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Ships in the night: Sea Of Thieves beta impressions

Ghost ships and co-op sea shanties

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.

Cover image for YouTube video

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.

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Sea of Thieves

Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PC

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About the Author
Alec Meer avatar

Alec Meer


Ancient co-founder of RPS. Long gone. Now mostly writes for rather than about video games.