklers to hunt for treasure, evade sharks, and get drunk - all in the name of being a pirate – to provide you with our Sea of Thieves review.

Pricing and platforms

Sea of Thieves is out now, exclusively for Xbox One and Windows PC. With Xbox Play Anywhere support, players are able to play the game on both platforms after buying just one copy (as long as it's through the official Microsoft digital store), and their save data will be synced across both platforms.

You can currently pick up the game through both Amazon and Game. The PC version of the game is currently listed at £49.99, while the Xbox One version is cheaper at £41.99, while both versions are $59.99 in the US.

Sea of Thieves review

Sea of Thieves sets you upon the high seas as a pirate, free to loot and plunder as you please. But any pirate is only as good as his or her crew, and the game is designed to be played in crews of two or four, coordinating to find treasure, survive fights, and sail your ship.

There’s not much of a scripted story, so if you’re looking for a delightful story-driven pirate game akin to the likes of Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, turn away. But, if you love open world games and the idea of creating your own dangerous and downright hilarious adventure, it’s time to set sail.

It has a unique style that set it apart from other Pirate games with a slightly animated, cartoon-y look that pops against the hyper-real-looking ocean and environmental systems. You’ll see the sea foam frothing on the waves, puddles appear on the deck during storms and stunning sunsets that look like the sky is on fire. It’s enough to stop you in your tracks and say wow, especially when running on the high-end Xbox One X at full 4K.

Communication is key in Sea of Thieves; from deciding which Voyage you want to undertake to sailing on the open ocean, you’ll need to communicate with your team mates. It takes more than one person to sail a ship, after all! A smart crew will divide tasks amongst themselves, relaying information as they go. One pirate could man the sails, another could keep an eye on the map while one could be sat in the Crows Nest watching out for enemy ships, all feeding information back to the captain steering the ship.

If you haven’t got a microphone, you do have a list of pirate phrases to help communicate in-game, but the microphone really does make a difference and we’d recommend investing if you haven’t already. Barking out orders from the Helm and seeing your teammates scurry to complete tasks is a little too satisfying if we’re being honest, and it’s not the same feeling you get when using text commands.

It’s completely up to you how you approach Voyages in Sea of Thieves. If you want to do all Voyages from a single faction exclusively, go ahead! Or if you want to completely ignore all Voyages and focus on battling other players in hardcore PvP Pirate action, you’re free to do that too.

Once you’ve decided on a Voyage, it’s time to head to the location. It’s not pointed out for you though; you and your team mates will have to find the island on a larger map on your ship, and guide yourselves there using the resources at hand.

Once you get to the island, it’s time to find the treasure. The map is one of a few items accessed through two radial menus, along with other handy items like a lantern and a shovel. That's used for unearthing the all-important treasure - how many other games can claim to have co-op digging? - at which point you have to worry about actually getting said treasure chest back onto the ship.

With some chests, that's just a matter of carrying it and avoiding the skeleton pirates and snakes trying to maim you en-route. But often, you’ll come across chests with rather magical properties. One such chest has the magical effect of making you blind drunk as soon as you pick it up, complete with a staggering and blurred vision.

Little touches like that speak volumes about the tone Rare is trying to strike with Sea of Thieves. You can mess around, play musical instruments with your crew, get drunk and even vomit on one-another (hey, the Pirate life isn’t always glamourous!), creating unscripted memorable moments that are laugh-out-loud funny.

Anyway, we digress; you’re not safe once you’re back on the ship with your treasure, oh no. You also have to defend it, because you're not the only pirates out at sea. Other online players can appear at any time, ready to raid you and steal your hard-earned treasure, meaning there's a constant trade-off between hunting around for one more chest, or scarpering to safety to sell your treasure on.

It can create some of the tensest, but also most enjoyable moments in the game. Battling at sea is hard work, and requires a lot of communication amongst the team. It’s not simply a case of firing canons – you need to get ammo from below deck and load up the cannon balls before firing a single shot. You’ll also need to repair any damage to your hull using wooden boards and use a bucket to scoop out any water that leaks in, or you’ll find yourself at the bottom of the deep blue sooner than you can say ‘Yarrrr’.

All that while fighting off a team of enemy players with your cutlass and pistol. It’s worth noting that the guns are firmly 'fire once, then reload' - don't expect to board the enemy ship and bury them with bullets. It’s a good thing though, as it forces you to get up-close-and-personal with other players to create these wonderful unscripted moments.

Though you may assume that one-size-fits-all when it comes to the Skeleton NPCs that protect the islands and the treasures within, you’d be wrong. There are several different types of skeleton enemy in Sea of Thieves, each with varying strengths and weaknesses that you have to figure out yourself. Shadow skeletons are sensitive to light and must be battled in sunlight or near the light of a lantern to be damaged, while green skeletons take large amounts of damage from the Cutlass.

It’s about experimenting with different techniques and communicating with your team to find the best way to fight back. This is especially true when you take on Forts (identified by Skull Clouds above them in the sky) as you and your crew take on 10 waves of skeletons with varying skills and abilities for the promise of a huge haul.

As well as taking on Voyages where you’re guaranteed to get involved in some pirating action, you may fall victim to one of Sea of Thieves’ random events. The most discussed random event is the apparition of the Kraken, the deadliest sea creature that ever did (or maybe not) live. The Kraken can strike anywhere at any time, and the only indication that it’s getting ready to strike is the sea turning black and murky, and the rumblings of the monster become louder.

Then, from nowhere, you’ll see deadly tentacles emerge from the water and start to damage your ship heavily. Like with any other battle, your crew must use the full arsenal of weapons (from cannons to cutlasses) to get it to loosen its grip on your ship long enough for you to get out of there and get repairs done. It’s incredibly exciting, and keeps you on your toes as it can happen at any time, even when en-route back to an Outpost to sell all the treasure you’ve spent hours collecting.

It’s not the only random event that’ll occur, although it’s by far the most prominent in the game so far. It’s a great idea though, and we hope that Rare builds on this element in future updates.

So, why should you take on Voyages and other events? For the coin and reputation, of course. Your reputation with specific factions grants you access to not only higher quality voyages with better rewards, but improved items available in the stores found at outposts scattered throughout the seven seas. And coin, of course, is required to purchase most things in the game.

Now before you get excited and start saving up all your coin for a fancy new weapon (of which there are a few), it’s worth noting that all items – clothing, ship upgrades and weapons – are all cosmetic skins and won’t improve the base stats of your items. It’s good and bad; it’s good because you can fully customise not only your ship but your character and even the look of the items that you use, but looks alone may not be enough to motivate some to purchase them.  

And therein lies our biggest concern with Sea of Thieves – long-term satisfaction. We’re not denying that Sea of Thieves is a fantastic game that is great fun to play and provides hours upon hours of exploration-based content. But what happens when you’ve ranked up with each faction and got the ship of your dreams?

As the game is player-focused with no real story and no way to upgrade your player or ship stats, we wonder how long the novelty of sailing the seven seas with friends will take to wear off before people start to demand more – especially with such a premium price tag.