Preview: Sea of Thieves

Every so often there comes a game that is marketed so well that we instantly buy into its gimmick, falling into a sense of belief that what we are being presented with by a developer is exactly how we, as players, are going to experience a title on its release. The biggest perpetrator of this is the team-based multiplayer genre, requiring each person of the team the game puts you into to co-operate in a seamless manner that will never be replicated outside of a gameplay demo or trailer. However, this past gamescom  I was privileged enough to take part in such a gameplay demo, and for once I was able to indulge in this form of pitch-perfect gameplay as I commanded my crew of 5 other players captaining a pirate ship in Rare’s upcoming action-adventure game, Sea of Thieves.Being developed for Xbox One, Sea of Thieves is the pirate simulator that gamers have been searching for. The game follows an open-world multiplayer format devoid of any story content (as of yet), wherein players are encouraged to band together to take on rival teams in a sea that is literally as big as the player’s imagination allows; users can generate their own content to keep things fresh for themselves. The intended core gameplay sees a crew of up to six people manning their own pirate ship, with each person taking on a role that would correspond to a real-life role in operating the ship under the orders of the designated captain.
"This was immersion on a scale that hasn’t been seen before in games"
For those who have been keeping up with the game’s coverage, it will come as no surprise that the gameplay looks far more refined since its last presentation at E3. While at the helm as captain of my crew, the controls felt polished and interconnected with everything that was happening on-screen; The oncoming waves made it harder to steer away from dangerous obstacles. The sails as they caught the wind blocked my vision, requiring the individual manning the crow’s nest to spew directions at me. While being attacked by the opposing team, I had to abandon my post and man the cannons as the crew repaired the deck with wooden planks. This was immersion on a scale that hasn’t been seen before in games, and the immediacy of everything happening in real time with real people created a sense of realism that wouldn’t feel out of place in a military simulator.This realism, however, is slightly damaged by the art style that Rare have chosen to go with for this title. In the midst of all the action, it’s hard not to notice that everything is designed in a comical cartoon-esque style, almost in the vein of Team Fortress; characters are big and blocky, and you can’t shake the feeling that Rare are trying too hard to market the game to a younger audience. That’s not to say the game doesn’t look visually pleasing; the engine used to generate light and water is some of the best and most photorealistic I’ve seen in a video game, and it certainly adds to the immersion when sailing along the horizon while seeing a glowing ray of sunlight bounce off the edge of the ocean. It’s just a bit hard to take seriously when you angle the camera down and see the hands of a Mega Bloks character gripping the steering wheel.Having completed the ‘ideal’ gameplay demo, around 20 minutes in length, it was fair to say that I’d been more than impressed by what the game had to offer. While the title may be subject to a kid-friendly flavour, there is no denying that it is fun to play, given the right environment and team. This is certainly one to watch going ahead, keep an eye out for it in 2017.