Sea of Thieves is still full of potential

2018 GOTY AWARDS

Accompanying our team-selected Game of the Year awards for 2018, individual members of the PC Gamer team will each discuss one of their favorites from the last 12 months. We'll post a new personal pick alongside our awards until 2018 ends. 

In my last pirating session with Captain Livingston, we loaded our crow's nest with at least 10 chests—according to our pirate rules, that's where you have to put loot—and of course were attacked by a kraken on the way back to port. 

It was a scary fight because we had so much to lose, but all we did is aim our cannons at its tentacles and run below deck now and then to repair. When we finally killed it and limped to an outpost, completely out of cannon balls, we carefully approached at half-sail to anchor as close to the buyer as possible, easing the next bit of work: carrying each chest off the ship one-by-one to sell it.

The whole thing felt too laborious, as if we really were working and, somehow, all our map reading, chest digging-upping, and tentacle shooting was mining bitcoin for someone. Worse, for our next mission, we were asked to transport cargo. 50 crates of it. It took us ages to lug each plant, bundle of cloth, and crate of rum to the ship. Before we could deliver it all—which would've required several minutes of hauling—four players on a galleon spotted us and chased us around an island. Then a skeleton ship joined the party and sunk us. I hope they enjoyed picking 50 crates out of the water, if they even wanted them.

Sea of Thieves has lost some of the charm it had earlier in the year, when we first learned to sail, dove into our first shipwreck, and fought skellies in our first fort assault, which was made extra tense by an informal alliance with other players. But I keep coming back, and I always have something to share afterward. The time we got drunk in the tavern and had a barf war. The time we ditched our ship and tried to play with rowboats only. The time we lost 50 damn crates just feet from our delivery contact. Despite the lackadaisical pace and laborious missions, I always find a way to have fun.

There are two main ways we do that: by putting as much treasure on our ship as we can so that we're terrified of losing it—which makes even the simplest kraken fights intense—or by goofing off for two hours, balancing powder barrels on the bow of our ship and trying to ram other players, making up pirate rules, and shooting each other out of cannons.

I love how Sea of Thieves is designed to be played in discrete sessions which start fresh each time and come to  natural conclusions (after losing 50 crates, it's time to go play some Rocket League instead). Because of that, and because the only things you own between sessions are cosmetic, Rare was able to limit the number of hard coded rules. You can climb onto someone's ship, drop their anchor, steal their cannonballs, and dive back into the ocean. Or you can cooperate. Or you can cooperate and then betray them. Or you can hide on the back of their ship and listen to them argue through proximity voice chat, which is also something we've done.

In this way, Sea of Thieves bridges the hard survival game life, where you can lose days worth of work in an instant (or worse, in EVE Online), and the hard rules of theme park MMOs, where everyone's belongings are firmly their own. Each session is full of uncertainty, and that's what I love about it.

Sea of Thieves will always need more, and will always get complaints about not having enough, because it's such an open framework that anything feels possible. Off the top of my head, OK, how about a way to lash our ship to another ship such that if one sinks, they both do? Of course we could find a way to make that fun. 

Even though it's a generic request, I want more, too. I haven't loved every update this year—they've been good, but I want more toys and spectacles rather than more combat events and missions—but I'm excited for next year and I hope Sea of Thieves is successful enough to keep growing. It wasn't the best game of 2018, but it could become the best game of 2019 or 2020.

Tyler has been writing about and editing writing about games for over 10 years. When he's not organizing his inbox, you can find him attempting to aerial in Rocket League, playing medic in Battlefield 1, or spending hours in RPG character creation screens instead of actually playing them.