I’d been following Sea of Thieves with interest since its initial trailer, but now that it’s out I find myself in a situation similar to that of a bookworm in a literature program. It behooves you to be guarded about things you get excited about, because the first and most immediate reaction of those around you is to to find fault with it. Not because they’re terrible people, but because it’s what they do. And that kind of mindset, while no doubt necessary for the advancement of mankind, really isn’t any fun. Not to be around, and not to carry between your ears, either.
So I’m sailing around on my little sloop pretty much alone. It’s clear — you don’t need me to tell you; the press around the game made clear long ago — that it would be best to play with others. So your poor frantic fingers aren’t busy fumbling down the sail AND the anchor as you pull into port, for example. Or so you don’t — as I do — abandon mooring dockside altogether and simply commit to sloshing your way back and forth to your ship a safe distance from shore — where you won’t bang it into the dock and sink it when you sail away again. Or so there’s someone else to help carry all the chickens.
Even so, though, sailing is a beautiful experience in this game. I know I’ve sung the praises of that old Pirates of the Caribbean PC game — the one that came out before there was more than one movie; the one that had far too small a map but which I clung to slow travel within, preferring entirely the endless swell of the horizon to the fast travel of the zoomed-out map — and I’ve probably gone on about having read the Patrick O’Brian books, Horatio Hornblower, etc. etc. I played Sid Meier’s Pirates! and a couple shitty knock-offs or remakes. I’ve read every damn novel about female pirates in the English language. My bar is low. I just want to sail. And the sailing is gorgeous.
Would I like a comrade or two? Sure. The ability, like in Pirates!, to careen off into the sunset with a tavern mistress or a governor’s daughter (or son, I suppose), and embroider a story to go along with those escapades? Definitely. But even without all that, the sailing is enough for me. The characters’ art style would have pushed me away, had the sailing not been there. Everyone looks like they just walked out of James and the Giant Peach, if with a far brighter color palette — and I loathed the art direction for James and the Giant Peach. But that doesn’t end up mattering much, because most of your time isn’t spent looking at other humans, let alone at yourself: it’s spent gazing at the waves as you try to keep your prow pointed into them.
And they really are waves. They will crash onto your deck if you don’t do the obvious thing and steer into them. They will foam and froth when whipped up by the wind. If you abandon your boat to bob in them, you will indeed bob, and while I’ve never been one given to nausea or motion-sickness, that very distinct up-and-down heave sends a thrill of terror through me every time. I like looking at the actual ocean. Not being in it. It’s endless and dark and it doesn’t give a fuck. The ocean is terrifying.
But I bring it up just to point out how good the waves are in this game.
There are settlements. Quests. People. Outfits and improvements one can make to oneself and one’s equipment and one’s ship. Hell, you can even choose from an array of snazzy figureheads to affix to your prow — if you’re rolling in gold, anyway. But I’m not here for any of that. I came to fill my sails and steer into the sunset, and the game does that really well.
Maybe one day I’ll even get to use my cannons.