I recently joined others in adventuring my way through the Sea of Thieves (Panic, 2018) closed beta. Participation required pre-purchase of the game but I was happy to do so for an opportunity to play this brand new property in the gaming community. Unfortunately the closed beta encountered some glitches which took away from my first impression — but that wasn’t the reason I canceled my pre-order.
I canceled because I don’t know what this game is about. I set sail in small and large ships, I took on some quests from island hubs, I found a chest or two (but could not turn them in for a reward — harumph). I managed the rigging, the helm, the map, and was even locked away in the brig for inappropriate grogging while the wind was at our backs. We had a little fun spewing vomit on each other, shot some skellies, and was even nibbled on by sharks … but to what end? The developers stress a lot of content was restricted from the closed beta but even using some imagination, I’m a touch lost in this semi-RPG universe.
Despite the hiccups and my own confusion, I must take a moment to highlight some of the promising features from Sea of Thieves. First and foremost, the physics of sea travel. The actual oceans and weather effects are magnificent — not too strong a word — the vessels and ships are affected by wind, water, rain, and all manner of other seafaring issues. The simplistic graphics are pleasing, convey the environments quite well and reminded me of the unique style centered in that gaming monolith, World of Warcraft (Blizzard, 2004). I thoroughly enjoyed going aboard a large ship and being forced to work together as we tended sail, nuanced the anchor, and turned “hard to port!” to avoid rocks or other ships. Even the smaller single-player ships were a joy to run as I traversed the waves … but for how long would the thrill of seafaring travel enchant me?
The single biggest issues doesn’t lie within the environment, it is all about the progression mechanic. Panic have decided there will be no loot grind. All the weapons and gear are the same. In other words, the minute one musket a player finds themselves equipped with never changes. Damage does not increase, range remains fixed, and the speed of reloading is constant. In fact, a novice player will have access to the exact same weapons a 100-hour player can use — statistically there will be no difference. The only change available to players is the weapon skin and I feel that is a significant problem. An RPG, progression style game with no accompanying loot-grind is a conscious decision by Panic but one which may sink the proverbial boat. Grinding that next piece of gear — whether it be armor or that clutch weapon everyone is buzzing about — is a core concept in RPG environments. Dispensing with that reason to return to the game could be costly. So then what are players supposed to return for? As near as I can figure, finding chests and returning them to their respective quest providers for gold so you can buy that next skinned piece of gear or sail remains the only driving factor. It is rare to find a game with a single currency/commodity (in this case, chests for gold) and I’m unsure there will be enough variation for your typical player to be captured by Panic’s offering.
Sea of Thieves (Panic, 2018) has the potential to be the next great IP but there needs to be some serious polish applied before I’m going to invest money in this title. I need to see the progression system working and know how mid- and end-game mechanics will appease dedicated players who demand content and (unfairly) something close to perfection. I’m keeping an eye on updates, Panic. Just let me know when things smooth out and I may return. Until then, do that pirate thing and enjoy the grog.