Sea of Thieves (PS5) Review – High Tide

Rare's Sea of Thieves is the definitive pirate fantasy with its range of content, gorgeous visuals and irresistible charm.

Posted By | On 05th, May. 2024

Sea of Thieves (PS5) Review – High Tide

When Sea of Thieves first launched, it received praise for quite a few things. The presentation and depiction of pirates, the gorgeous visuals (especially the water), the music and the sailing were all notable. However, it was also criticized for lackluster content (which was also fairly meager), repetitive activities and technical issues. Some may still remember the Kraken that was little more than tentacles above the water and not much else.

Nevertheless, once the dust settled, Rare stuck to it, achieving an impressive turn-around comparable to No Man’s Sky. It added new features and content, introduced new ideas (some of which didn’t quite pan out, like the Arena), and kept building on it. Now that it’s finally available on PlayStation 5, Sea of Thieves doesn’t just represent the developer’s debut on a Sony console – it’s a testament to the fact that live service games can be fun with a strong vision and compelling, unique gameplay.

"There’s a wonder to exploring the seas and observing the horizon for different signs or just marking a point on your map and sailing forth."

Speaking of which, if you dipped into it several years ago, it’s worth noting that the core gameplay is the same in some respects. You’ll still be hauling chests to and fro, earning Reputation among Trading Companies, and still engage in simple melee and ranged combat.

The latter is good enough, make no mistake – mechanically, there is a bit of nuance to anticipating attacks and using different weapon types. While I can appreciate keeping it accessible to players of all skill types, it’s nothing amazing, though there are thankfully other enemies to face besides skeletons. The point is: Don’t expect a complete overhaul of the core mechanics, which also goes for how you operate your ship and navigate the world.

However, these also turn out to be strengths for Sea of Thieves. It’s a fine balance between minimalistic – where you don’t follow waypoints but navigate the seas manually with a compass and map – and streamlined, where combat isn’t bound to gear scores, item rarities, World Tiers and other loot-driven nonsense. It all keeps the focus on what matters – adventuring and exploring.

There’s a wonder to exploring the seas and observing the horizon for different signs or just marking a point on your map and sailing forth. It’s backed by the fact that the sailing in Sea of Thieves is pretty great. You and your ship are distinct entities, with the latter requiring attention and care. Hoist the sails and raise the anchor manually; take to the wheel and stay on course, lest the roiling waves and wind veer you off course.

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"After tiring of the novelty of sailing, you might wonder what the point of Sea of Thieves is. There is a free-form approach here, with a distinct lack of guidance or signposting."

Even the ship wheel isn’t a one-to-one means for changing directions – it feels realistic, whether you’re hastily orienting towards an objective or trying to stay the course. I also like how you need to manually go below deck to retrieve planks and patch holes in the ship when you accidentally beach it near an outpost. All of this adds to the atmosphere of being a pirate, almost as much as casually strumming a tune on your banjo or looking through a spyglass to spot islands in the distance.

It’s also harrowing when you’re engaged in naval combat and must load and aim those cannons. While this can all get frustrating sometimes, especially when tossing water outside your ship, furling and unfurling the sails, or just walking around on islands to look for buried treasure, it also adds to the experience.

After tiring of the novelty of sailing, you might wonder what the point of Sea of Thieves is. There is a free-form approach here, with a distinct lack of guidance or signposting. You’re free to take to the world at your leisure, whether it’s fighting skeletons for Dark Bounty Skulls to give to the Order of Souls, turning in Treasure Chests to the Gold Hoarders or hunting dangerous sea life to answer The Hunter’s Call.

As you turn in different items and complete tasks, your Reputation increases, and you receive Commendations that provide Titles, exclusive cosmetics and much more. While their tasks can seem a little simple initially, you eventually gain access to specific Voyages for a company, like Cargo Runs or Bounty Voyages, slightly mixing things up. The real appeal is in pursuing a bit of everything as you’re out on the seas.

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"The seas rarely look the same, even in the same conditions, and watching the sunset on the ocean or admiring the stars as you set out for another cruise is something."

Thankfully, you’re not initially dropped into a simple outpost and left to figure all this out. Over the years, Rare has added content like Tall Tales, which eases you into the experience and explains all the mechanics (courtesy of the eponymous Pirate Lord).

That only scratches the surface, as Tall Tales serve as narrative-focused content with more extensive mechanics, from venturing through vaults and puzzle-solving to exploring dense islands and interacting with memorable characters. They even crossover with Pirates of the Caribbean and the Monkey Island series, leveraging their properties alongside the mechanics to tell compelling stories.

Though initially PvEvP, where players could attack you and steal your loot (and vice versa – there’s even a Trading Company devoted to the same), Sea of Thieves has since implemented private servers. You can thus sail solo or with friends and take in the world, albeit at the cost of reduced rewards and some locked-off features. As simple as it sounds to finally have a proper PvE mode, that too one that’s solo-friendly, it’s appreciated all the same.

It’s been mentioned before but bears repeating – Sea of Thieves looks very good. The seas rarely look the same, even in the same conditions, and watching the sunset on the ocean or admiring the stars as you set out for another cruise is something. The same goes for exploring islands with dense shrubbery or sailing past shipwrecked remains, with the visual fidelity and performance holding up throughout. Some character designs, especially when generating your pirate for the first time (since there’s still no character creator), can look slightly off, but they still fit the animated style and personality well.

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"Sure, it’s not perfect, and there are plenty of areas where I think it could improve heavily, but it’s as fun to explore and engage in high-stakes combat as it is to hang out and take in the sights and sounds."

Sea of Thieves isn’t your typical multiplayer title, even with the premium store purchases and season passes. From the outset, it may seem like a title without much appeal outside of embodying a pirate and living that fantasy, complete with a wealth of cosmetic customization options. Some may loathe the various tasks or even find the combat relatively bland all things considered.

However, those who embrace it are in for an immersive and surprisingly relaxing experience. It feels like a vibe more than anything, as you’re learning about the world, its people, and the various sordid tales that led to the demise of different pirates while looking to cement your legacy.

The storytelling outside of the Tall Tales is very much what you make of it, and the vibrancy of the world, combined with the sheer amount of things to do and see, makes it stand out from the live service crowd. After being disappointed with Skull and Bones and exhausted with the trend, Sea of Thieves is like a breath of salty air, brimming with personality and memorable activities while letting the player choose how they experience it.

Sure, it’s not perfect, and there are plenty of areas where I think it could improve heavily, but it’s as fun to explore and engage in high-stakes combat as it is to hang out and take in the sights and sounds.

This game was reviewed on PlayStation 5.


THE GOOD

Beautiful visuals, from the depiction of the seas to the lighting and effects. Stellar music and voice acting lend to the atmosphere. Easy to get into with lots of content, from narrative-focused Tall Tales to PvEvP. Ship-sailing is lovingly detailed and adds to the immersion.

THE BAD

Combat can still feel a bit simplistic, especially melee fighting. Activities that revolve around collecting and turning in chests can get repetitive. Some immersive elements can get annoying when solo.

Final Verdict:
GREAT
Sea of Thieves has grown into one of the more beloved live service titles over the years and it's well-deserved, offering a gorgeous and engaging pirate fantasy.
A copy of this game was provided by Developer/Publisher/Distributor/PR Agency for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.
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