Five Hours of Rum-Fueled Fun
But what’s next for Sea of Thieves?
Rare released their much-anticipated open world pirate game Sea of Thieves on March 20th to incredible fan fair and a host of well-crafted advertisements funded by Microsoft. Sea of Thieves was poised to be the Xbox One exclusive that would drive up sales of the console, which has struggled to keep up with Sony’s PS4. From the first announcement at E3 2015 up until launch day, I was enamored by the world that Rare was attempting to create. From the outstanding water tech, to the mysterious lore, I had rarely ever been so invested in a game concept.
And then the game launched, trailed by some less-than-favorable reviews. It feels like Rare may have missed the mark. What happened here?
What went wrong?
While it may be easy to pinpoint small areas of failure, the looming issue surrounding the game is Microsoft’s insistence of dressing up what feels like a $30 early access game as a $60 AAA game meant to compete with the likes of Horizon: Zero Dawn, Bloodborne, and Uncharted (which all happen to be PS4 exclusives). If Rare and Microsoft want to throw Sea of Thieves in with “the big boys” so to speak, they have a lot of work ahead of them.
The current build of Sea of Thieves has the visuals of a AAA game, but the mechanics and content of a Steam early access title. What the game fundamentally boils down to right now are a set of fetch quests with little variation among them. There are three alliances in the game: The Gold Hoarders, Order of Souls, and The Merchant Alliance.
Each alliance will give the player different quests to tackle, but how different are they in practice?
Let’s take a closer look at both the alliances and the quests they offer.
The Gold Hoarders
This alliance tasks the player with traveling to a location marked on a map to dig up a treasure chest to return to a Gold Hoarder NPC at an outpost.
The Order of Souls
This alliance tasks the player with traveling to a specific island to defeat a specific skeleton boss and bring back his skull to an Order of Souls NPC at an outpost.
The Merchant Alliance
Finally, this alliance tasks the player with taking animal cages to an island that has the specific animal listed on the quest, capture it, and return it to a Merchant Alliance NPC at an outpost.
While it’s true that these quests all have some variation to them, they also all have one key element in common: each quest is about obtaining something, then transporting the item(s) from point A to B; in other words, each one boils down to a fetch quest. Beyond these quests there is little else to do in the game. Sometimes you will have an occasional encounter with the kraken, take on a skeleton fort, or engage in some PVP, but the thrill and novelty wore off for me rather quickly (especially given the AAA asking price for the game).
Despite the above criticisms, I must say that the first five hours of this game are absolutely magical.
Getting your own ship, figuring out the minimalistic HUD and learning the sailing mechanics, seeing a ship on the horizon for the first time with treasure on board; it’s all something I’ll remember for some time. However, after you experience it all for the first time, the initial excitement disappears.
Unfortunately, monotony replaces magic.
After five hours, I have experience most of what the game has to offer (aside from becoming a Pirate Legend which is currently the end game). Given the reception by gamers and critics alike, I think it’s a good time to ask what’s next for Sea of Thieves — and perhaps more importantly — how can the game be improved?
Fundamentally, Sea of Thieves needs is more content and activities for the player to engage in. Rare has created an incredible sandbox, but for a game about pirates and islands, there isn’t a lot of sand filling that box at this time.
Here’s what I believe would benefit the game and add incentive to play.
Ideas for extending longevity
Presented in no particular order.
1. Add a personal hideout in which the player can decorate, customize, and display trophies from their adventures.
A problem the game has right now is lack of customization and for a game where the progression system is based around cosmetic customization, that’s a problem. A personal hideout would give players another thing to work towards besides weapon skins and clothing.
2. Reworking the PVP/Respawn mechanics.
The current system as implemented doesn’t provide as much risk and reward as an open world PVP game should.
Currently, a crew can respawn at their ship an unlimited number of times which makes it easy for a competent crew to fend off an enemy vessel for a large amount of time, which in turn makes ship to ship combat tedious. A potential fix here is to limit the amount of respawns available when in PVP combat.
3. Improve the rewards for sinking an enemy ship.
If a crew can sink another ship, the reward at the moment is the treasure they have on board; of course, there will sometimes be none there and the time you’ve spent fighting will be fruitless.
One thing I have noticed is that there seems to be a name plate above the captain’s cabin; it would be neat to let the player loot the name plate to turn in for a few hundred gold.
This leads me to my next idea…
4. Let us name our ships!
This seems like the most obvious suggestion on the list, but in this build you are not able to name your ship. In a game about ships, wouldn’t this seem to be an obvious mechanic and give the player a sense of ownership (especially given the ship customization options you can unlock via the progression system)?
Right now, it feels like we are renting our boats for each play session, rather than truly captaining our own unique vessel.
5. More varied quests from each alliance.
As I have said previously in the article, there is a problem with repetitive quests. It would be great to see more variation in terms of the types of quests offered by the alliances.
6. More in depth ship customization.
Besides figureheads, sails, and ship hulls there is little to do to customize your ship. There are no options to add chairs, furniture or paintings to your boat.
A system where you could create a ship from different pre-made parts and add decorations would be very welcome to help realize Rare’s hope of players really standing out in the world.
This option could potentially replace the personal hideout if, for some reason, that isn’t possible or desirable. If our ship is our home, let us make it feel like one.
7. Increase rewards for exploration.
I have found there to be very little in the way of tangible incentives to explore the world. Increasing loot spawns in the world and adding more would be a good way to fix this. Besides doing the quests from the alliances, there isn’t an easy way to progress as loot is scarce.
8. Add a player bounty mechanic.
A good way to make PVP more interesting would be to add a player bounty mechanic.
One player could offer up a sum of gold to put a bounty on another player. After the bounty is set, flyers at the taverns would appear with the player name, reward, and picture. After another player kills the wanted pirate, they would take that pirate’s sword to a tavern at an outpost for their reward.
For balance purposes, there would be a cooldown and no one in the crew of the player who issued the bounty could redeem it.
This was a popular suggestion on the game’s subreddit and could be added to the Merchant Alliance.
You could catch fish while at sea and deliver what you catch to an outpost, or you could keep them and make them into a trophy to place in the theoretical player hideout.
10. Deadliest/most profitable pirate lists at outposts.
This could either be broken down by region, or by server. It would give players another goal to work towards and a way to give each player a sense of progression that isn’t purely cosmetic, but that is also based around their actual actions in the world.
11. Let us bury our own treasure.
Pirates have always been known for digging up buried treasure, but they also buried their treasure.
This system would add more depth to the game; you could bury your treasure on an island of your choice and be given a map marking its location. Over time, the treasure would gradually increase in value until you decide to come and dig it up. To do this, you would need to find one of the empty chests laying around on the islands and load it with some of your own gold.
12. A Tortuga like social space.
The developers have been adamant that there will be no safe zones in the game.
But what about a social space outside the game zone?
A place for duels, dice games, and crew recruitment. This could be accessed through a portal in the world. There is a boarded-up room above The Order of Souls NPCs which would be a great place for a portal and I don’t think something like this would be out of place with the mystical lore of Sea of Thieves.
Rare has created an incredible base to build on and it would be a waste to not to take advantage of the opportunity. Even though I found the initial version of the game underwhelming, I still believe in Rare’s ability to make a great game.
While a lot of people are happy with how the game is in its current state and argue that your imagination is the driving point of the game, I believe a game like that doesn’t necessarily belong in the AAA bracket. While many AAA games are repetitive in nature (especially competitive shooters), they provide the instant gratification of winning a match or landing a tough shot, all which can be achieved within short matches.
Games like Sea of Thieves (which have a slower burn) rely on gradual gratification to satisfy the player base, and in the current version there simply isn’t enough of that gradual gratification to keep the average player satisfied.
If Rare wishes for Sea of Thieves to remain relevant in the longer term, they’ll need to continue investing in extending the experience in multiple directions to truly fulfill the rich promise that the launch foundation provides.