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  • Daniel James

Sea of Thieves' Beta is a Hilarious, Intense Thrillride

I literally jumped out of my chair and laughed as Sea of Thieves delivered yet another horrifying tragedy to my ragtag crew of adventurers.

As my ship's fiery wreckage sank beneath the waves, half a dozen invaluable treasure chests disappeared into the murky depths of the sea, and what remained of my crew was bloodily eviscerated by sharks, I kept laughing. And laughing. And laughing.

I'm a subdued guy, extremely so. I currently attend college and I have yet to attend a single non-class event. I eat the exact same three meal every single day because wandering through public areas stresses me out too much. In class, I'm largely silent, at the back, and trained to ignore any attempts to socialize with me.

That doesn't change when I'm online. I turn text chat off in all my games. I avoid joining party chats with people I don't know; a policy which made Raiding near impossible for me in Destiny 1. Our social media guy, Invisible Player, forced me to use Discord, and it took a month for me to get over the nervousness of being in a voice chat with people I don't know.

I sit in perfect posture, silently, poised over my mouse and keyboard and play for hours without moving. That's how I enjoy playing.

Yet Sea of Thieves had me laughing hysterically in voice chat along complete strangers.

Let me rewind.

Invisible Player and I decided to set out to sea as soon as Sea of Thieves' beta dropped. I played on PC, and he played on Xbox. My taboos were already falling apart, although I'd yet to realize it. The game's cross-play feature was seamless, and his Xbox Party invite appeared instantly on my PC's notifications. I hit accept, and within seconds, we were in the same lobby.

The game was immediately intuitive. We spawned into a bar, with appropriate Disney-esque music and a gorgeous art style. I typically dislike low-poly games, but this wasn't an attempt at looking quirky; it became apparent that the game's watercolor art-style was meticulously and cohesively designed. What could have been a forgettable, gimmicky art style is expanded on with such unblinking consistency that I was quickly lost within it.

Games function as expanded metaphors, and the game's art-style was so consistent that, within minutes, the cartoony beach may as well have been a photograph from the Maldives. It's a truly incredible looking game, from the silhouette of islands against the setting sun, the deeply frothed foam of the waves, to the planks of the ship. What could have come off as "cute" was so convincing in its delivery that my mind was soon sucked into the world.

We set off aboard our first ship, a small vessel. And it was here that Sea of Thieves' gameplay began to sink its teeth into us. The ship's mechanics were easy to pick up; we found a destination on the map, I grabbed ahold of the steering wheel, and tried to go forward.

Nothing, of course, happed. We'd forgotten to lift the anchor. We located the anchor, and laboriously turned a wheel to have it lifted. Adjacent, we found a pair of ropes that adjusted our sails. We could lower and raise the sails to control our speed, and adjust the sails' angle to catch the most wind possible. Between these controls, we found ourselves busy constantly adjusting for the best possible route.

It became apparent that navigation was important. There's no mini-map, and there are no on-screen markers. To find a destination, you have to check a map table below deck, figure out the direction you need to aim, and then sail in that direction while checking your compass. The thing is, you can't check the map and sail the ship at the same time.

We soon figured out a workable arrangement. Invisible Player stayed under the deck as our navigator, while I worked the wheel. Soon, we found our island.

We jumped aboard, and checked our clues. A treasure chest was somewhere beneath the sands. The clue told us to find a "skull totem," turn North-by-Northwest, and walk seven paces. After about ten minutes of searching, we found the skull totem (after incorrectly attempted to maneuver and dig around a random skull we'd found). Seven paces North-by-Northwest, and we found a chest full of treasure.

Enraptured with this achievement, we ran it back to our ship. This was the pirate's life. It was also this moment where everything went downhill.

The treasure chest start crying. Yup, you read that right; I wasn't sure I was hearing it right myself. The chest was crying, and it had tears streaming from every corner. Our lower deck was flooding, and we were at the brink of sinking. We had no idea what to do. We were going to lose our ship, our treasure, and all twelve bananas we'd collected.

Sea of Thieves has no tutorials, no guides, and no prompts. Everything is relatively easy to figure out, just visually. This is in no small part due to Rare's masterful design in everything the player interacts with. Because there's no HUD to hide investigate or menus to navigate, the player can find a solution relatively quickly just with trial and error.

We found that, using buckets, we could pick up water, and throw it overboard. So Invisible Player and I began frantically running up and down the stairs, throwing bucket after bucket overboard.

In time, the ship was water-free, at least on the outside. We took a moment to breathe, and realized something was wrong. We were far, far off-course.

The map revealed that, while navigator and captain had been bailing water, the ship had drifted far north, miles away from the outpost were aiming to sell our chest at. We immediately course-corrected, but this proved to be an ill-fated journey.

We approached the outpost, just a few minutes ahead of us. Then a dark sail obscured our view: a massive galleon had crossed our path, or perhaps we'd just crossed its. It was no simple vessel like ours. It was three decks tall, with eight cannons bristling at its sides, ready to shred adjacent threat into woodchips.

In a series of shouts over Xbox Live, we came to a quick agreement that this was not an ideal position, and that land would be kinder to maintaining homeostasis. Between volleys of cannon fire, we made it to land. I held them off by firing pistol shots into the air and dancing around the beach, hoping they wouldn't turn me into a red splatter across the beach; meanwhile Invisible Player cashed in our chest.

That's a brief overview of our very first voyage, done with extremely limited understanding of the game's sandbox and tools. All of this happened within 30 minutes

It’s easy to pick up, and with virtually no pre-knowledge of how to play the game, we experienced more intense, fun and hilarious moments than most games deliver across 30 hours.

Long story short, Sea of Thieves is masterfully crafted. The gameplay loop is so open-ended and the sandbox is so rich that the game can support seemingly infinite scenarios. In the two days of play I’ve given it, I’ve yet to have a single moment where I could honestly say “I’ve done this before.”

I’ve seen fiery ships crash into the waves with all hands onboard; sharks leap out of the water and snatch helpless sailors off of ladders; I watched my crew drown in a sea filled with blood-red water.

These are the thrilling moments of Sea of Thieves, and with friends, they can frequently be hilarious. It’s been said that tragedy plus time equals comedy, but if the post-2014 internet is anything to go by, tragedy plus friends dials that formula up to eleven. And that’s exactly what Sea of Thieves is.

If the beta is anything to go by, or the game’s insane viewer-count on Twitch, this could be 2018’s PUBG. It has all the makings of a smash hit for Rare and Microsoft.

Edit: The article released with the article's text posted twice, has been updated to fix.