After spending the closing years of the Xbox 360 developing a range of underwhelming Kinect titles, Rare is finally returning to what it does best. Building on the nostalgic wonder of 2015's Rare Replay, Sea of Thieves is an all new IP coming to Xbox One and Windows 10 in 2017.
Watch the latest trailer:
Sea of Thieves is an open-world pirate adventure with ambitious multiplayer components. Played from a first-person perspective, you and your friends can form a motley crew of mischevious pirates as you build a ship, collect some rum and sail across the seven seas. The lovable charm and abundance of imagination Rare is renown for is bursting from Sea of Thieves, marking a new era for the beloved studio.
Read on for our hands-on Sea of Thieves preview from E3 2016.
Available on Xbox One and PC in 2017
I went into the hands-on demo of Sea of Thieves at E3 completely pessimistic. After hating the way it was presented at Microsoft’s press conference as a glorified YouTuber Let’s Play session, I fully expected this to not be a game for me. But after spending 30 minutes on the high seas with a few friends, I’ve become an ale-flask-half-full kind of guy.
I wasn’t sure exactly what Sea of Thieves was before playing it, or in fact where the ‘game’ lay. Within minutes I realised it was basically a friends’ night out. This is most definitely a co-operative experience you’ll want to play with buddies. Half of the experience was laughing and giggling at the utter shambles that was our crew.
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While a friend took the wheel of the ship, a developer informed us we were able to cycle through between an accordion, ale and wooden paddle. After we were done with the spanking jokes, I began swigging ale at the front of the deck while another buddy played Ride of the Valkyries on the accordion to serenade us.
I thought the drink would simply make things a little fuzzy. And as expected, the rocks in the distance became a little blurry. Not a clever move; I was supposed to be on the lookout for enemy ships to attack, but I kept drinking as if I was on my holidays. What I didn’t know was drinking the alcohol also affected my pirate’s balance and I quickly found myself collapsed in the hull of the boat.
It was these opening five minutes of gameplay that made me realise Sea of Thieves is about moments, with the game mechanics and setup simply a foundation to pave the way for unique shared experiences amongst players.
It reminded me a bit of the rise of games built for YouTube. Games like Goat and Surgeon Simulator look great to play when you're accompanied by an adult screaming like a toddler in the corner, but when you pick the controller up yourself they are just playable incarnations of “you had to be there” jokes.
Sea of Thieves has more substance than those YouTube games, but it definitely creates moments that, were you to tell them to anyone else, they simply wouldn’t get it unless they’ve played the game. It’s why I didn’t buy into the E3 trailer. Watching someone drop the anchor at the wrong time isn’t funny until you’ve struggle to find where the bloody anchor is for several minutes yourself.
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On the sea I finally sobered up, and managed to spot a ship. Everyone playing the demo was British, so we refused to use proper pirate talk – it was simply to the top-left; we never established whose left.
Our captain guided the ship into firing position and we manned the cannon. Exchanging fire with an enemy ship was great fun. It was at this point we finally discovered the paddle wasn't for naughty pirates but to fix the holes in the ship from cannon fire and prevent the vessel sinking. So splitting your manpower between fighting and repair is something that requires constant communication. I hate talking on headsets when gaming, but this game makes it essential and enjoyable.
We brought the enemy ship down and revelled in our victory with more ale and Ride of the Valkyries. Unfortunately we weren’t able to pillage the ship for loot in this build. In fact, all we could do was sail and exchange cannon fire. I’m hoping there’s more substance in the full release, which there undoubtedly will be. Being able to engage in sword fights, find buried treasure and invade enemy pirate ships are all essential for this game to keep players coming back.
I had a lot of childish fun with Sea of Thieves. It’s a game that needs to be played to be understood and to speculate about its potential. Rare is an iconic developer for a reason, and has always been capable of building incredibly rich worlds. It’s one of the few experiences that makes me want to go online with a group of friends and play. To play this with random strangers or alone would take such a significant portion of the experience away.
I imagine Sea of Thieves is still some way from launch – no release date was revealed during the Microsoft trailer – but in Rare we trust, and I hope to be sailing the high seas again soon. They have good ale.