Sea of Thieves is the years surprise success multiplayer. I’d pull up short of calling it a MMO, it is more an action adventure than MMO, with maps (I think limited to 99 players).
It’s fair to call this a multiplayer sandbox adventure and very worthy of being used with 11-16-year-olds in school – who perhaps don’t like stacking block in Minecraft. In many ways, this game fills a much-needed gap in gamer-teacher brain-space as we move away from digital lego and start to think about games as texts.
The game is very new, but with over 300,000 players in closed beta, the game certainly attracted a big crowd. There are some good easons it’s okay for kids is that it’s Teen/PG, with no more violence than Minecraft and less of an emotional rollercoaster than Fortnite. The other reason is when you die and lose nothing – perhaps what you have on your last voyage, but nothing so terrible that you’ll spend your days managing screaming rage all day over ‘items’. The other useful thing to tame the emotional investment is the relatively low effort needed to gather resources – bananas for heath, wood to fix your ship and cannonballs to do what cannonballs do. Aside from a short wait to respawn, there’s not ‘death tax’ in terms of resource or coin loss.
In the game, the open map is fantastic to look at and listen too. The game does take time to play, as the world is (at firsts) a big place to navigate. Saling with a small crew means working together, and for the most part, it’s easy to get a handle of what ‘jobs’ need doing in different situations. The gameplay is simple enough that you don’t need to mic-up with randoms – and of course, you can get one to three friends to crew with you, which to me makes a great ‘breakout-classroom group.
Going on voyages for gold, magic and materials is fun. Handing in loot is all very old school MMO like. No gun upgrades or better ships – just cosmetic upgrades keeps game play fair. No one has the ‘uber’ gun that destroys everything in its path. So its pretty easy to drop in and out of without investing hundreds of hours. All the loot money can be spent on cosmetic changes. This reward tree won’t appeal to those players who lust after to ‘big guns’ to increase damage or the mega-banana health pack – but Rare say that is the point.
That said, there is little sense of sense of ownership and progress in the game. Yes, you can level up and brag about yourself, but it doesn’t mean much as death has little consequence. The game can feel a bit empty at times, but that’s okay, as you sail around and visit islands looking for treasure. As a PC/Xbox crossover, the game does have glitches, despite the first 9gig patch. There is plenty of talk online about possible environmental upgrades: forts, fog, whirlpools, ten man ships … but it’s far too new to predict. The game has taken off, and the developer (and servers) are playing catch-up.
The core is there: so for kids (and schools) this is a great adventure game which allows time for socialising. There’s no ‘home city’ and no ‘faction’ arrangements, so ‘be more pirate’ is perhaps a fitting slogan. Ownership of items hasn’t been turned into a transferable auction house – which is often fraught with issues and I think this has deterred the ‘ganking class’ of player for whom this low-loss adventure style doesn’t tap into their ‘killer’ behaviour. At times there are foul-mouthed muppets, so its not a game you want kids to play with a mic – unsupervised.
I’d say the game is well suited as a ‘text’ for school. There are so many stories to tell about your adventure, despite the seemingly limited content in the game so far – but it does a solid job at recording reputation and achievements. Like Minecraft, I suspect only a few will wade into the water here for a while – as educators seem to want both a critical mass and an “Education Editon” before adopting much of anything. But if you are a teacher who’s willing to do more than follow the crowd – then SoT is definitely a sandbox for you. If you’re a parent with Fornite and PubG fatigue or want to make that connection with gameplay yourself – this might just be the game that makes that happen.
May your chests be filled with treasure and your barrels full of bananas.