Sea of Thieves review: a five day Captain's Log

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Welcome to TechRadar's Sea of Thieves review. Sea of Thieves is a brand new online multiplayer game from Rare studios that has launched on Xbox One and Windows PC.

The game sees you take up the role of a pirate and sail the Sea of Thieves, either by your lonesome or with a crew of up to four, to chase your dreams of becoming a legendary pirate. This is a game that encourages you to forge your own adventure, so it's completely up to you what you do in this open game world.

Sea of Thieves is an always-online service-based game, which means it's never-ending and ever-growing – and therefore an expansive game to review. In light of that, TechRadar's Captain Emma Boyle is spending several days with the game, and charting her adventures in this daily captain's log to give you a taste of what you can expect if you're thinking about hoisting the Jolly Roger yourself.

This is our final log, where you'll also find our closing verdict on the game. Click through to read the previous days if you've missed anything!

Captain's log

Day Five

Time: to say goodbye

James and I meet in a tavern, agreed that working in any crew, as long as it has a population greater than one, is a more preferable way to explore the Sea of Thieves. The last time I saw James he was being engulfed by the maw of a very hungry Kraken, so I’m glad to say he’s looking rather well now, all things considered. 

Discussing what our next move is going to be, my eyes meet those of a mysterious stranger from across the room. In any other location this might sound potentially romantic, but in the context of the tavern we’re currently in I’d say there’s far greater potential for violence. 

Mysterious Stranger

The mysterious stranger will appear in taverns across the game world, leaning, well, mysteriously against a wall. If you want to hear what she has to say you'll have to have at least five points of reputation with each of the sea companies. It's a good incentive to balance out the quests you take – something we very much didn't do. 

However, when I lock eyes with the stranger she doesn’t square up to threaten me, so I approach her with interest, noting as I get closer that she looks like a nautical Zorro. Unfortunately, although she’s not looking to stab me, she’s not looking to talk to me either, telling me that my reputation isn’t high enough across the various sea companies for her to deign to give me her attention.

Deciding that it may be worth our time to increase our reputation across the board, then, we decide to do some work for the Order of Souls, the company with whom both of our reputations are most lacking. 

Aboard our two-person sloop with a bounty-hunting quest in hand, we unfurl the sails and get underway. James takes the wheel, while I run back and forth between the map and the bow to scan the horizon for other ships. 

You don't need a spyglass to appreciate that sunset

You don't need a spyglass to appreciate that sunset

Though I’ve become accustomed to sailing a ship alone, it amazes me just how much easier the whole process is with one additional person, and it’s not long before we reach our destination.

Before we can even secure our feet on the solid ground of the island, however, there are cursed skeletons coming out to meet us. How hospitable. They come in waves, and we slash our way through them with ease. Skeletons aren’t the most inconspicuous creatures, and you can usually hear their rasping and creaking joints before they reach you, but it’s certainly comforting knowing there’s someone watching your back – even if they only end up watching it being skewered. 

Risk takers

Even when you've gathered what you need from a quest and 'Voyage Complete' appears on screen, you won't get the money or the reputation you've earned until you've returned your findings to the relevant vendor. This means embarking on other voyages immediately after completing one is something of a risk. You could increase your reward, or you could be sunk by an attacking ship and lose everything. It's up to you!

It’s not long until we draw the captain from his hiding place beneath the sand, and we turn our attention to him. While the last pirate captain I faced had a delightfully floppy feathered hat, this one is kitted out with a striking admiral number, and I find myself wondering if the wisdom the Order of Souls is seeking from these skulls is actually their fashion sense. 

With a conclusive swing of our swords, the pirate captain crumbles before our eyes and I snatch up the skull from the sand. 

Once we’re back aboard the ship I decide the skull’s size makes it perfect for storing in the crow’s nest, believing that it’s unlikely to be the first place an attacking ship would check. 

Agreeing that this particular quest was far too quick and easy, James and I decide to take on a Gold Hoarder quest before we return to the outpost to up the stakes. Scouring the map table for the correct island (a task made far more difficult without our former map-proficient colleague Jon) we eventually find it, relieved to see that it’s actually not far away at all.

When we arrive and swim ashore, James and I see something glinting on the sand under the light of the moon. Squinting, I bend to pick it up from the sand and see it’s a small gold reliquary. Unable to fit it in my pocket, but in no way willing to part with it, I carry it with me while we search for the buried chest we actually came for. 

Something tells me I should dig there

Something tells me I should dig there

Finding the spot, James starts digging while I stand holding the reliquary like the watchful useless magpie I apparently am. When James hauls the chest from the ground we notice that it looks far different from the chests we’re used to seeing. It’s a mix of purple and green, and on its front it has a carved face with water streaming from the eyes. On closer inspection we see it’s called the Chest of Sorrows. 

Of course it couldn’t have been the Chest of Hysterical Laughter. It’s never the Chest of Hysterical Laughter.

Cursed Chests

Not every chest is a simple wooden affair. Some chests in Sea of Thieves are cursed, and they'll do something special that can either work with you or against you. While the Chest of Sorrows sunk our ship, you could plant it to sink someone else's. It's up to you to be creative. 

“Oh I've heard of this,” I say worriedly. “It cries enough to sink your ship if you take it aboard.” (”A bit like myself,” I add in my head.)

Agreeing that we can’t very well leave it behind, and that one of us can bail the ship while the other sails, we trot back to the shore. 

Back aboard our ship, I see James climb up to the crow's nest, chest on his back, where he stores it. I don’t even question the physics.

Oddly, it seems like the tears have stopped, and we celebrate, thinking we’ve found the trick to transporting it safely. It’s only when we start on our route to the nearest outpost that we notice the lower deck is filling rather quickly with water. It turns out that even cursed chests need to stop for a hydration break. 

I take the wheel and James begins bailing out the water, both of us glad that the outpost isn’t too far away. 

When we see it come into sight, we’re both amazed we’re still afloat. Turning to James to ask when I ought to drop anchor I hear him cry out that he’s fallen overboard. I don’t know how or why it happened, and frankly I'm afraid to ask. Instead I throw down the anchor and bolt to the crow's nest to grab the weeping chest and get it off the ship as soon as possible. 

Leaping from the crow's nest directly into the water, I hear an ominous creaking behind me.

“Wait, is the ship sinking?” I hear James ask. And turning slowly in the water, crying chest still in my arms, I see that, indeed, the ship is sinking. Rolling onto its side like a toddler coming down from a sugar high, it’s mere seconds before the waves swallow our tiny sloop entirely. 

We connected with the chest on an emotional level

We connected with the chest on an emotional level

Looking down at the chest in my arms with wonder, and slight concern about what I might be doing to the sea levels, I kick towards the shore while James looks for the treasure we’ve lost in the capsizing. 

The Gold Hoarders don’t seem perturbed by crying chest or the heavily sobbing pirate delivering it. They do, however, pay generously, which goes some way to stopping my sniveling.

Sinking feeling

If your ship sinks, don't give up hope! You could still find your treasure floating in the ocean and swim it back to shore. 

Returning to the deck, James and I scour the water with our spyglasses until we spot our treasure floating a few meters out. Retrieving it and selling it on, we celebrate a rather bittersweet victory. 

Returning to the water with new quests in our pockets, we search for the nearest mermaid to return us to our ship, me less willing than James. I swear they know my name by this point. 

As if by magic (actually definitely by magic) we find ourselves looking at our resurrected ship, this time on the white sands of a completely different island. Tucked into these sands, we notice, is a glass bottle with a particularly enticing sheen.

Picking it up gingerly, James pulls a scroll from within and we huddle excitedly to read the riddle written on it: ‘Overflowing and laden with gold, on Kraken Fall lies treasure of old.’

Well, there’s only one thing for it.

Back aboard the ship, we scour the map to find Kraken’s Fall and see it lies far to the south – far too far away to sail directly there without picking up some more treasure en route. Pulling out my next Order of Souls quest, we see that we’ve been tasked with seizing two cursed skulls and, conveniently, their locations lead us in a neat semi-circle down to Kraken’s Fall. 

Message in a bottle

Like the Kraken, weather and pirate forts, messages in bottles are unpredictable items in the game world. It's always worth keeping an eye out for them whether on land or sea, as they'll send you on quests with a difference. 

Sailing out towards the first island we hear cannon fire, and through my spyglass I spot a galleon and a sloop engaged in combat. I say 'engaged', but the sloop clearly wants no part of what’s going on, and I watch as it struggles to shake off its attacker without success. 

Resisting the urge to provide a David Attenborough-style running commentary on this majestic view of the piratical food chain at work, I suggest to James that we give the contretemps a wide berth, and keep an eye on that prowling galleon. 

I've got my highly shaky eye on you

I've got my highly shaky eye on you

With the galleon still in our sights as we approach our first island, I stay aboard the ship as guard while James goes ashore. Alternating my spylgass between watching the potential enemy ship and ensuring James isn’t being utterly slaughtered by a wave of pirates on land, I feel exceptionally useless and useful at the same time. 

Another skull stored safely in the crow's nest, we veer around the now curiously still galleon and approach our next destination. This island is far more impressive than the patchy white scab on the smooth skin of the ocean that the previous one was. Littered with shipwrecks and mammoth animal bones, it's large, and leaves us feeling nervous enough that we decide both of us should go ashore. 

It’s perhaps just as well – between the overgrowth and the oppressive darkness it’s hard to see where the next skeleton attack will come from. Their growls and rasps makes it sound like they’re everywhere at once, and it’s with some relief that we slay Captain Jessica Parker. Her skull glows far more brightly than any other I’ve seen, and I wonder just what kind of wisdom it holds. Probably not to wear socks with sandals – that’s a big one.

Jessica takes being bright to a whole new level

Jessica takes being bright to a whole new level

Our crow's nest now looking like a rather pathetic graveyard, we finally make our way towards Kraken’s Fall. 

Almost as soon as we drop anchor at Kraken’s Fall, another line is added to the riddle, telling us to head to the castaway camp to the east and hold a light high. We pull out our compasses and start exploring.

But although we find what is incontrovertibly a castaway camp on the east of the island, and pull out our lamps to cast a light on every inch of it, we can't seem to get the next line of the riddle to reveal itself. We spend what feels like hours scouring the island, and while I find another chest that has absolutely no connection to the riddle we’re trying to solve, we finally have to admit that we’re stumped. 

Riddle me this

Later Gold Hoarder quests, as well as messages in a bottle, will task you with solving riddles to find treasure. Make sure you're patient, because they won't always be simple. 

Skeletons sprout from the ground at various intervals like particularly aggressive weeds and we beat them back, agreeing that they surely wouldn’t be appearing quite so frequently if we weren’t in the right place.

Perhaps noticing that I’m around five seconds from smashing my skull against the nearest rock, James suggests that we cash in our treasures and leave this riddle for another day, and I agree with relief.

Wading into the water towards our ship, I look up and notice the blinding green glow that’s emanating from the crow’s nest. We look like a radioactive lighthouse. Perhaps storing our treasures there isn't quite as clever and idea as I initially thought. 

Even a night this dark couldn't have hidden our crow's nest

Even a night this dark couldn't have hidden our crow's nest

Back aboard the ship and on the waves once more, we play a celebratory and conciliatory shanty as we approach the outpost. With a particularly enthusiastic jump, I feel the deck leave my feet and I topple off the side of the ship, my accordion wheezing as I hit the waves.

James is, perhaps, not as clumsy as I'd thought. And it’s amazing how fast these ships can go when you’re trying to swim after them, I marvel. 

Verdict: play it now

And with that, you come to the end of my captain’s log for TechRadar. Having plugged many hours into Sea of Thieves at this point, I feel ready to give a less narrative verdict on the game.

Overall, I can say with conviction that Sea of Thieves is an excellent multiplayer adventure with an incredible amount of potential. It’s an anecdote factory that gives players the freedom to craft their own stories. In case you couldn’t tell, this game engaged the part of my brain that loves to tell a good story, and that’s something that’s very much to its credit; the last game to encourage this degree of unfounded character exploration in me was probably Fable. 

Sea of Thieves relies on the unpredictability and chemistry of its players to inject variety, and while I enjoyed this it’s certainly not something that will suit everyone. In fact, even for those it does suit, it’s perhaps not an experience for every day. It’s not every evening that I want to go on a rip-roaring adventure on the high seas; sometimes I just want Kraken-free quiet.

Going solo can be challenging on the Sea of Thieves

Going solo can be challenging on the Sea of Thieves

Those who prefer solo offline play are unlikely to click with this game immediately, but as a solo offline-preferring player I can promise it’s not impossible to like Sea of Thieves. It just takes some getting used to.

While I enjoyed the days I sailed on my own in Sea of Thieves, I noticed these sessions tended to be shorter and more stressful. This is a game that thrives on multiplayer interaction, and you can definitely feel that the game becomes more manageable and rewarding when you’re working with other people. 

Unfortunately, we don’t all have ready-made crews, and it’s not everyone who's willing to be thrown onto a deck of strangers with minimal opportunity for introduction.

This highlights one of my biggest issues with Sea of Thieves and that’s the outposts, which remain PvP at all times. Given that Sea of Thieves is a game which encourages camaraderie and teamwork, Outposts seem like the ideal location to allow players to meet, crew-up and relax – a shared social space that makes players turn off the 'jerk' button for a moment and be open to making new friends. 

Instead, we’re seeing footage of players camping out around stores to kill other players before they can cash in their treasures, and then taking them for their own. I get that we’re pirates, and that stealing gold is our pretty much our raison d'être, but it would be nice to have a small number of places in the game, other than the Ferry of the Damned, where you’re not constantly looking over your shoulder.

The Ferry of the Damned is a surprisingly good place to meet people

The Ferry of the Damned is a surprisingly good place to meet people

On the other side of the doubloon, though, something I think Sea of Thieves gets very right with regards to bringing people together is its reputation system. The fact that no mission is locked off to you, allowing low- and high-reputation players to be on the same crew, is incredibly refreshing. It doesn’t matter if my friends have played longer than me – as long as they’re willing to share their quests with me I can advance too.

Sea of Thieves’ quests are a succession of variations on fetching and delivering, and while this can grate, the fact that they get more challenging as you increase your reputation is something of a blessing. While they don’t dramatically alter, they become far more involved and, as you can see in the above log, they’re not always easy.

It’s not all smooth sailing, though. The patchy, sword-swinging nature of the combat can be frustrating, and it would be nice to see a system that has a little more depth too. Or dual-wielding at the very least. Please let me be Captain Double Blunderbuss, Rare. Doubluss for short.

Sea of Thieves is still in its early days, but I think it’s off to an extremely strong start. It’s clear that the developers are willing to listen to the players, and I expect we’ll see a great many interesting additions to the game in the coming months. 

It’s worth saying, though, that the game will need these additions – your friends can only add so much variety to a Gold Hoarders' quest before everyone grows weary. As long as Rare is willing to add to this playground, I expect players will be happy to play in it.