Sea of Thieves: The Pirate Fantasy Realized – Transcript:
For a game that’s filled with such bombast and personality, I’ve surprisingly spent much of my time enjoying the quieter moments in Sea of Thieves. There’s something endlessly romantic about the game’s sunsets and sunrises, which are made so much warmer by grog-filled shanties sung by friends. My play sessions have often been book-ended by these moments, wherein I feel a sense of unfamiliar nostalgia. It’s a feeling defined by reflection, camaraderie, and potential. It’s a feeling of escape. Of fantasy. I think, ultimately, Sea of Thieves makes me truly feel like a pirate.
As a huge proponent of the fantastical elements of video games, I love the ability to embody a certain lifestyle that I will logically never be able to live. So when a game came along alleging that it’d be the ideal vessel for delivering pirate adventures with friends, I had to indulge.
Sea of Thieves, in my brief time with it, has provided me with everything I might’ve ever wanted from a pirate game. The game’s framework possesses all of the disparate elements of a pirate adventure; and while there’s an existing outline of what the interactive experience can be, players are free to do whatever they want, whenever they want – just like a pirate.
The reason the act of swashbuckling and piracy feels incredibly genuine is in part due to the game operating like a simulation. EACH INDIVIDUAL FACET OF THE SHIP MUST BE MANAGED AND CONTROLLED BY THE PLAYER CHARACTERS – something that you won’t find in a game like Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, which feels much more simplified in hindsight. INSTEAD OF JUST MOVING THE ANALOG STICKS ABOUT TO TURN THE SHIP AND HOLDING DOWN THE GAMEPAD’S TRIGGERS TO FIRE CANNONBALLS, PLAYERS IN SEA OF THIEVES HAVE TO ANGLE SAILS TO CATCH THE WIND, MANAGE RESOURCE INVENTORY, AND PATCH OR REPAIR HOLES IN THE SHIP TO KEEP IT AFLOAT. Failure to recognize the significance of the systems at play will result in a capsized ship or the loss of treasure. These gameplay mechanics and systems help Sea of Thieves to feel real, despite its inclusion of the genre’s more fantastical trappings.
While the grounded, moment-to-moment gameplay of Sea of Thieves certainly lends itself to a feeling of authenticity, I’d argue that Xbox and Rare have ultimately created a game that heavily favors the realization of its world over the realism of the game’s content. Here’s Kate Edwards, a veteran cartographer who has helped build many of Microsoft’s virtual worlds, who has more to say on this idea.
World realization can be accomplished in a number of ways, through logical consistency, topography, complex systems, and cultural evidence – the latter of which is quite evident in Sea of Thieves. After all, what is the pirate life if not an adventure of retracing the footsteps of those who came before you? My time with Xbox’s flagship title has been one filled with an acute sense of history, as the world is teeming with artifacts, sunken remains, and an awareness of past misfortune..
There’s the ship, the islands, the vast ocean, other pirates, skeletal and ghastly creatures and – most importantly – treasure. Treasure is at the core of every good pirate adventure, even the ones that outgrow that simplistic premise. Every adventure I embarked on began and ended with a treasure. Where a modern game would guide you by waypoint, Sea of Thieves embraces the archaic lunacy of piracy. A parchment will always have a nondescript island that will force you to chart the path there on a traditional map; and once you get there, a mysterious riddle will appear guiding you in a general direction towards an unmarked landmark. Once you get to the spot, you dig until you find what you came for.
As I noted at the start though, most of these adventures use treasure as subtext or thrust. It’s how the game gets you to go out into the world and experience the real fun of the game. In the bit of Sea of Thieves I managed to play, this mostly manifested itself in two distinct pirate-y ways: other pirate crews and curses.
The open-ended nature of the world and its network means that at any point in any quest, another crew could sail into view. These emergent finds always lend every encounter with a certain, palpable ambiguity. Will you quietly agree to go your separate ways and enjoy your own treasure or be overcome with greed and try to board their ship, lay waste to the crew, sink their ship, and ransack their treasure for yourself? The beauty lies in the choice.
Personally, I think the social aspect of Sea of Thieves is absolutely essential to the enjoyment of the overall experience. Real people playing the game helps to enforce the pirate fantasy so much more. As Moises previously stated, encounters with other plays feel real and dangerous; and this feature of the game adds a dynamic that – in my opinion – would be unobtainable solely by the game’s artificial intelligence.
Curses in Sea of Thieves work similarly. Cargo that you carry onboard could be very rewarding but could potentially flood your ship with water or even inebriate the treasure tracker. Players are forced to evaluate their crew’s competency against the monetary value of its safe return. Pirate tales often deal with quandaries like this and while Sea of Thieves is likely not out to teach you the ethical practices of the seven seas, it does extrapolate romance from those situations to brighten the mundane.
Despite the fact that Sea of Thieves’ treasure hunts are shorter than how an actual adventure would play out, the game certainly elongates these experiences more so than other games have previously. This protracted length turns every action into a performative one, the drama of every directive is very clearly felt and you feel that you’re in the lead role of your very own pirate drama. The framework in place doesn’t make for a one-to-one simulation of the pirate life, but nonetheless serves as a seaworthy vessel of the pirate fantasy. This is the key to what has made Sea of Thieves more distinguishing than any other pirate game I’ve played: it realizes and brings to life the fun of a lifestyle long forgotten.