Ships in the night: Sea Of Thieves beta impressions


Today I’ve been playing the Sea of Thieves closed beta, which is available to invitees and anyone who pre-orders between now and Monday Jan 29, and offers a limited slice of Rare’s open-world, mostly multiplayer pirate game. As such, it’s a bit of a rum do.

Between the small playerbase for the beta and assorted missing features (held back until release so as to not spoil too many surprises, apparently), the experience so far is more ghost ship than cosmopolitan Caribbean. It’s not too hard to find a few mateys to avast away with, but rare to bump into anyone else on the high waters. You’ve got to fill the time somehow though, right? So here’s a clip of how it tends to go.

This is a recording of one of very few encounters I and my crew of randoms had with anyone else across the space of a two-hour play. The only other one was on land, on an island full of NPC shopkeepers, and with a solo player. We briefly stole his sloop while he was shopping, then felt altogether bad about it and returned it to where we found it. In the below instance, we spotted a ship on the starboard bow (or maybe port, I don’t bloody know) while haring about the ocean, and began taking potshots at it.

This is, I think, where Sea of Thieves is going to shine. Everyone on our ship had a role to fulfil – one person at the wheel, one on starboard cannons, one on port, another person (in theory) spotting and/or managing sail length in order to fine-control speed, and potentially a couple of the gang running off to manually bail water out of a damaged boat and fix planks over holes.

The sense of activity is thrilling, and even just a short while into the game, so much of it was done unspoken – we just understood. That said, if we were speaking, we’d probably have caught the bastard. As it was, we both missed each other and sailed off in opposite directions.

But it’s what happens either side of that which really thrilled me. Sailing through the long night, on long-ish trips to islands which just might hold treasure (if we can figure out the map and riddle system) but more likely have a few spare cannonballs guarded by some angry skeletons. How do you pass the time?

Everyone breaks out their musical instruments, is how. Currently there’s an accordion and a music box (or, at least, something with a wind-up handle). If just one person on a crew plays theirs, the sound is mournful and rather farty. Two and the song gets more in-tune and lively- a bit of a campfire vibe. Three or four and it’s party time.

It is genuinely glorious to hear, and creates an instant sense of community. I am so up for a Sea Of Thieves mode in which we sail the sea just to see what we can see, playing a vast range of sea shanties together all the while. In the vid, you can see/hear me playing my own lonely shanty, post-fight, while standing precariously on the prow, and that’s atmospheric enough – I wish I’d thought to record the full-team close harmony version while we did it. Next time!

That aside, there just isn’t an awful amount to do in the beta. Plenty of very pretty sea to see, but almost nothing in the way of events – it definitely feels like only a fraction of the intended experience. Guess we’ll find out what the beta’s missing come the full release on March 20. Details on the closed are available here.

Oh! One more thing. If you end up stranded out at sea, terrifying but friendly mermen will magic you straight back to your boat.

Thanks, Mermen. Thermen.


  1. Yay_Anonymity says:

    At a quick glance, the first image is highly disturbing. I thought it was from a very different kind of game.

  2. BobbyDylan says:

    “Game looks interesting”
    Games for windows…
    “Never mind”.

    • TimePointFive says:

      And it really is annoying. You need to have the Xbox app running and have background services enabled if you want to alt-tab. That being said, this game shines with mates instead of randos. Me and my buds are kind of terrible people and if only 3 of us are able to play, we’ll vote the rando into the brig. They really need to add a midsized 3 person vessel.

      • Guvornatwo says:

        To be fair, its supposed to be cross platform, so the Xbox app is needed so Xbox and PC types can roll together. But (on XBox at least) once you’ve got a crew together you don’t need it.

      • Raoul Duke says:

        Unlike Steam, Origin and Uplay games which play with nothing but the game running?

        • Catweasel says:

          Yeah, plenty of games on Steam have no DRM at all, and you can totally run them from their install folder without having steam open. Usually smaller games that choose to allow this, but it’s pretty common, definitely a thing! It’s not super visible so I don’t blame you for not knowing about it.

    • Evan_ says:

      I can’t tell when was the last time I wanted to buy a triple-A priced game as soon as it’s released. I even got my buddies hyped to have a nice crew.

      But it wants me to have Windows 10? It wants me to install and use that godawful gaming platform too? I’m not -that- eager to play with some console pe… players. Can’t we just all boycott it until we get a proper Steam release?

  3. Crackerjacker says:

    Looks a lot of fun! FYI – the wind-up instruments are Hurdy-Gurdys(link to, which were used in the creation of this piece of theme music:

  4. Premium User Badge

    phuzz says:

    Port is left, and starboard is right.
    Port and left both have four letters, right and starboard both have more than four. That’s how I remember it anyway.

    • pendergraft says:


      … [counts fingers] …

    • Morat Gurgeh says:

      Beat me to it! I was going to say exactly the same thing. Four letters.

    • Evan_ says:

      I just think of Photoshop.

    • Premium User Badge

      Alpha1Dash1 says:

      I used to sail when I was younger & we were taught this simple verse : “There’s no red port left in the bottle”.

    • kobadow says:

      Until the middle of the 19th century, it was larboard and starboard… that must have been a bit confusing when trying to survive a force 10 gale in the South Atlantic.

  5. Lars Westergren says:

    Man, the graphics of Puzzle Pirates really have improved since last I looked at it.

  6. Lobotomist says:

    Sad thing is that there is not much more in terms of content. There are two more factions that offer slightly different flavored missions. And that is about it.

    There is zero progression in the game. And only thing your earned gold will buy is harder missions that bring even more gold ( to buy even harder missions ) and cosmetic items.

    The gameplay, especially sailing part of it is outstanding, but i doubt it will keep people interested for very long time. The game is just repeating one same thing over and over.

    Lately when they make “sandbox” game they forget that sandbox without sand and tools is nothing but quite empty box

    • Wibble says:

      “Wide as an ocean, shallow as a puddle” sprang to mind when I played it. As for being better with friends, well, watching paint dry is better with friends…

  7. thekelvingreen says:

    So, tell me about LOOM™.

  8. Artist says:

    Being part of the closed test runs for a few months now. A lot of us have client crashing when it tries to connect to the services. No fix, no reply from the developers about that. Tickets are ignored.
    Then the game has pretty much no content, is close to release and pre-order is at wooping 69,99€..

    Sea of Thieves – what a telling name it is…

  9. Daddy Bear It says:

    I’m confused about the comments on lack of content when it’s clearly advertised, both in this article and on the SoT forums, that the alpha and beta builds are but a shell of what the full game will be. For me, this game is just a zen experience. Encounters aren’t common, which is as it should be, but when they do occur, the tension is immense. I was playing a solo game yesterday where I was bringing a single chest back to port, but I could see a large ship docked. They’d obviously see me coming and prepare an ambush for me, so I went full sails and aimed my ship directly at them. I grabbed my chest, jumped overboard, and swam towards the beach off to the side. Meanwhile, my ship headed directly for theirs and they started shooting at it and lowering the sails to get out of the way, but it was too late. My ship made a direct hit. As they were jumping on my ship to kill me and find my chests, I turned in the chest, walked up behind them, and shot them both while they watched our ships sink to ocean floor. It was glorious, and it is just these impromptu, sandbox situations that make this game unlike most others.

    • Rindan says:

      I’ll clarify the confusion for you; people have learned to be skeptical. Just because a developer says that they are going to fill out there obviously empty game, doesn’t mean that they are telling the truth, or that your idea of “filled out” is going to match theirs. People are just stating the apparent truth that the game is currently empty. If they change that, I am sure that people will excitedly report that. It isn’t like anyone DOESN’T want a kick ass pirate game.

      • Ghostwise says:

        Plenty of people don’t want a kickass pirate game. There are ninja, cowboys, robots… and many other anti-pirate factions, really.

    • Morcane says:

      Yea, they’ll just release that magic patch right before release which adds all the content.

  10. Lobotomist says:

    Like they always do

  11. Vasily R says:

    Such a bummer they’re not just releasing it on Steam.