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‘Sea of Thieves’ First Impressions: Fun, if Not a Bit Hollow

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If there’s one thing Sea of Thieves has in spades, it’s a unique identity. In an era where triple-A games are defined by how realistic and gritty they can look, Rare decided to go in the complete opposite direction and created one of the most cartoony game worlds this side of Super Mario Odyssey. There also just aren’t that many games themed around being a pirate in general, let alone one that’s current-gen. But does Sea of Thieves lean on its individuality alone to sell gamers on its novel take on the open-world formula? Here are my first impressions after a few hours with the game.

The opening of Sea of Thieves is surprisingly brief. After a short intro cutscene and a prompt to choose from seemingly endless variations of pre-made avatars, players are told to choose a boat and crew size before spawning onto a random island with randomly-assigned crewmates (unless you choose to invite your own friends, of course). Though cosmetics for your character can be purchased from shops throughout the game world, it nonetheless felt like a missed opportunity to not allow players to customize the base features of their pirate. Selecting a pre-made model felt oddly impersonal, a feeling that also appears in how Sea of Thieves unceremoniously plops you into the game’s massive open world.

This is a decidedly “create your own adventure” kind of a game. There’s no hint of a narrative, no main or supporting cast of characters, not even a tutorial. There are shopkeepers and guild representatives with dialogue options, but once you’ve read them once you’ve essentially read them all. Instead, Sea of Thieves encourages players to learn the ropes together and explore the world for themselves.

This works better than expected. Figuring out the sailing mechanics and navigating the tumultuous seas with my partner for the first time was one of the most fulfilling cooperative experiences I’ve ever had in a game. This is where the Sea of Thieves clearly shines. Gazing dumbfoundedly at a treasure map, gradually figuring out the lay of the land with a partner and ultimately uncovering a chest feels special because you know that you really did it all yourself through ingenuity and teamwork.

However, this completely hand-off approach comes at a steep price. Without any in-game events, setpieces or substantial lore to go off of in the game’s opening hours, playing Sea of Thieves seems to lack any real long term purpose. In the short term, it’s simply fun to sail around, find treasure and fight skeletons, but the sole motivation as of now is to save up enough gold for fancy new gear and weapon/ship skins. The first quests only net players 100-200g and, with most weapons and ship customization options ranging from 7,000-10,000g, it’s clear that Rare intends for this game to be a major time investment. Will the cycle of questing for and cashing in treasure chests and the skulls of skeleton crew captains be enough to keep players invested until they reach those first few milestones? It remains to be seen, but unless later quests become more involved and lore-heavy, I’m somewhat doubtful.

My time with Sea of Thieves so far has been fun, if not a bit hollow. The premise in and of itself is brilliant and has me pinning to jump back in and play more even as I type this. The game is full of charm and wholeheartedly succeeds at creating a fun online cooperative experience. With that said, we’ll need a bit more time to fully explore everything the game has to offer and see just how strong its staying power is. Keep an eye out for our full review within the next week. If you’re really eager to start playing now, I recommend investing in a one month Game Pass subscription and test it out before committing.

Brent fell head over heels for writing at the ripe age of seven and hasn't looked back since. His first love is the JRPG, but he can enjoy anything with a good hook and a pop of color. When he isn't writing about the latest indie release or binging gaming coverage on YouTube, you can find Brent watching and critiquing all manner of anime. Send him recommendations or ask to visit his island in Animal Crossing: New Horizons @CreamBasics on Twitter.

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