Sea of Thieves is no place for the solo swashbuckler. Bereft of boisterous crewmates, strange thoughts enter the mind. Thoughts like, “Well this isn’t fun at all,” and “Hey, if I stand on a rock the skeletons can’t attack me.”
Sea of Thieves was built with multiplayer in mind. The idea that groups of players could band together and create their own narrative is at the heart of the game. Despite this, Rare has included the ability to enter the world as a lone player piloting a one-man sloop. Since the game’s various beta testing events, players have been setting sail solo. Some find it difficult. Others say it’s relaxing. I found it mildly frustrating and quite boring.
The basic gameplay pattern of Sea of Thieves isn’t that complicated. Players go to an outpost and take a selection of three types of missions—treasure hunt, bounty hunting or trading. A treasure hunt involves sailing to an island, digging up a treasure chest and bringing it back to an outpost for a reward. Bounty hunting involves sailing to an island, killing skeletons until a named skeleton appears, killing it and bringing its skull back to the outpost for a reward. Trading involves gathering items and taking them back to the outpost for a reward. These aren’t particularly diverse goals.
What makes the cycle of going places and getting things more compelling is other people. The person handling the map accidentally getting you lost. The pirate at the wheel not noticing a giant rock jutting out of the waves. The helmsman and whoever’s in charge of the anchor coordinating their efforts to perform the very cool anchor turn maneuver, in which the anchor is dropped rapidly while steering hard and then quickly raised, turning the vessel on a dime. Doubloon. Whatever.
None of that happens when playing solo. Navigating is madly dashing from the sloop’s wheel down to the map table to check heading, then running back upstairs to make sure the ship doesn’t crash. It’s slowing down far before reaching your destination to make sure you have time to trim the sails and drop the anchor. It’s a whole lot of this horrible first-person view, with no one to tell you what’s being obscured by that sail.
Driving a ship by oneself is more difficult than having a crew. It’s definitely more time-consuming to step away from the wheel every couple of minutes.
Once the solo player reaches whichever island they’re searching for resources, bounties or treasure, the going gets much easier. Laughably easy, really. The game’s sole land-based enemy type, skeletons, are easy to outrun and even easier to outmaneuver. As I discovered early on in my solo career, skeletons cannot climb rocks. Ridges barely a foot or two off the ground completely stop the undead beasts, leaving the player free to stab or shoot them with impunity.
The only real danger to solo players, other than accidentally sinking their own ship or the odd Kraken, is other players. Sea of Thieves is a shared world game, so running into other pirate crews is bound to happen. The most thrilling single-player moments I’ve had in the game so far happened when another player surprised me in local voice chat and shot me in the head while I was exploring a random island.
I’ve yet to encounter a player-killing crew while on my boat, but I imagine with me unable to steer and shoot at the same time, they’d make short work of me. At least it would be exciting.