Will Trolls Kill Sea Of Thieves Release Like They Did My Hands-On?

Sea Of Thieves is slated for release in 2018.
Sea Of Thieves is slated for release in 2018. Rare

I wrote at length on day -1 of E3 2017, a.k.a. June 11, that I had a lot of anguish over the Sea of Thieves release date . I’m a pirate gaming fan going way back and Sea Of Thieves represented the best modern console opportunity to relive the swashbuckling life of my gaming golden years. I’d played Sea of Thieves once before, at E3 last year, and was hoping a larger demo opportunity would be available at E3 this year. A 2017 release would’ve been nice, too.

Instead we got another delay and another demo that left me feeling unsatisfied. And I want to say it's because the game doesnt demo well. I’ve seen similar things happen. Evolve demoed very well, and then disappointed a lot of people. My impression is Sea of Thieves might be the opposite. I have hyped the game to myself since the announcement, so not walking away from demos with my mind blown Devolver-style is clashing with my expectations. But after my 20-minute hands-on with Sea of Thieves at the Xbox E3 Showcase, I’m ready to accept that this game may be bigger than any of us think.

Here’s my big problem with my Sea of Thieves hands-on experience; it wasn’t much fun. But it was the all-too-familiar issues of team communications and dynamics that made it so, nothing that Rare’s game in and of itself did to me. We had a captain who wasn’t listening, and a handful of goofball pirates who kept jumping off the boat and messing with the sails. Even our handler started to feel frustrated, and tagged out midway through the demo we were such a lost cause.

I spent much of the demo trying to heed the instructions of the Rare dev team. This wasn’t a typical dev presence in a demo session meant to corral your freewheeling playstyle to a focused, QA-tested path. This was a recognition this game is a monstrous abyss that requires teamwork and communication to properly navigate. Diving like an ass into the water for no reason is fun for the lolz, but the feeling fades when the ship starts sailing away and all you do is swim for minutes on end to catch up. Pulling the sails up and down and up and down as a goof means the ship absolutely crawls in the water, adding travel time on open ocean. Our guide tried to warn us, but we didn’t listen.

By we, I mean they. The others didn’t listen. I dutifully followed through on as many commands as I could and was rewarded with tedium for my efforts. While my fellow pirates scurried off ship to fight skeletons and sniff out loot I turned around and went to check for damage after our handler advised us that barreling onto the beach at full sail and with no anchor is a risky way to park. I returned to a perforated hull and a hold full of water so I patched holes and hauled bucket after bucket of sea water overboard.

There were glimmers of hope in the gameplay, too. An enemy pirate swam towards our ships ladder as I climbed aboard, and fired two shots at me from his musket. Both missed. I turned and killed him in one glorious shot, causing a chorus of “OHHHHH” to break out at a demo station nearby where my foe was playing. I also enjoyed using the map table to help our captain navigate (when he listened) and the lack of waypoints and other tutorial tools players are used to means a lot of getting lost but a lot of genuine accomplishment too. Open-world games tend to be too easy, constantly nudging you in the right or chosen direction. Sea of Thieves has no direction, no dot on the horizon more important than other dots. We started the demo with treasure maps and tried to find some because that’s what we were told to try to do. In an actual game scenario, I imagine myself and a group of friends finding all sorts of tasks and distractions. Sea of Thieves puts a lot of faith into its players. I guess I should return the favor.

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