Fight or Kite: Sea of Thieves made me feel like a pirate


In the long running debate between who would win in a fight between pirates and ninjas, I’ve always fallen on the side of the ninjas. Ever since I was a young lad running through my home with a turtle mask on while donning a sword and nunchaku (you can’t tell me I can’t be Leoangelo!), I’ve loved ninjas. Yet, once I grew older and began to understand and appreciate His Noodlieness, I began to come around to the idea that perhaps I could be a pirate too.

I thought when Sea of Thieves released that it could be the de facto roleplaying pirate experience. But it had a meaty price tag and a thin gameplay loop, and I simply had other games to play. Well, a few years later, Rare’s continued to pour an impressive amount of time and effort into increasing the amount of things players can do in game. I also find myself as an Xbox Game Pass subscriber with few enticing MMOs there on offer.

So I decided to plunge on in, and I have to say, Sea of Thieves does an amazing job of making me feel like I am a pirate. There was one aspect of the gameplay that I really abhorred, but we’ll get to that in due time.

Plenty of PvE content for newbie and returning players

Upon starting up, you have two basic gameplay options: Adventures and Arenas. The adventures are the primary game mode wherein you can pick up quests, search for buried treasures, and sell your goods for money and similar rewards. Adventures would be the standard game mode you expect when you think of Sea of Thieves.

Now, I don’t know if it existed at launch, but there is a relatively serviceable tutorial you can play through as well. It teaches you the ropes – literally – in that it teaches you how to use ropes (for your sails), along with skills like using a map and tools to find buried treasures and keep yourself alive. However, it does skimp on a few things – namely, that you can load yourself into a cannon and blast away, long-click the left mouse button during combat for a more powerful thrust move, or switch out your pistol for other guns.

Fortunately for me, I had available a pal who had previously played during the pre-launch beta period. It was actually very enlightening having him aboard as he would regularly show me things that the tutorial missed (did I mention you can load yourself into a cannon?) in addition to his comments on how the game had changed since he last played. “Oh wow, I can’t believe this quest is still going!” “Geez, another quest? I can’t believe how many quests we’re picking up – this is great!”

So I think it says a lot about the state of the game and perhaps how much it’s grown since launching. It was evident that the quests would become redundant after a while. They are essentially elaborate fetch quests, after all. Yet for a newbie like me, it was a ton of fun. It’s very cool how the game slowly reveals the next step of a quest with unblurring the text on your scroll after you’ve completed the previous step.

For instance, I had a quest that instructed me and my partner to find some large teeth and then a path would be revealed by torchlight. After we roamed the island and found the teeth, it took us a few moments to realize that the next part of the clue was telling us to actually equip our lantern and right click to hold it up, thereby advancing to the next step of the quest. It definitely gives you that feeling of accomplishment and solving a little mystery, as minor as it is.

Now, in my outings, we weren’t actually beset by any enemy pirates. When returning with our loot, we did circle the outpost and look for another ship. When we saw one, it definitely ramped up that excitement and nervousness of the possible chase to deliver our goods without being intercepted. Fortunately (or not, as I was somewhat looking forward to a little skirmish), we didn’t actually see anyone else on the outpost, so we were safe to deliver the goods.

No new development for Arenas… yeah, that checks out

Last December, Rare posted that the playerbase for Arenas was so small that there wouldn’t be any new active development for the game mode. It’s always sad to see a game mode lose support, but at least Rare hasn’t pulled it out of the title entirely. So for those who enjoy it, it’s nice that it’s still available to be played.

With that said, I can totally see why the devs have dropped support for it. In the several rounds I played, it was an absolute cluster. I only played in the sloop (two-person teams), so that could have colored my opinion, but it was just a nightmare.

First off, I didn’t see any instructions on exactly what we were doing, but gist of it is clear pretty quickly. All the boats (I think five per round) start out in a row facing an island. The first boat to get there, debark, find the treasure, and bring it back to the boat starts the race. A huge beam of light shines from the chest high into the sky, so there’s no missing where the treasure is. If you happened to be the first to get it, good luck. At least from my experience, everyone else piled on that team like Bards in MMO journalism. Regardless of who got the chest first, the whole experience was just so chaotic and crazy that it wasn’t very fun for me.

But the worst part of all is that Rare committed the most evil, unholy sin in PvP: unmitigated camping. I honestly couldn’t believe it. When you die in the arenas, there is a short respawn timer (you don’t have to go to the ship of the dead; you just look at your sad, miserable corpse for 30 seconds or so). Then you spawn on the deck of the ship at the same spot, every time. So if another player is so willing to stand nearby with a blunderbuss locked onto the respawn point, it’s wham, bam, shut down the game time. After I was camped and killed about four or five times in a row, I quit the match. Terrible, awful, and Rare should be ashamed of such an implementation.

So I can understand why no one is playing the mode and why Rare would cease development. But at the same time, there’s some meat still on that bone. Rare could make it a simple race that implements a sort of musical chairs format. Each team essentially has its own island to get the first chest from, then the number of islands that will have the chest reduces until it turns into a more all-out brawl for a single chest. I wish the studio hadn’t given up on it.

Pirating combat is amazing except for one teeny, tiny, and glaringly-awful aspect

Finally, the combat: I really, really enjoyed the combat on the high seas. It is a really amazing feeling to be running from one side of the ship to the other, grabbing cannonballs, barking out (or following) instructions on where to fire next. After your ship gets hit, you might have a player trying to steer you away to safety while another is manning the sails or even running below deck to patch up the ship or use a bucket to try and get water out so you don’t capsize. It truly feels epic and exciting. You can even use a harpoon to grab a nearby ship to try and prevent it from escaping. It’s just awesome.

But then there is the huge elephant in the room on the deck: the melee swordplay. It might be one of the absolute worst hand-to-hand combat systems I’ve ever played. The original Doom had better hit detection with its punching than Sea of Thieves does with a sword. It is so abysmal. I truly couldn’t believe it. There’s no room for skilled blocks, parries, ripostes or any sort of intentional combat. Sure, there technically is a block. And yes, you can dodge while holding block, but it’s all just such a bad implementation. When you’re slicing away at some brainless NPCs, sure it’s fine. But when you’re looking for a PvP sword fight, it simply doesn’t cut it.

When I’m thinking about pirate sword fights, I’ve got Pirates of the Caribbean, Sinbad, hell even Peter Pan in mind – back and forth swordplay that almost seems like a dance. Instead, with Sea of Thieves, you’ve got swinging like an idiot and hoping for a hit.

Well crew, this one got long in the tooth. I had a good time playing, and I think the game has a lot of pluses – just some fairly bad minuses too. If you haven’t played in a while, you might just find there’s a lot of good stuff in the game for you to do. If you’ve ever wanted to roleplay as a pirate, again, this is a great place to be. If you want to feel like a real pirate on a ship battling other pirate ships, then log in immediately! Just don’t try the melee combat – you’ll thank me.

Every other week, Massively OP’s Sam Kash delivers Fight or Kite, our trip through the state of PvP across the MMORPG industry. Whether he’s sitting in a queue or rolling with the zerg, Sam’s all about the adrenaline rush of a good battle. Because when you boil it down, the whole reason we PvP (other than to pwn noobs) is to have fun fighting a new and unpredictable enemy!
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