When I reviewed Sea of Thieves back in March, I originally included the phrase “glorified tech demo,” which former reviews editor Ray Carsillo rightfully deemed “too harsh” and cut. That didn’t change the fact that, back when it first came out, Sea of Thieves basically felt like an awesome sailing simulator that forgot to include the core components of an actual game.
I’m really happy that Sea of Thieves and developer Rare are trying their hardest to make me eat my words.
Even though I gave it a pretty low score (one of my lowest, I think), I usually keep Sea of Thieves downloaded on either my home or work Xbox. It’s one of those games that I like to keep tabs on, logging on every now and then to see if my feelings have changed. Usually, I find, they haven’t, but the last time I logged on, it was almost like I was playing an entirely different game.
This was weeks after the last update, Cursed Sails, and I hadn’t yet faced off against the new AI-controlled skeleton ships. Shipping off with two buddies in a brigantine (another new addition), I immediately spotted a ship-shaped cloud in the sky and demanded we head off to investigate it. If there’s a better metaphor for what Sea of Thieves should do, it’s make me want to chase a mysterious nimbus.
What I discovered was something that felt like an actual game. A skeleton ship emerged from the water and quickly started circling us, periodically nailing the side of our brigantine with a variety of new cannonballs that alternatively got us drunk and broke our legs. After we sunk the ship, barely keeping our own afloat, two more skeleton ships appeared in a perfect moment of escalation, and the battle raged on.
After sinking most of the skeleton ships that showed up before finally falling to the last one, I realized that I was having fun playing Sea of Thieves—like actual, real, yelling-into-my-headset fun.
One of my main suggestions for improving Sea of Thieves was that Rare needed to add new enemy types. Even with a barebones quest structure, new enemies like coconut-throwing monkeys and giant cyclopes that protects a pile of treasure chests could make each journey diverse enough to keep things interesting. The skeleton ships nailed that feeling, at least on my first playthrough.
The arrival of the game’s latest update, Forsaken Shores, adds another necessary element to the game: more mission types. Cargo Runs, which will launch in three weeks, task players with safely transporting shipments from one island to another. Sea of Thieves’ most intense moments come when you’re returning to an outpost with your haul of treasures and another player-controlled ship appears on the horizon. Sea of Thieves is actively chasing these moments with Cargo Runs by turning them into an actual mission type. It also doesn’t hurt that Forsaken Shores adds an entirely new region to the map in Devil’s Roar, a volcanic series of islands that are host to a slew of creative environmental hazards like earthquakes and raining magma rocks, plus a new limited-time narrative-based mission.
This is the kind of diverse, emergent content that Sea of Thieves should have had in the first place, but at least Rare is finally adding it in now. For the first time in a while, I’m looking forward to logging back on and sailing the open seas, happy to be proven wrong.