The Sea of Thieves beta started last night and I decided to give it a go. Sea of Thieves is really designed for multiplayer but you can play solo, though the game tells you solo play is for advanced players. Never one to pay attention to warnings, I jumped in alone. Here’s the gameplay loop.
You spawn in on an island with a kind of town. I was alone here so I’m not sure if PvP is enabled or not. I talked to an NPC and bought a treasure map…essentially I got a quest from him. Since I had no gold, the only map I could get was his freebie map. Other (better, I assume) maps cost money.
With map in hand I head to my ship. It’s set up to be sailed solo but doing so is still a bit challenging. First, while still docked, I go below to the chart room. First I examine the treasure map and study the contours of the island. Then I search the charts looking for an island with the same shape. There are no magic indicators in Sea of Thieves.
This being a newbie quest, the island I need is very distinctive looking and close by. I see I need to sail NorthWest to get to it, so I head topside.
To get underway, I first raise the anchor by grabbing the capstan and walking around it to turn it. The ship immediately starts to drift a bit. Then I run to the gunwale where there are two sheets. I use one of them to unfurl the sails. The other sheet is used to trim but the game seems to be pretty forgiving in that just having the sails open gives you some forward momentum; trimming them properly enhances your speed (you can see the direction of the wind by looking up at the sky and spotting contrails). Next I run to the wheel and start steering. There’s a compass mounted on the wheel.
Yo-ho, ah the open sea! I’m thinking this is pretty easy, though I’m not sure I’m going in exactly the right direction. Letting go of the wheel, I pull out my spyglass and have a look around but I’m still not certain, so I dash below decks to consult the chart. The game does at least show you where you are on the chart. I’m going in about the right direction but need to navigate around a smaller island.
Run back topside and oh shit, we’re headed straight for the island I need to go around. I grab the wheel and spin it but too late. With a smash I run aground. Immediately the boat lists and I know we’re taking on water. I hit the capstan to drop anchor, grab the sheet and furl the sail, then I run below. There’s a hole in the hull in the chart room. I take out a board (glad I’d grabbed a few ahead of time) and nail it over the hole, patching it. Then I run down into the hold, which is nearly full of water. I locate a second hole and patch it. Then I grab my bucket. Scoop it full of water, run topside, empty it over the side, run back below, get another bucketful, then back topside. Happily this activity is abstracted a bit and it only takes me 3 buckets of water to empty the ship. Ready to sail again.
So once again, raise the anchor, unfurl the sail, grab the wheel. I clear the obstacle island and see my destination ahead. But I also see sails on the horizon. A bigger ship, headed my way. I do have a couple of cannons but I don’t think I’m up to the task of both steering/sailing and running to midships to fire them. It’d be nice if they gave us a chaser on the stern but nope.
I opt to keep heading to my target island. Get to it ahead of my pursuer, drop anchor, furl the sails and dive overboard and head to land. I’m hoping maybe I can ambush my enemy or something. I’m in the tree line peering back when something hits me. I turn around and a skeleton is attacking. In retrospect I’d heard its footsteps approaching but they didn’t really register. So now I’m trying to remember the button to pull out my cutlass while running from first 1, then 2, and eventually 4 skeletons.
Chaos ensues and eventually I swim for it. The skeletons don’t follow but I know there are sharks in the water. My ship is on the other side of the island. I need to get back to shore. I look up and… there’s one of the pirates from the ship that was chasing me, standing on the shore. He raises his flintlock, there’s a loud BANG and…
I’m dead. I’m on the Ferry of the Damned, which is a kind of ghost ship. After a few minutes a door opens and I pass through it and, a miracle! I’m back on my ship! But my enemy is right there as well. More chaos and soon I’m back on the Ferry of the Damned, dead again. I think this is going to really suck if I keep respawning right next to my pursuers, but when I spawn again, he is moving off.
Why? I guess there’s really no profit in killing a broke pirate. Whatever the reason, I go ashore again. Now I know where my cutlass is, I dispatch the skeletons without too much trouble. Then I pull up my treasure map and study it. There’s a red X by some distinctive rocks. Again, there’re no HUD indicators telling you where the treasure is, you have to consult the map, look at your surroundings, and deduce the location. I go there, pull out my shovel and am rewarded with a metallic clank as I shove it into the sand. A treasure chest! It takes me a few minutes to dig it up, then I grab it and run for my ship.
I am inexplicably able to swim while holding the chest. I get back aboard, stash the chest in the chart room and get underway again, sailing back to “Plunder Island” where the quest giver is. But alas, my harasser is back, though a ways off. I am able to to make it back to Plunder Island ahead of him and I don’t even worry about docking, I run below, grab the chest and jump overboard. Again, no one else around, so I deliver the chest and am rewarded with some experience with this particular faction and some gold.
I head back to the docks where I see my ship sailing itself in circles, hitting the rocks over and over again, until it finally sinks. Then a mermaid appears in the water. If I swim out to her she’ll give me a new ship but instead I just chill. The pirate crew that was chasing me is now in pursuit of another small craft who is fighting back. I take out my spyglass and watch the battle. It goes on for a while; neither seems able to get a solid hit on the other.
It was getting late so I called it a night. It was fun doing a solo run once, but without a crew the inherent silliness of the game doesn’t really come out, and you really are at the mercy of lady luck in terms of who you might stumble across.
I don’t know that I’d buy Sea of Thieves for $60 but I’ll definitely subscribe to Game Pass for $10/month in order to play it at launch. And as far as I know it is ‘cross-play’ with Windows 10 so maybe I can even join the crew of my PC gamer friends, if they decide to play.
PS Sorry for the lack of visuals. I had planned to pluck some of my video clips from Xbox DVR but they’re not showing up there, I guess because the game is in beta. 🙁