After spending several hours riding the high seas, hunting for treasure and being bitten by snakes in Sea of Thieves, I’m not sure how to feel. On one hand, I’d fun voyaging with my crew and firing myself out a cannon but on the other, the experience felt aimless and like I was missing something. And perhaps that is the point. Sea of Thieves for all its grandeur and swashbuckling might just not be for me, and while that is fine I need to explore why.
First, let’s talk about my expectations as I think this played a major role in why I was ultimately disappointed in Sea of Thieves. While it wasn’t exactly hyped, I was regularly told I would enjoy it as I regularly fall into long periods of playing Destiny. This led to me thinking of Sea of Thieves as a pirate version of Destiny with all the baggage and excitement that thought brings. However, the games are so fundamentally different that there is almost no point comparing the two. Obviously, I’m going to ignore that redundancy and compare them but just so you know what you’re getting yourself into.
Destiny is a game of numbers, stats, trackers and continuous progression. Everything you do makes one bar or another increase. There is a constant flow of new goodies to play with, new powers to unleash and another oversized, ridiculous enemy around every corner. Whenever I play it my brain is constantly buffeted with the excitement that comes from unlocking something new or doing some cool space wizard nonsense. Destiny is either stat driven or cool driven, at all times. Sea of Thieves, on the other hand, has no incrementally stronger weapons or constantly ticking up bars. Instead, a sword is a sword and a cannon is a cannon. You can change how they look but they will do the same thing. So it is never stat driven. In terms of being cool driven, the stories in Sea of Thieves are not around second by second silliness but rather an adventure of your own making. You might decide to stop at an island on your way to another, get distracted and then pick a fight with another crew. All of it is incidental and relies on the player to make their own cool moments. Now not to say I can’t do that or that I’m not cool, but for every Kraken, you encounter there are also several minutes of merely carrying a chest to a man to sell it and then going back for the other six nearly identical chests.
I think we can confidently say, that Sea of Thieves and Destiny’s only similarity is that you get to run around a virtual space with your friends. As soon as I realised this, I was disappointed. I know this is probably a ridiculous statement, but I love stats. I love RPG’s and stat driven games, I like seeing numbers go up, I like the excitement of getting a bigger number and I genuinely enjoy spreadsheets. And more than all that, I love it when a game hides it’s glorified spreadsheet behind the flash and bang of a game like Destiny. So when I realised the only thing I could really spend my money on in Sea of Thieves was different looking bits of the same equipment I already had, everything felt a little pointless.
However, I ploughed through and decided to try and ignore that and just focus on the silly pirating adventures. Like the time we sailed to an island to dig up a treasure chest or that other time we sailed to an island to dig up a slightly different treasure chest. And then there was the one time when we went to the wrong island and fought a skeleton and then dug up another treasure chest before going to the right island to get the correct treasure chest. While I am being a little facetious, this is what Sea of Thieves felt like during those two hours after discovering there were no stats.
I didn’t understand what we were working towards in our adventures. We could certainly have saved our gold and bought some fancy new cannons for the ship, or an eye patch with a flame on it but to what purpose? I never felt like any of these would make going to an island to do a thing any different or more interesting. It wasn’t like we were getting a new sword that was on fire or a blunderbuss that shot sheep, they just looked vaguely different. This meant that any progression I was feeling from our initial voyages was replaced with a sense of aimless wandering. I felt genuinely adrift at sea and a game I had been excited to play became one I couldn’t wait to put down.
It seems I need more than a sandbox and the options to make my own fun. I think I’ve Sea of Thieves was around 10 years ago, I’d have jumped at the chance to go on stupid pirate adventures with my friends as we each fired ourselves out of cannons and threw bombs at each other. These days, though, everyone is so busy that while the above all sounds fun I need more from my what little game time I have. To throw in another Destiny comparison, playing the campaigns is great fun without even thinking about everything else it offers, and if Sea of Thieves had a more structured mode for us to mess about in, I think this article would be very different. It turns out I need goals, I need progression and I need to feel like I’m achieving something.
And you know what, I’m fine with all of this *gestures up in the article*. It is fine that Sea of Thieves is a fantastic experience for some people and not one for me. If you enjoy Sea of Thieves then more power to you. However, I don’t think I’ll be gathering the crew and donning my pirate hat again.
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