I hit Pirate Legend in Sea of Thieves a few weeks back, and I have enjoyed every moment of the journey to get there. It has been a long time coming, as I have been playing Sea of Thieves on and off since launch, even reviewing it for the site. I don’t quite know how much time it has been because, thankfully, the game doesn’t appear to record play time like other games on Xbox do. I do know, however, that it is likely to be an obscene number, most of which has been an utter joy. I have attacked Skeleton Forts for the plentiful bounty hidden within their locked vaults, sailed on multi-island voyages, fought Skeleton fleets, run from Gunpowder skeletons intent of blowing me up and delivered thousands of items of treasure for gold. But, I’ve also spent time just sailing enjoying listening to the sounds of the waves and the creaks of my boat as it cleaves its way through to my next destination. Sea of Thieves is a beautiful game, and one that I think my younger self would have absolutely lost her mind over, because frankly my older self most definitely has.
I am an only child, and I don’t know if this is particularly unique to someone who grew up with no siblings to keep them company on rainy days when you weren’t allowed out to play, but I grew very adept at amusing myself. I was a voracious reader as it allowed me to slip into another world and let my imagination soar, I was also the type of child that would line her teddies up and play a game of Ludo with them, hoping that I would be the one to win, not my beloved “Orange”. Sea of Thieves is a game my younger self would have absolutely relished, something I could slip into and let my imagination run wild, a place where I could meet other people to play with, but also a game that really appreciates the satisfaction I get from solitude sometimes.
Everything you do in Sea of Thieves takes time. None of the tools you are given are superfluous, they all have a designated purpose, and I love it. Navigating around the world of Sea of Thieves requires you to pay attention to where you are going, using a compass for direction, a telescope to watch out for far away threats, or to spot a possible shipwreck containing its riches buried within. Sailing feels kinetic, you have to lower and angle the sails to capture the wind, the wheel clunks as you move it, and in the larger Galleon, it takes time to turn. Once you have arrived at a destination, the Gold Hoarder missions in particular, demand that you really look at the world around you to solve the riddle or find the location for the X marks the spot. Some of my favourite moments in games are those where you are required to really pay attention to the surroundings that have been created for you, perhaps some climbing or a stealth section that requires you to focus on your environment to be able to solve what is in effect a puzzle. Sea of Thieves has this in spades, reading a map on Sea of Thieves forces you to consider every detail of the island topography to find what you are looking for. Am I on the North or South side of the island? Where is the outcrop of rocks my map indicates the treasure is near? I like the feeling that inhabiting a world like this gives me, a feeling like the world exists outside of my interaction with it.
During my time with Sea of Thieves, I have had the most fun I have ever had in a video game with other people. I have belly laughed at watching my friend try to fire himself onto an enemy ship and face plant into a rock, I’ve had the rush of adrenaline trying to catch another crew that stole my loot moments earlier and I’ve experienced the wicked glee of stealthily boarding another crew’s ship and escaping with their prized treasure on a row boat without them ever noticing. It hasn’t always been belly laughs and drunken musical interludes in one of the outpost taverns though. In the beginning it took me a while to get my head around other player interactions. I felt that there was plenty of magic to be found on the waters of Sea of Thieves, but it was likely often to be ruined by other players being dicks. But this is a pirate game, you’re supposed to be a dick, and once I understood that I started to have a much better time. I now sail with a personal rule; I won’t be the aggressor, but if you shoot at me, I will shoot back and I have had a lot of practice now so you’d better be prepared. I’ve also got a regular crew that has made a huge difference to my enjoyment – I still love to play on my own enjoying the sound of the waves and the solitude, but having a regular crew has enabled me to take part in the many time-limited events that Rare has introduced to Sea of Thieves. That isn’t to say that it is impossible to play with random players, indeed I have had a lot of success and made a few new acquaintances from matchmaking, thanks in large part to the strong requirement for teamwork to make the ship move and the relaxed whimsical nature of the environment.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about how great the ping system is in Apex Legends. How such a simple mechanic can facilitate teamwork with very little need for voice communication. Sea of Thieves doesn’t quite have the same functionality, but it is perfectly possible to communicate with your team entirely through the item and context specific chat that is made available to you. I have run an entire Athena’s quest which spans multi-islands and requires co-ordination with a totally silent crew communicating utilising the in game prompts. See a ship? Whip out your telescope and use the radial menu to indicate you do. Is it close or far? Your telescope text menu gives you the option to say. Which direction is it? Use your compass and suggest it is east of your direction. It can sometimes be a bit clunky, but it is clear there has been some consideration for people to be able to communicate effectively who perhaps can’t or prefer not to use voice chat, and what is more, some of the signature Rare humour is contained within those text prompts as well making it feel very much like a fully integrated feature.
I love Sea of Thieves; it is a game like no other I have played, but I love it mainly because it really helps me connect with my younger self. Sailing solo, pottering about visiting islands, maybe stopping briefly to take down a Meg that keeps popping up to say hi, gives me the same sense of being lost in a world with my imagination for company that I had as a child. Add other people, and it allows me to embrace the silliness of it with others. I hit Pirate Legend the other week, and it feels like the culmination of a lifetime of imagination and adventure.
All pictures taken by myself via Xbox One.