There are many important roles one can occupy aboard a pirate ship. You can steer, or keep the cannons loaded, or manage sails, or navigate. Me? I was the guy who rang the bell. In peace and at war, I held my post. Until I launched myself out of a cannon and into a shark, anyway.
OK, let’s start with the good news: Rare’s Xbox One and PC co-op pirate game, Sea of Thieves, is a blast—not to mention a much more fully realized game than it was when Stephen tried it out last year. You and a crew of friends hop in a boat, sail the high (and pleasingly modeled) seas, and get up to whatever salty shenanigans you can think of. The game definitely needs some work in regards to polish and overall feel, though.
My group decided to steer toward an island and hunt for treasure. On the upside, I did manage to heave one ill-gotten goody box onto the deck of our ship. Unfortunately, the whole ship sank shortly thereafter. Things began well enough. We piled onto the ship. One person took the wheel, a few others raised the anchor, and another unfurled the sails. We were off! The seas were calm, and—with me in the crow’s nest, calling out directions and incessantly ringing a bell every time I saw anything at all (or thought of just, like, something that made me excited)—we made it to an island without too much trouble. There, I nabbed a chest and carried it aboard our ship just in time for our “captain” to cry havoc let slip the fickle whims of war. He saw a ship controlled by other players. He decided we were gonna sink that ship. Or maybe steal it. Whatever! It wasn’t entirely clear at the time! I rang my war bell. I’m sure it was very intimidating.
Just one problem: we had to turn around first. We tried our best to coordinate that complicated nautical maneuver, but instead we ended up plowing into the island at an angle and goddamn ramping our entire pirate ship off it, not unlike the time Christopher Columbus kick-flipped off the Bahamas and founded America. This, unfortunately, busted the bottom of our ship wide open, so I slid down from my perch and joined two of my fellow crew members in grabbing buckets and scooping water out from below deck.
We managed to stay afloat, but just barely. Also, in our panic, we lost track of the other ship... which might have, itself, gotten into an accident and sank into the briny depths. Regardless, that misadventure took us to another island, this one crawling with pirates who may or may not have been the stranded crew of the ship we were chasing.
This is where everything fell apart in a fashion so spectacular that I plan to pitch it as a comedy script to Shane Black. First, the guy steering our ship decided to fire himself out of a cannon toward the pirates on the island, who were in turn shelling us with cannons of their own. His Rambo approach, while gutsy, was an object lesson in why even Rambo doesn’t usually fight like Rambo. He immediately died, and then two other people tried to swim toward the island, only to get attacked by sharks. I met them in the middle by launching myself out of a cannon and getting attacked by a shark. We did eventually managed to clumsily kill a couple pirates, but then we turned around just in time to see our ship slowly disappearing beneath the sea. We didn’t have time to contemplate how this happened, however, because more pirates showed up and finished off me and my one remaining crewmate.
When you die in Sea of Thieves, you have to spend a brief period of time aboard a ghost ship to nowhere, after which you can respawn aboard your ship. I did that, or rather, I tried to do that. As soon as I sprang back to life, however, I found myself aboard a ship mostly submerged in water. Quickly, I decided to do the only thing I could: climb the crow’s nest and ring my bell one last time. Sadly, I failed, and my faithful bell sounded no more as it sank beneath a silent sea.
Just to be clear, failing miserably in Sea of Thieves was extremely fun. The whole crew was laughing and yelling the entire time. I do have to say, though, that things probably would’ve gone a tad smoother if Sea of Thieves felt better to play. As is, characters move in an awkward, sort of floaty fashion, it’s tough to gauge distance while wielding a sword, and gunplay—with its sludgy aiming and unsatisfying impact—is just not enjoyable. I suppose the fact that NPCs are slow and dumb evens the odds a bit, but it doesn’t make for particularly interesting skirmishes. Instead, you just get a main course of chaos with a side of slop.
Still, even now, Sea of Thieves is a dang hoot. I think Rare majorly needs to tighten up some core systems before the game comes out, but we’re talking about a playable slapstick pirate comedy here. I can’t wait to go down with the ship alongside a bunch of my idiot friends, rather than different wonderful idiots I just met.