The Best Pirate Game Keeps Getting Better

‘Sea of Thieves’ knows which way the wind is blowing for its players.

screenshot from Sea of Thieves

Like many maiden voyages, Sea of Thieves’ launch in 2018 was fraught with peril. Performance issues, a dreadful solo experience, and an underwhelming gameplay loop disappointed fans and critics hoping for something revolutionary. This was Rare after all, the studio behind legendary titles like GoldenEye 64, Donkey Kong Country and Banjo-Kazooie. Fan expectations were understandably lofty, especially with a pedigree like that.

It was also hyped as a marquee exclusive for Microsoft’s new Xbox Game Pass, something to entice gamers who were hesitant to commit to monthly subscriptions. Now the unthinkable has occurred: this once exclusive Xbox title got released on PS5 in May. Thousands of new players (Sony players, gasp!) get to experience one of the best live-service games around.

Rare didn’t get Sea of Thieves to its current state overnight. It’s the result of years of development and community engagement, as well as a steadfast commitment to the things that make Sea of Thieves unique. No, it isn’t the button-mashy action fest you might expect. It’s got a slower pace but turns on a dime the instant you’re in danger. One minute you’re daydreaming as you sail to a nearby outpost to sell your loot after a few successful raids, the next you’re getting thrashed by a gargantuan Kraken as your ship, and hours of hard work, are scuttled to the bottom of the sea.

If that sounds frustrating, even unfair, that’s because it is. From the very start, Sea of Thieves was uncompromising in the way it giveth and taketh away. Part of what turns off new players is how long it takes to do things, and how quickly it could all be lost. There is no fast travel, no waypoints. You have to look at a treasure map and sail accordingly. Every scrap of loot is carried by hand, no shortcuts or stacking. It takes almost two minutes just to cook a piece of fish.

The magic at the heart of this experience is how unexpectedly refreshing it is after a few hours or a few short sessions. There’s a cozy, touch-grass vibe that allows you to notice crucial details and develop real experience. There’s no XP in the conventional sense, you simply get better and more efficient the more you do things. And it’s at its best when you have company.

Playing with friends is preferred, but plenty of updates have made solo sailing worthwhile, too.


Sea of Thieves expansion onto PS5, and supporting crossplay, means there’s more players than ever. The game is unquestionably better with friends. Aside from the camaraderie, crew mates help tackle the logistical challenges of sailing the open seas. Ship combat gets much easier when you have the bodies for sailing, firing cannons, and patching holes in the hull simultaneously. Emptying a fort full of loot goes much faster when there’s four sets of hands instead of one.

Conversely, running into other players provides a different kind of excitement. Friend or foe? Maybe they act nice while someone swims under your boat with a gunpowder barrel? Maybe that intimidating galleon is actually low on cannonballs? Only one way to find out! Because there’s no character levels or tiered weapons, every pirate in Sea of Thieves is on equal footing when they face off in combat. The game rewards actual, real-life experience over grindy skill tree points and pay-to-win shenanigans. So if you wanna get better at fighting, pick more fights. And remember, it’s always better to be lucky than good.

Stand back, I gotta practice my stabbing!


What makes Sea of Thieves feel so complete right now is that all the uniquely challenging stuff that made the game interesting still exists but a ton of quality of life improvements, alongside new story content and events, have been added. A modified fast travel system now makes it easier to start new quests, but can’t be exploited to hop around the map. Quests for the different factions can now be accessed from onboard your ship so you no longer have to sail around until you find someone who can give the contract to you. Harpoon lines can act as balancing wires you run across, so disembarking from the ship is no less of a chore.

These seemingly small adjustments have added an up tempo to the game’s pace. Whether solo or in groups, the gameplay loop runs more efficiently and makes it possible to achieve big results in a short session. The lack of content and direction critics experienced at launch has been replaced by a wide offering of easy-to-access options helpfully sorted by faction and length of time. You can do some short cargo runs or spend a few hours on an epic Tall Tale. You can also just sail around and see what happens. It won’t be long until something does. A pirate’s life is never dull.

Sea of Thieves is on Game Pass. It’s also for sale on Xbox, PlayStation and PC.

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