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Single-player sucks, but our first four-person party in Sea of Thieves goes pretty okay

by: Randy -
More On: Sea of Thieves

We set sail on a Sea of Thieves last night. There was myself, Kinsey Danzis, Dan Keener, and John Yan. I’m the husky fella without a coat because the other three yoinked the only pirate jackets onboard. Kinsey is the red-haired lass with the undercut fade and neck tattoo. Dan’s got a bandana and looks Most Likely to Star in a WWE Special. John is Old Man Winter, though you won’t see his face because he was the guy filming last night’s session.

These are all things that happened on our maiden voyage.

  • Kinsey immediately teaches Dan and John how to imprison a fellow shipmate: Me. I spend my first 10 minutes of the game wrongly imprisoned in the brig on the bottom deck. I toss buckets of storm water at them from inside the jail while they draw their swords and take swings at me through the bars.

  • “Sails! We’ve got sails!” I yell from the crow’s nest. “Dan, turn! They’re kind of right ahead of us!” I mean for Dan to turn the ship starboard (right). But since I don’t say which way to turn, Dan takes a guess and turns to port (left). Now we’re almost on top of the other ship. John and Kinsey man the cannons. “Do not fire! Hold your fire! Dan, hard to starboard, now! Now!” “Hold your horses,” Dan says. “It’s a ship, not a Ferrari.”

  • We turn, our broadsides coming within one or two ship lengths of the other pirate. For several quiet, tense moments, nobody fires. We each go on about our business. I spend 30 minutes in the Gaming Nexus Slack channel later that night after logging off, explaining how noble and “in control of the situation” we were for just intentionally passing by that ship rather than firing on them. In Slack, I omit the fact that we only got that close on accident, and that I ordered us to hold our fire because I was just as scared of them as they were of us.

  • Our first time pulling back into port, we come in hot, since Dan likes to aim the ship a little too close to his destination, and John is not so good with lowering the sails. (Notice how I do not come into the picture here.) We slowly drive the ship up and onto the pier. Then we back up off the pier. That is the prelude to the video you see above. Just moments into the video, you can hear a rushing water sound, and Kinsey quietly saying in the background, “We’re taking on water. Rapidly.”

  • Whenever disaster strikes, John like to say, “It’s fine.” He’s a walking talking This Is Fine meme, if you replace flames with ocean water.

  • Kinsey steps out on the bowsprit, the long, pointy part at the front of the ship. “Kinsey, careful, you’ll fall off,” I say, forgetting that the quickest way to get Kinsey to do something is to tell her she can’t. That's the only thing predictable about her behavior. So, she turns around, looks at me, then starts backing up further and further along the bowsprit. I turn away. Next thing I hear is Kinsey saying, “Oh. I’m overboard.”

  • “I hear you can get drunk in this game,” John says. “Yep, I’m gonna get some mead.” Kinsey follows him. They fill up their mugs and start chugging. “We’ve got water on the deck,” Dan says. “We’ve got water on the deck? Well I’m drinking,” John says. He's drunk almost immediately. Out of his control, his character wobbles side to side. He drinks more. “Why is everything wavy? I am so wavy,” he says. From the helm, I watch John and Kinsey sway back and forth on deck. John pukes on Kinsey. Kinsey falls down the stairs. Unable to get back up topside, Kinsey says, “I don’t know who’s fault it is, but someone messed up the lower deck.” John grabs his bucket and heads below. There are piles of Kinsey's green puke everywhere.

  • We were basically on a pacifist run, which probably made us jumpy when we did hear cannon fire. One time it was thunder. Another time it was Dan firing off a round at the pier we were parked at. And another time, I watched everyone load themselves into cannons and shoot themselves off toward a nearby island (yes, you can do that), and it still made me flinch.

  • But, ending things quietly, John and Dan logged off for the night while Kinsey and I played a somber tune on our sea shanty instruments. The sun slowly sat behind a nearby island we were anchored offshore of, and the waves gently rocked the boat left to right. Kinsey emoted as I sifted through the menus trying to figure out how to wave goodbye.

Being in a crew of four affords you a lot of luxuries in Sea of Thieves. Other pirates tend to leave you alone. At least the one or two other small sloops we spotted.We were the only galleon for miles around, which, presumably, made the other players keep their distance when they could. Both Kinsey and Dan, on separate occasions, tried out the single-player side of things earlier. It went horribly for both of them. Kinsey was relentlessly chased and repeatedly sunk by bigger ships for about 30 minutes before she gave up and logged off. Dan was spawncamped on a hub island, having his ship blown out of the water and getting sniped, all while he was just trying to learn how to pull out his saber. He logged out with a bad taste in his mouth, too.

But, again, that all changes when you're in a bigger ship with a full complement of mateys. It's early days for Sea of Thieves, but developer Rare appears to be naive of typical online player behaviors. The fact that there's not a single safe zone across the entire map, not to mention a minute's worth of tutorial to help you get your sword out, many players will simply sign up for a 14-day free trial of the Xbox Game Pass, then let that run out as they never log into Sea of Thieves again—due to the poor new-player experience.

I know that Rare has something special here. I know that Rare wants to keep players around for as long as possible, too. But it's going to take some deft maneuvering in uncompromising seas if they want anything resembling player retention. Otherwise, there will be a good time for all if you're in a three- or four-person crew, while the single-player game turns Sea of Thieves into a cesspool of grief.