Falling Into The Sea Of Thieves
After being fortunate enough to play and review Return to Monkey Island last year, I had a real feeling that we were done; that my time with Guybrush Threepwood had come to a close, and due to the sheer incredible way in which that game had come into being, and concluded, that the likelihood of anything else happening – and so soon after – was as untenable as the search for Big Whoop itself.
I’ve always loved pirate games too – Sid Meier’s Pirates!, the old Pirates of the Caribbean game that was unofficially Akella’s Sea Dogs 2, or the sea-faring detour of Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, there’s something about the motion of the waves and the way sunset filters through the fresnel, or how the surf washes up upon the shoreline.
Actual sailing will always be too rich an endeavour for the likes of me, but thankfully there’s a bountiful treasure of it waiting in so many digital worlds.
Enter Rare’s Sea of Thieves.
I’d played Sea of Thieves during the beta and enjoyed it, yet struggled to find the same level of enthusiasm for it when it launched or in the years after. As someone that tends toward single-player activity, and the game not having a lot of polish in the early days, my memories of interesting things happening in the game were isolated to a handful of voyages and frankly, my bar for gameplay that will interest me is pretty damned low. It always felt like a great environment to sail around and look at, but something bereft of the game experience it could be.
So it sat idle in my library for many years, untouched, unloved, and unknown.
But then the Xbox Showcase happened in June, and suddenly I had a reason. I had a purpose. Melée Island was coming, and I had no virtual (or real) pirating skills to speak of. With only a few weeks until the Monkey Island DLC hit, I downloaded the game once again and started playing.
While done without the involvement of Ron Gilbert, I had a huge dose of excitement learning that a new game was entering the mad wet world of the Tri-Island Area. Monkey Island was always a big part of my gaming life, so it was an interesting conundrum presented. If I was going to explore this take on Monkey Island’s environments, I was going to have to learn to play Sea of Thieves.
So I began, adding to my limited memories of the game, with a litany of mistakes. Whatever thing you can possibly do wrong, I did it. Not intentionally, but I’m glad, because that’s the Guybrush way. I’ve run aground, fallen off my ship, burned my ship down by overcooking a banana, parked my ship and run ashore only to have it sink, or keep sailing. I’ve even capsized the ship. I’ve drowned in a shipwreck, drowned in a vault, fallen to my death, taken a cannonball to the face, blown myself up, and will probably die another dozen deaths from my own hand before the week is out. I am the worst pirate nobody’s ever heard of.
Since getting into the game, there are so many parts of Sea of Thieves that really add to the experience. The first time sailing through a storm, when the compass goes haywire and the hold slowly fills with water was a fantastic experience. It’s hilarious how your character’s inebriation affects your ability to play a shanty in tune, and there’s something so immensely satisfying about using the harpoons to make hairpin turns. Yes, it’s more of a game than a simulator, but with that comes a whole new range of maneuvers to work with. It’s also a visual treat, though I’m a sucker for every sunset that ever was, physically or digitally.
As to the Monkey Island DLC itself, I’ve played it through from start to end and played the first two chapters a number of times. The nostalgia hit is heavier in those, with the sequences of the infamous Monkey Island itself feeling more targeted and specific in its goals than the open meandering of Melée Island in the first two chapters.
Wandering around High Street, the alley, and the Scumm Bar were special treats, plus that opening callback to the intro when you first sail toward the island would send frisson through the skin of mates first through fifth, the bosun and the swabbie.
It hits the right notes visually, but sound is probably the biggest bit of source of continuity, with each individual’s leitmotifs present, and Guybrush’s voice actor Dominic Armato here for this as well as Jess Harnell who played LeChuck in the recent Return to Monkey Island. There was even a little preview I got of the sounds in June when playing through one of the “A Pirate’s Life Tall Tales”, when I happened across the wreck of the Sea Monkey with maps from the first two MI games, and that banner that always sends chills; “Deep in the Caribbean…”
While a lot of the puzzles overall mimic the original adventure games (and were a great motivation to break those out again), there were enough new moments to be worthwhile. Not to mention there were a few relics and a shanty locked behind the completion of all the DLC’s achievements.
Yet with every facet of it explored, achievement met, and run through with both the kids and a friend, I’m still here on the Sea of Thieves.
Yes, running around with a LeChuck skin on a voyage of the damned is possibly part of it, but I think the little snippets of the game I stick to are fulfilling the promise of what I always wanted from it. A little exploring, a lot of sailing, and a playstyle that can shrink or expand to whatever time I happen to have available.
It’s been my first foray into multiplayer gaming in a long time – the last time I would consistently play online with others was The Division, and the list of games before that is speckled with the likes of Destiny, Mass Effect 3, WoW, and Project Gotham Racing 2.
There might have been others that had online components, but as far as engaging with other players in some kind of chat or banter? It’s been a small number.
It’s still a small number now, and while I had a dozen people express interest in sailing together, with the exception of one person who’s co-hoisted the sails with me, it’s been the open crew in the game that I’ve played with when not doing my usual solo affair. Sometimes it’s positive, and sometimes it’s not. The weekend had a mix of a newbie who’d only played the tutorial and a player who wanted to ask the English words for every object they were holding.
With other crews in the mix, it’s also been inconsistent. I’ve had other ships offer an alliance and let me get a little free treasure, and I’ve had some offer it and proceed to steal my ship and hunt me down until I left the game. I’m still a beginner in many ways, and while I’m starting to take down ghost ships while solo-slooping, any hearty crew of sea dogs will have me sunk quicker than my own misadventures.
Yet I think I’m here for the long haul (not a keelhaul) with Sea of Thieves, even if it took me a few years to get here; it might even be the stepping stone to more multiplayer madness, but let’s take that world as it comes.