The fantasy of being a 17th-ish-century pirate is cobbled together with wide-open seas and the freedom to do whatever you wish. The historical reality involves significantly more menial labor and being gibbeted by the authorities. Fortunately, Sea of Thieves isn't much concerned with historical accuracy. Rare's upcoming online piracy (not that kind) simulator is looking to take your Pirates of the Caribbean and Treasure Island daydreams and translate them directly onto Xbox One and PC, presenting players with a vast ocean full of riches to claim and - most importantly - fellow buccaneers to befriend or betray.
How does it hope to succeed when so few games before it have managed to capture the joy of piratitude? Well, Sea of Thieves is sort of like Destiny meets Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag, minus the philosophical technobabble and Dan Brownian conspiracy theories. If you're still not quite clear on how those ideas would ever fit together, then stop counting your doubloons and get reading.
The most specific Microsoft Studios and Rare are willing to get on a Sea of Thieves release date right now is 2017. It was announced back in 2015 and was originally planned to ship in late 2016, but evidently the grog needs a little longer to ferment. These things take time.
Here's the first public gameplay trailer from Microsoft's E3 2016 press conference, as played by fans of the game. But don't stop there; read on for more from our interview with Rare and our own hands-on time.
It's theoretically possible that you could run a pirate ship all by yourself in Sea of Thieves, but you'd be extremely busy. Every ship has a number of roles that will need to be filled at any given time: first things first, you'll need to haul up the anchor; then you'll need to drop the sails, and of course you'll need to steer the ship. Every one of these tasks is pretty involved - you need to walk up to each mast and let them down individually, for instance - and many hands make light work.
The best solution will be to get a crew full of your friends on board all coordinating via voice chat. But even working with a group full of randos can be chaotic fun, as long as you're not too serious about getting things done in a hurry. Fortunately, Sea of Thieves will use the new Xbox LFG feature to help folks find groups that complement their own playstyle, so hopefully your hardcore privateering party won't be torpedoed by a subset that would rather sit below deck and drink grog.
You may want more people to operate it, but every pirate in Sea of Thieves will still get their own ship to call home. Rare plans to let players choose from a variety of vessels, and each one can be customized and upgraded to your salty heart's content. Whether you want to redecorate the interior and dazzle your guests or fit a reinforced hull and improved cannons to become the scourge of the seas, you'll be able to do it all - assuming you've got the treasure to pay for it. And don't worry too much about (literal) sunk costs, as you'll always be able to retrieve your boat from Davy Jones' Locker for a small price.
Once you're out on the high seas, you'll regularly encounter other ships full of other players. The matchmaking all happens behind the scenes, just like running into other players in Destiny, and how you react to your newfound naval neighbor is up to you. But let's not kid ourselves: the first time you see anybody else, there will probably be a copious exchange of cannon fire. Probably while everybody shouts about splicing main braces and battening hatches.
Don't expect Black Flag-style coordinated blasts with handily precalculated arcs - if you go to man a cannon, you're on your own. You'll have to compensate for the speed of the ball and the enemy ship all by yourself (though mercifully the cannons are self-loading), and whoever's at the helm will need to set up good firing angles. If you're hit below sea level you'll quickly start taking on water, so somebody will have to rush down to the lower decks and patch up the hull.
A pirate game would be remiss to leave out the clash of cutlasses and the boom of blunderbusses. Somehow, boarding an enemy ship and playing a menacing accordion tune just doesn't have the same effect. But unlike the impressive ship-to-ship combat, we haven't seen these handheld implements of destruction in action yet. First-person melee combat can be tough to pull off, so hopefully Rare has its thinking pirate caps on for making Sea of Thieves' swashbuckling fun. We do know that once you get better weapons, you'll be able to share them (probably temporarily) with your crewmates.
If you want to get any of those upgrades, you'll need to save up treasure. This is Sea of Thieves, not Sea of Investment Bankers, so most of your winnings will be pried from the boney fingers and/or slimy tentacles' of Sea of Thieves' NPC enemies. This is an area that Rare is keeping a bit quieter about for now, but the final game should have a bunch of different non-player foes: skeletal ghost pirates (LeChuck says "what's up"), mermaids, and sea monsters, to name a few.
You'll be able to take on some of these enemies all by yourself, and some you'll need a crew to stand a chance against. The toughest foes in the game will even require a flotilla's worth of vessels and seadogs to overcome. Or you could just wait for somebody else to kill the big nasty, then sink the weakened victors and take their loot. You are a pirate, after all.
No, seriously, the water feels really good, and not just in the usual "it looks so wet and splashy" sense. Sea of Thieves would like you to remember at all times that you are in a tiny boat on top of a gigantic ocean. Waves will pound your ship, causing it to sway to and fro as you stumble across the deck, and your helmsman will need to adjust course appropriately. Rare's still working on getting massive tropical storms working, but they're bound to be even more dramatic and potentially deadly. You may want to take it slow if you get seasick easily.
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