The Golden Age of Piracy is a period that has long captured the imaginations of many people, culminating in quite a number of movies, books, and games that are typically based on the adventures of some gold-hungry band of misfits. After all, being able to gather a ragtag crew of romanticized antiheroes and venturing into the great unknown to find some undiscovered pile of treasures while being free from the reaches of conventional law is nothing more than a fantasy nowadays, and what greater way to is there to live out a fantasy than in the form of games? There have certainly been no shortage of games that revolve around the subject of piracy, but Sea of Thieves, the upcoming first person open world co-op multiplayer game by Rare, may very well be the poster child of what is possible with the genre, though whether or not it lives up to its potential remains to be seen.
Obviously, being a pirate game, Sea of Thieves features a lot of sailing. Unlike, say, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag though, piloting and crewing a ship in Sea of Thieves is a lot more involved than simply pressing a few buttons here and there and turning a steering wheel. You will have to actually walk over to the respective part of your ship to raise and lower the anchor, adjust the sails, use the map and compass to go anywhere meaningful, and man the cannons to defend yourself, and should your ship suffer damage, you will have to get some planks and repair the damage. If this sounds rather overwhelming for just one person, then that's because it is- the best way to enjoy the game is with a group of four people. You certainly can try to sail the deadly seas by yourself or with one other person, but the fact of the matter is that one person cannot pilot a ship efficiently, or for that matter, effectively. Fortunately, Sea of Thieves does have matchmaking so you don't have to go to some external third party website to find people to play with.
Speaking of other people, you will occasionally run into ships that are crewed by other players who may or may not decide to sink and or board your ship (although this will give you the chance to return the favor). Fortunately, Sea of Thieves' draw distance is impressive so you will never encounter a situation where another ship just appears next to yours- the phrase "as far as the eye can see" comes to mind here when it comes to the game's draw distance. Should you die, you can respawn on your ship after a brief visit to a ghostly ship of the afterlife, and should you somehow fall of your ship, a mer-person will teleport you back onto your ship. Of course, if your ship sinks on the open seas, you will have to essentially restart from the nearest island outpost. Thus, as befitting the subject matter, it is probably a good idea to never consider any treasure you find to be truly yours until you are in the process of depositing it at an outpost as it can always be stolen or destroyed by other players.
It should be noted that combat is somewhat simplistic given that flintlocks and swords are the only personal weapons available to you, but it doesn't mean that there is no place for skill as a well timed block or shot from a musket can help determine the outcome of a fight better than randomly swinging away. This is doubly true when you decide to embark on a quest, treasure hunt, or want to explore some random island on the map. Skeletons will show up to try and kill you, and since they will inevitably outnumber you, chances are that you will need to learn when to block effectively. You may also end up fighting sharks if you decide to explore shipwrecks, but doing so will generally result in a rather unsurprising outcome that usually favors the sharks. All in all, combat in Sea of Thieves is what it is—simple and inelegant, but it offers exactly what you expect and little more.
As far as PvE content goes, Sea of Thieves will give you plenty of chances to collect treasure chests and magical skulls, but as far as can be told from the game's beta, there's not much else to the quests or quest variety in general. For the most part, you have to go to an island (some are little more than glorified rocks, some can be full blown fortresses with cannons manned by skeletons, none have any notable story elements to them yet), dig up some treasure or kill a special skeleton, pick up whatever it is you need to bring back to your ship, and try and make it back to the outpost without being sunk by some other group of players, and then you repeat this loop until you get what you want from the vendors or get bored. In all fairness, there could be, and almost certainly will be, more things to do once the full game is released, but if there isn't, then it's all but guaranteed that Sea of Thieves will find itself at the bottom of Davy Jones' Locker.
Oddly enough, Sea of Thieves' most impressive feature isn't its concept of an open world multiplayer pirate game or its core gameplay mechanics; instead, its beautiful environments will give any game that releases in 2018 a run for its money. While the overall art style is decidedly cartoonish, there is little doubt that few modern games can match the aesthetics of Sea of Thieves. Sail into a storm and water will splash all over the deck and into the hold, the seas will buckle as if you are but a toy in some kid's bathtub, and the skies will be as dark and chaotic as the embrace of the void. Make it out of the storm and you may notice that the ship's deck will be wet for a little bit, but the sea itself may have calmed down just enough so that you can admire how visually pleasing it is. The game's sunrise and sunset may as well have been taken out of a fairy tale, and nothing compares to a calm night's sky.
As promising as Sea of Thieves may be, there is still a genuine concern that Rare will fall into the same trap that snared Bungie's Destiny 2 and Hello Game's No Man's Sky—a lack of meaningful content. It bears repeating that, as far as can be told from the game's pre-release state, the core gameplay loop of fetching something from a random island with some occasional combat thrown in may not be enough to keep people occupied after the first couple of hours. Yes, there can conceivably be some PvE ship combat or fleet battles or more varied enemies (a Royal Navy/East India Company antagonist or mythical sea creature boss/raid-esque encounters perhaps?), but as it stands now, any game that promises open world multiplayer gameplay without a single player component or demonstrably deep endgame content will be put under a microscope and immediately scrutinized and or doomed to fail. As we all know, pretty aesthetics and an interesting concept mean nothing without an actual reason to buy a game, and a game merely being "fun to play with friends" (the most absolute bare minimum for a game to be even considered playable) is not enough of an excuse anymore; Rare has a genuine opportunity in their hands to set a new standard for open world multiplayer games, but only time will tell what will become of Sea of Thieves given that, at best, people are and rightfully should be cautiously optimistic about the game.
Sea of Thieves is set to be released on March 20, 2018, and will be available on the Xbox One and Windows PC.