Hands-On: Sea of Thieves is Rare’s Stellar Return to Form

By | 4 months ago 

One editor goes hands-on with Rare’s Sea of Thieves, coming away toting the imminent high seas multiplayer title as the long awaited return to form for the famed studio.

I pulled out a shoddy looking mug and began inhaling its alcoholic contents. Polishing off the pint, I swapped over to a guitar of some sort and began to strum the instrument, and then I heard it… a voice telling me to head towards the ship. Impaired by the now-consumed beverage, I stumbled towards the hulking pirate ship at full speed in a bid to board. As I neared the vessel, my drunken self misstepped and my helpless torso proceeded to tumble horrifically into the ocean waters below. Fearing being left behind, I grabbed onto the ropes dangling on the sides of the ship and desperately hoisted myself up onto the wooden behemoth.

This was my first fifteen seconds with Sea of Thieves.

As a longtime follower of Rare, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that there’s little question that the company has strayed from its path in the eyes of many gamers. Opting to stick largely to Kinect games in recent years, the studio responsible for classic mascots like Banjo, Conker, and Joanna Dark went in a drastically different direction in order to cater to a more casual audience. It wasn’t until Microsoft dropped mandatory support for the camera-like peripheral that Rare spread its wings a little and announced a brand new IP in the form of Sea of Thieves.

sea of thieves art

The brief reveal of the title during E3 2015 looked interesting, but it left more questions than answers. Jumping ahead a year, I was able to go hands-on with the game and chat to the developers working on the project – bringing into focus the scale of what was being built. Contrary to initial impressions, this isn’t some death match-focused slog that’s set to debut with little else but to send player-controlled ships to Davey Jones’s Locker. No, it is to be much more than that, as three Rare members informed me about the scope of what they were trying to accomplish behind closed doors.

Speaking with Craig Duncan (Studio Head), Gregg Mayles (Design Director), and Joe Neate (Executive Producer), the trio laid out a promising take on their current vision for Sea of Thieves. After clarifying that the online component would be similar, albeit more impactful, to Destiny, I asked if the current plan was to grow the game over time. Comparing the title to ever-enhancing ventures like ARK: Survival Evolved, the team at Rare stressed that this is an experience that will evolve according to the desires of the community. In fact, this was something so important to the team that the studio even spoke with ARK developer Studio Wildcard to see how best go about working with gamers to help build an experience they want.

Additionally, there will be missions that can be secured and completed for treasure, which can then be spent on upgrading a player’s boat. According to Rare, this will be the meat of the game, as players continuously search for treasure and make their own legendary tales for others to talk about amongst one another. Whether taking down a beastly kraken, sinking an armada of ships, or teaming up to recover buried treasure, there will be much more to do than lob cannon balls at passersby. While that will hold true in the final product, it’s not something that was made playable to the masses during E3 2016.

sea of thieves kraken

The demo on the show floor provided a glimpse of the groundwork in place for the inevitable shenanigans that are guaranteed to follow anytime the game is booted up, and after pulling my waterlogged character out of the sea, we set got ready to cruise towards the horizon. The wily crew and I lifted anchor, set the sails, and drifted along until we came across a pair of ships doing battle. With the alcohol having faded from my system, I took to the bow, made a Titanic reference, and strummed my guitar – all while instructing the player steering the ship on where he needed to go.

As we stealthily pulled up alongside one of the ships, each of my teammates secured a cannon and took aim. Before the other team of swashbucklers even knew what hit them, it was already too late. My team and I unleashed a barrage of relentless cannon fire upon our brothers at sea, and we watched as they scrambled to their own weapons in a feeble attempt to retaliate. Tragically for them, they started taking on water at an alarming rate, and the entire front of the ship began to dip down below the surface of the water. As it did, we wrapped around again and polished off the remaining boat that had previously been locked in a heated battle with the ocean’s newly acquired fish habitat.

It was then that the screen went to black and the demo ended.

There’s still a lot left to learn about Sea of Thieves, but it sounds like it’ll be a venture that continues to improve over time. The community that surrounds the title will continue to help grow the game, adding and tweaking different aspects that only further immerse players in a world that’s teeming with laughs and cooky high-seas adventures. This feels like a return to form for Rare, and perhaps that’s truly the most exciting part about Sea of Thieves.

Sea of Thieves is set to arrive for Windows PC and Xbox One in 2017.