When Sea of Thieves was released a year ago, it was met with a rather blistering reception. For the most part, people were not pleased with how little there was to do in the game. You could do whatever you want and go wherever you want, but that means very little when every quest was a fetch quest. There were some "endgame" activities, but they didn't really entice people to keep playing. To their credit though, Rare worked hard to try to salvage their game. As the months went by, update after update came out, adding all sorts of new content.
As one may expect, the main goal of the updates was to diversify Sea of Thieves' gameplay. This meant improving the singular, underwhelming kraken fight from launch so that it's an actual fight. Skeleton ships and megalodon attacks have also been added to the high seas. If you prefer to look for trouble instead of waiting for it to come to you, you can look for an active volcano. Conquer these new threats, and you can earn some new cosmetic items. The standard array of fetch quests remain if that's more your style, or you can merely drift around, going wherever the wind takes you. All in all, the world feels a little bit more alive, or at least more dangerous.
Unfortunately, there's only so much that Rare can do with updates. The core gameplay loop is still incredibly uninviting for solo players. Alternatively, if you prefer more blunt terms, it's quite boring. There's nothing stopping you from playing Sea of Thieves by yourself, but the game is definitely more of a party game than anything else. Playing the game with friends without any expectation of depth or progress is probably going to be the best way to approach it. That in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing, but there's not exactly going to be hour long discussions about character builds or team comps. You certainly can't give yourself a practical edge by farming enemies or anything, which is quite the double edged sword. On one hand, everyone's on the same theoretical page regardless of their playtime. On the other hand, you can't really entice players to keep grinding in the same way that a traditional RPG can. Needless to say, people aren't exactly flocking to Sea of Thieves for its story either.
That being said, there is something about Sea of Thieves that is undeniably charming. Even a year after its initial release, in spite of its flaws, the game's casual, laid back approach to just about everything is rather refreshing. The cartoonish graphics definitely help a lot in this regard. This feature hasn't changed much since release, but it is worth repeating.
It's especially impressive considering how seamlessly all the new content was integrated into the game. As an example, the volcanic islands may as well be called Hawaiian Mount Doom. It's dark and foreboding, and its eruptions are oddly beautiful. Yet its serious appearance doesn't detract from the otherwise comical look of everything else in the world. You could go from talking to some ridiculously proportioned NPC to dodging fireballs within minutes, and it would seem like a perfectly normal occurrence.
After so much time has passed, it's still somewhat difficult to convey one's feelings about Sea of Thieves. It's a beautiful game, and all the new content is genuinely unique. No other game gives you the chance to fight a ship-sized megalodon or sail into a hail of flying lava. Playing with friends can theoretically allow for some wonderful memories. At the same time, the game can be dreadfully boring and repetitive. It's probably safe to say that no other modern game tells players to literally dig holes in the ground for fun.
With that in mind, it would explain why the game has seen a resurgence of sorts recently. Those who can play the game with friends will simply be able to find new encounters more consistently. Even if you can't find any of the new content, it's still much more enjoyable to do anything with others. Meanwhile, anyone who is playing by themselves or with a smaller group will have to work harder to do anything. To say that it's less than optimal to tackle a skeleton ship by yourself is a bit of an understatement.
While Sea of Thieves is ultimately much better than it was a year ago, it's still not a game you pick up and play. If you and a group of friends can devote time to it, then the game is great, or at least amusing. If not, then virtually any other game will likely be a better choice.