There are two types of bones in the Sea of Thieves beta: skeleton bones, and bare-bones content. Granted, this is a beta, but the structure (or skeleton, if you will) of the swashbuckling open world is pretty one-note. Developer Rare is banking on player interaction and agency to build a narrative that is unique to each person, but that relies on having an inviting and rich space for players to explore, which so far seems to be lacking. The experience so far is this: buy a quest, find a treasure chest, bring the chest back for gold, buy another quest. It’s the shampoo approach to game design: wash, rinse, repeat.
You can set off on your adventure solo, in duos, or as a crew of four. How you choose to play will determine the size of your ship. Each ship is similar with a crow’s nest, map, cannons, brig and more, but the bigger the ship, the more there is to manage. More than that, playing alone or with friends drastically affects your experience. Navigation is a unique aspect of Sea of Thieves affected by your player count. Instead of a traditional minimap, players must rely on a compass, cloth maps, and communication with your crewmates to make any headway. It takes some time to get your bearings, but once you figure out the different mechanics, it is a lot of fun. The same goes for sailing. You can manage to navigate a smaller boat on your own, but to control a larger ship effectively, you’ll need your entire crew working and communicating together to control the sails, steer the helm, and navigate the expansive waters.
Sea of Thieves features some of the best-looking water in any game.The way sunlight dances on the rolling waves as they crash against the bow of your ship looks spectacular. As pleasing to the eye as it may be though, don’t dive in. There isn’t much to explore; the sunken ships we ran into didn’t have anything worthwhile, and there are sharks lurking beneath the surface ready to take a chomp out of your hide. If you do jump or fall into the water and find yourself stranded in the deep blue with no land in sight, a mythical mermaid will appear allowing you to warp to your ship. Despite the do-it-yourself style of a lot of the game’s mechanics, they are pretty forgiving when it comes to being stranded.
During one of the few times I found myself alone, I noticed that Sea of Thieves is oddly quiet. None of the player characters or NPCs speak, nor is there any text, and the ambient soundtrack is sparse at best. It feels like a sandbox without a shovel and pail to supplement the experience. The tools just aren’t there to allow you to have the adventures you want. There’s only a handful of things you can do with your pillaging party, but the novelty wears off pretty quickly. If Rare is relying entirely on player agency, I’m afraid it’s not going to have the staying power it needs to be a success. Sea of Thieves is missing a major component of what keeps players enticed–reward and progression. Once the novelty of your high seas hijinks wears off, there’s no reason to keep playing.