Preview – Hands on with Sea of Thieves

The Polly Woodside in Melbourne was the perfect location for Microsoft to preview Sea of Thieves ahead of PAX Aus. Standing on a tall ship with grog and conversation flowing, I could imagine myself as a swarthy pirate. As I headed below deck, to see the treasure that awaited, I knew that the pirate life was for me.

The hands-on session started as soon as I picked up the Xbox One controller. There were no on-screen prompts or guides. Sea of Thieves rewards curiosity and investigation. In an era where games hold players’ hands far more than necessary, being dropped into an open, dangerous world with no knowledge was an experience, to say the least.

After a few minutes of fumbling, I realised that LB brought up my inventory. Apparently, I was carrying a shovel, an accordion, a bucket and a handful of other pirate paraphernalia. RB brought up my collection of maps. I was carrying two types, but the Treasure Maps where what caught my attention. After carefully examining the map, I was expecting to see a marker or notation on the HUD. When it didn’t, I realised that Sea of Thieves is really not going to help out.

Learn by doing

It’s a game that expects to be played and is better for it. By not over-explaining every mechanic, Sea of Thieves shines by forcing players to experiment. It helps that everything you can do is hugely intuitive. If you think you can do something in Sea of Thieves, you probably can. For example, immediately after setting sail with my crew, we ran aground on some rocks. Our ship had been badly damaged and was taking on water. Not wanting to sink I decided to try and empty the water with my bucket.

It worked and I couldn’t have been prouder. That is until I realised that water was pouring in faster than I could get rid of it. Luckily, a smarter member of my crew found some wood and patched up the holes. With the ship repaired and the water removed, we headed for the island with the treasure.

If experimentation is key to Sea of Thieves, communication is a very close second. Without a HUD or any indicators whatsoever, to actually go anywhere you need to work together and talk to each other. From my position behind the wheel, my view was obscured by the sails. I also wasn’t able to change the direction of the sails as they were catching the wind. One of my crewmates was below deck examining the map. Our ship appeared as a moving icon so he was able to direct me while I steered. Another crewmate stood on the bow, on the lookout for any obstacles.

Grand Theft Nautical

On arriving at our destination and dropping anchor, we headed ashore and claimed our prize. As we set sail towards an outpost to trade the treasure for gold, we were fired upon by another group of pirates. I didn’t realise that the three separate groups of players were playing together.

Giving chase, we fired back but missed. The excitement was over, or so the other pirates thought. As they dropped anchor and headed ashore to claim the treasure we already took, another pirate and I boarded their ship and stole it. The best part was the other pirates had no idea until they came back to sail away.

There were no notifications or announcements to alert them to our piracy. When they did finally realise, their desperate shouts were in vain as we sailed away laughing. With two ships in our fleet, we were a force to be reckoned with.

Unfortunately, that’s where our hands-on with Sea of Thieves ended. But my appetite for piracy, sailing the seven seas and making landlubbers walk the plank had certainly been whet. Sea of Thieves looks like an incredible return to form for Rare and an excellent game to play with friends. I can sea crews forming and staying together the same way they do for Destiny’s Fireteams and Overwatch’s competitive mode.

I can’t wait to get my crew together and cause some mayhem on the waves.

Leo Stevenson
Leo Stevenson
I've been playing games for the past 27 years and have been writing for almost as long. Combining two passions in the way I'm able is a true privilege. PowerUp! is a labour of love and one I am so excited to share.

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