Impressions of Sea of Thieves, one month in: Deep-diving retro world PvP

It’s really hard for me to not to gush hard about Sea of Thieves. I know many out there won’t agree, and it’s easy to say why, especially for RPG and theme park fans. It also may be because I’m late to the party, as the game came out while I was at GDC. That being said, Massively OP doesn’t do ratings because we expect the games we cover to evolve, but we do post impressions and hands-on coverage, and as I’ve played the game before and after it’s latest patch, I figure it’s time to lay out some judgments. Don’t worry, we’ll run through the game’s grimy pockets before looking at its actual treasure!

Hostile waters

Let’s get started with character creation: It sucks. While I understand that Rare may have wanted to get people in and playing ASAP (to the point that its abbreviated character customization was heavily criticized), I still spent far longer on its system than I did in games with actual character creation. You’re given several models to choose from, can “favorite” a model to protect it, then reroll to generate new models to potentially become your player.

While I must admit that I was quite tempted to use a female model (which I never do in MMOs), the issue was the character creator is that most of the characters are “non-traditionally beautiful,” but the goal of the game is to customize your appearance. The two are at odds with each other, and I say that as someone who tends to make characters that are supposed to be a bit not-pretty. However, there’s a difference between being not-pretty and having no strong associations with your character, and Rare’s made the latter a potentially dangerous norm.

Aside from the character creation issues, the other big issue people complain about in Sea of Thieves is the repeatable content. To note, I’m not yet at 20 hours played, but because I played with both newbies and high ranked players (there are no levels or stats preventing you from grouping with anyone), I was able to experience “high-end” content right from the start. People looking for something new around every corner are in for disappointment, though. Quests can essentially be one of three options: kill quests, treasure hunts, and delivery quests.

Kill quests involve going to certain locations, killing waves of enemies, and then getting proof of the kill to return to someone. Treasure hunts are probably the most unique, giving you riddles and clues to discover where some treasure if hidden which also needs to be taken to someone (for cash, of course). Finally, there are delivery quests, which are a bit like a time-trial. You’re asked to get a specific type of item, hunt it down, and deliver it to the right NPC before the timer’s up.

Of the three, treasure hunting feels the most unique. They start easy with maps and red Xs, but they evolve into riddles that unfold as you get closer and closer to the treasure. I’ve yet to hear about or see a truly hard one, but some did get my crew to scratch their heads a bit. They’re not as involved as some of the Secret World’s investigation missions, but better than your standard themepark fair. The game’s for PC and console (I naturally am on the former), but it feels like something the latter would be more familiar with.

Delivery quests are kind of fun, especially once you get more familiar with what’s available. You know which islands tend to have what commodities, grab the quest, and rush to complete it before it expires. Or, for the hoarders, you can just do your best to grab everything, bring it to an outpost, pick up a quest, and deliver the goods you already have in record time. Of course, this isn’t fun for everyone, so I can see people getting bored.

The kill quests are pretty meh. Don’t get me wrong; the mobs have some uniqueness to them (some enemies get weaker in water, some regen in water, others are invulnerable in shadow and require daylight or a lantern present just to damage them), but two or three people working on even the higher-level quests make them pretty easy.

Most of the time, these are the quests I think people are getting bored with. Especially for people who want visceral difference in their quest types, all three quest types may end up disappointing, especially since there’s only one melee weapon and three simple guns: a sniper rifle, a blunderbuss (think shotgun), and a pistol that needs to be reloaded old-timey style. They have some less well-known uses, but don’t expect Overwatch levels of variety.

While there are “raids” (skeleton forts that spawn randomly on islands with a Skull Cloud above them, acting as a huge “gank zone!” symbol), without other players killing your team, they’re only marginally harder than kill quests, mostly because of the number of mobs and numerous waves of them. The payout is worth it, but as you’re only unlocking skins – not abilities, skills, boats, or stats – some readers by now might be seeing why so many MMO and RPG fans seem to dislike complain about the perceived lack of content.

All of this comes before the fact that Sea of Thieves really is a PvP game. If you’re not OK with cat and mouse chases, planning escape routes, returning to town frequently, or losing hours of work to player killers, avoid Sea of ThievesPeriod. You can play solo, but doing so, especially in prime time, is the game’s hard mode. Other friendly players can make the game significantly easier, especially when coordinated to involve multiple crews, which is exactly how I feel MMO difficulty should work, but that’s another article altogether. That being said, hostile players can ruin the game for people who don’t enjoy PvP.

That’s the basic gameplay, and if you don’t like it, that’s reason enough to avoid it. There’s more, though. Disconnecting from play with strangers means losing out on all the rewards for your quests. The in-game voice chat is fine enough but is essentially general chat, so plotting out loud can be heard by enemies. I assume this is a big reason why smarter groups will invite you to a group immediately, but the Xbox party chat client isn’t optimized for PC users, and there’s no way my fellow players or I could find to turn on push to talk, a feature that Rare was smart enough to add but apparently Microsoft somehow forgot about.

As the game lacks persistent guilds and has no formal way of forming multi-ship alliances to indicate allies, you often have to worry about random people joining groups. While I’m often that random person and was threatened with the brig once or twice, it’s because allies can potentially screw you over and log out before you put them in the brig. Even then, they’re not completely harmless, as I was taken out by an ally’s imprisoned troll during a little celebration on their ship.

In all, it may be fair to say Sea of Thieves is a miniature, full-loot-drop-on death PvP server that automatically assigns you and others to parties (unless you choose to play solo). It’s great that loot is something you can put on the ground, but there’s no trade windows, no safe zones, and limited gameplay options for $60.

However, despite the slightly steep cost, I love it.

Good old fashioned fun

I know I’ve said some harsh things about the game already, but especially knowing our readers and hearing about the game from others, it’s only fair to address the complaints you’re all probably familiar with from the perspectives you readers often express in the comments section. That being said, I may be one of the griefier staff members at Massively OP, so Sea of Thieves is right up my alley.

Now, to be clear, this isn’t to say that I’m the tea-bagging, trash-talking sort trying to get you to rage quit. I often have more fun being the mouse rather than the cat. I thoroughly enjoy playing lookout. While my crew is questing and fighting, I’m looking for hostile players, replenishing our supplies, and repairing the ship. The rest of the crew can play hero while I’m playing dad, telling everyone to grab their healing bananas and be back at the boat as soon as they’re done. Yes, I enjoy piratey stuff, but it’s part of the game, and it’s one I embrace usually after you’ve shown that you really don’t want to group up and form an armada with us.

While the game is simple, that’s a large part of the appeal to me. There’s just enough variety for me to want to learn the game and accept its ever-changing loot locations because that’s all the game is: the hunt for potential cash. Much as in Overwatch and its lack of power levels, I enjoy a game that’s player skill-based instead of characters skills based. While there may not be a ton of unique abilities, there are certainly different roles, and none involve artificial classes gating your ability to function.

As an MMO fan, this does a few things. First, it’s accessible. I did my first skeleton fort a few hours in. That’s like starting with World of Warcraft’s Molten Core. If you wanted to pick up the game and join me, you could do that right now. There’s no need for level or stat scaling; there’s no worrying about bound items. Just start playing. It’s a simple concept we often lose in hugely complex virtual worlds asking you to min-max stats and ability cooldowns instead of, well, exploring.

Then there’s the actual playing of a role. I don’t necessarily mean RPing (though with voice chat, you could do that); I mean you’re a captain as soon as you grab the wheel and tell other people what you need them to do. I’m often a second mate, handling logistics and enforcing the captain’s plan, even when I join three real-life friends as a PUGger.

The community is actually very nice as well. Niche MMO nice, if you know what I mean. The PvP community gets a bad rap, but longtime veterans of UltimaEVE, and Darkfall will probably agree that these savage communities actually house genuinely kind people. Even people who threatened me with the brig often ended up teaching me about the game, and I got to pass that on to veteran players who hadn’t ventured out of their comfort zones with strangers.

It’s not just being a newbie either. As some achievements encourage cross-party play, I had other crews give us treasure, help with quests, and protect us as we turned in loot. There are people who’ll stab you in the back, but I’ve yet to feel complete betrayal.

Admittedly, part of this may be because I know how to play FFA PvP games. While Sea of Thieves as a solo player puts me as an eternal PUB player, I know to log out and back in if my team refuses to communicate moments after I join. It’s probably the best tip I can give to an MMO player. If you’re the guy who can’t voice chat or type, and you just want to play solo, again, SOT may not be the game for you. It’s practically an MMO, and the difficulty is generally in communicating with people, as I’ve previously experienced. And that’s really something I wish more games would push.

In a way, Sea of Thieves is what I’d hoped to find in ArcheAge, albeit on a smaller scale. No, I can’t build a house or custom ship (Rare, I’ll pay for this as DLC!), but I can steal bananas and treasure. I can fight huge sea monsters, sneak treasure past my aggressors, and even beat another crew in a war of attrition (which they’ll lose due to my packrat ways). There’s not as much customization, but the lack of levels means anyone can join without having to slowly use PvE to lure them to PvP. While getting robbed still sucks, you can’t lose gold you’ve already earned, and as gold just unlocks skins, it doesn’t sting as badly as losing a ship you spent months to create. The stakes are lower, but that makes it potentially easier to get people outside the current world PvP mindset to give it a whirl.

If you’re dead set against PvP, I get that. If you prefer your PvP to be round-based with UI constantly telling you what to do, that’s fine too. Sea of Thieves probably isn’t a good fit. But for you retro world PvPers who don’t have time to deal with 3 a.m. raids, write out truces for the best PvE spots, or just miss the sense of danger while questing, Sea of Thieves can hit many of those same notes on a smaller scale.

Massively Overpowered skips scored reviews; they’re outdated in a genre whose games evolve daily. Instead, our veteran reporters immerse themselves in MMOs to present their experiences as hands-on articles, impressions pieces, and previews of games yet to come. First impressions matter, but MMOs change, so why shouldn’t our opinions?
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6 Comments on "Impressions of Sea of Thieves, one month in: Deep-diving retro world PvP"

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Leontes
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Leontes

Damn you, Andrew! – I just got over it, that this game might not be for me, and then you just have to go write this article and make your points. Shooting holes in my wallet isn’t fair… Gotta fetch myself some chests, hope they’ll prove sturdier than my opinions… ;)

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Michael

If the game was a 20$ early access game the level of content would be acceptable. Sorry, at 60$ and a promise of future content (Which we expect from literally all games now) does not sell me on a game that has literally a few hours of content.

Also any game that requires you play with other people for it to be fun is not a good game, sorry. Every game is more fun with friends.

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Robert Mann

Sadly, no rules PvP and the lack of much content was pretty clear from the start. I’ll agree there are nice people who PvP… but without rules it feels less like a world and more like a horror novel. Especially since you essentially can’t kill those people off.

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Sorenthaz

I think one of the problems with the ‘quest’ system is it’s just three different flavors of the same “go get this and bring it back for gold” gameplay loop. PvP is the only thing that really interrupts it, but that’s the biggest problem with this game that I have on a fundamental level: it is supposed to be a “shared world adventure game”, NOT a PvP game.

Yet that’s what it’s become because there’s nothing else compelling to really do, and PvP gets to be devoid of consequences + lets you ignore the content that the game has to offer. PvE just fattens targets up for PvP, essentially, and those who don’t care about cosmetics in the slightest can just safely ignore all of it and just go chasing after other ships from the get-go.

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This game should not devolve into just another PvP game, but that’s the way it’s going unless Rare can add in some structure, consequences, and/or more compelling PvE content. It’s supposed to be a pirate game, and yet there is so much more to being a pirate than just killing and stealing from fellow pirates. It’s a disappointment in this regard, because PvP isn’t meant to be THE thing to do in the game, it’s meant to be A thing to do, yet this mentality is what pervades a lot of folks and has soured the community because of it.

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Seriously though I feel that it’s utterly dangerous for this game’s future if it’s just going to be turned into another PvP game due to devs falling back on the lazy easy route that most Early Access sandboxes do. I expected a pirate game that fits the “shared world adventure” description, and yet that’s clearly what it isn’t as long as open PvP continues to be inconsequential and the only real threat/dynamic element at play. It’s cannibalistic game design and there’s a reason people have been leaving the game in droves; doesn’t help when the forum/reddit communities grow more toxic and intolerant of different opinions as the days go on either.

There should be a balance between PvP and PvE, and yet currently PvP threatens to just run over the entire game. I think this article is a good highlight of just why that’s happening. Sea of Thieves being a PvP game isn’t a fact, it’s an opinion based on playstyle preferences. This game is largely designed as a PvE experience but open PvP with 0 strings attached was thrown in as a way to interrupt and override the rest of the game.