Recently I visited these forums and was astounded by how many people are still asking for a PvE Mode, Private servers, or otherwise expressing their displeasure with the PvP aspects of the game. To me, that means this game has a lot to offer to those who want to just enjoy the PvE features without expliciting attacking other players, but they need tips on how to cope with the current format of the game.
It saddens me that much of the response to people wishing for a PvE mode is very vitriolic and unhelpful, anywhere between a vague 'get gud' and 'It’s a pirate game! Don’t play if you don’t like it!!!", or worse. As someone who has previously argued for a way to play without PvP, I know such responses are just low effort and really only serve the person saying them.
So with all that pre-amble out of the way, I wanted to write a PvP guide from the perspective of someone who would like a PvE mode but has learned to enjoy the PvPvE adventure as much as possible. I'm not telling you how to avoid PvP altogether, that is impossible. Believe me, I've tried! But you can plan for it, respond to it, and survive it more often than not.
Some of these are obvious tips, but I want to mention them incase this is being read by a new player who hasn't heard them yet. I do have some things to say that I feel haven’t been collected in one place before, that’s why I’m making this post.
If you’re looking at this wall of text and already saying ‘Too long, didn’t read’, and you’re a player who hates PvP, I implore you to at least read the section titled ‘Confidence’ at the bottom.
--------- Check the horizon for any ships, and do it often. The first step to combat in any game is information, and most of the time in Sea of Thieves you can see an enemy coming from a distance if you’re looking. Be wary of large islands and rocks that ships could hide behind. You may prefer to sail away from any ship you see no matter how far. I don’t blame you, it’s the safest choice. It is, however, very time consuming and it will sap your ability to enjoy the game.
--------- When you spawn into the game, that is the only time you have where you’re reasonably safe. Sea of Thieves will spawn you in one of the six outposts outside the Devil’s Roar, and since every server is limited to 6 ships maximum, I’m reasonably sure it calculates which outpost is furthest from all current players on the server to spawn you in.
--------- If you see a ship that has a lot of blue/green lights on it, it is most likely a NPC ship and not a player. They won’t attack you unless you come close and even then sometimes not until you attack first. Don’t worry about them.
--------- If you see a player ship, do note that it takes almost no time at all for someone to cross the distance between the horizon and where you are now, if you’re sitting still. Make note of what direction they are in and check it frequently.
--------- If you see a ship sitting still in the middle of the sea and you don’t see birds circling near them, BE VERY SUSPICIOUS OF THEM. There is no gameplay reason to sit still for any extended period of time in the sea, apart from a short stop to pick up loot. They could be waiting for the right time to attack you, be it when you leave your ship or when you’ve loaded up with loot and started moving again.
--------- If you leave your ship unattended for a while, it may be a good idea to look around everywhere on board for any players hiding with sit or sleeping emotes. They might be waiting for the right time to steal your loot when you get to the outpost, or worse, coordinating with their crew by keeping track of your ship's position. Make sure to check the ladders, below deck, the crow's nest, and even on top of the cross beam at the top of your sail. They might not be completely visible, using an emote can sometimes allow players to hide a sizable portion of their body in your loot, your barrels, or hull.
--------- Keep an eye out for mermaids in the water. The moving, non-statue kind. If one is hanging around, that means a player is nearby without their ship. Be especially careful at outposts near recently active skull forts or single-location turn-in points like the Reaper's Hideout. Such locations are hotspots for patient players who might be willing to spend a lot of their time simply waiting for their target to come to them. If a mermaid belongs to another player, they may be hard to spot since you will not see their smoke trail.
--------- Stock up your supplies. Survival on the Sea of Thieves depends hugely on your planks, cannonballs, and food. It doesn’t matter how skilled you are if you can’t fire your cannon or repair your ship. All threats on the Sea will drain your supplies, but PvP interactions by far can do it the most. Battles between equally skilled sailors can often come down to who runs out of supplies first. At the bare minimum, take a full inventory full of planks, cannonballs, and food from each place you visit. A decent target is 50 planks and 100 cannonballs for the average sloop to be decently prepared, but more is better if you don’t mind taking the time.
--------- Mind your firebombs. You may want to only carry them in your inventory and avoid putting them in your ship's barrels, because if an enemy boarder gets their hands on them they could do substantial damage to your ship even without a cannon.
--------- Carry your cursed cannonballs. Similar to the firebombs, putting them in your barrels just opens them up for theft from enemy pirates, and you'll almost always have room for all that you collect in your pockets.
--------- Never carry more loot than you're willing to lose. The more you have on board, the more stressed you could be in a battle, and that could dampen your ability to think clearly.
--------- Be careful with gunpowder barrels! They can be useful tools, but they are a hazard to your ship no matter where you place them. The crow's nest, while not perfect due to the damage a blast could cause to the mast, at the very least is a hard target to hit and doesn't rip a bunch of holes in your ship. Practice igniting and extinguishing gunpowder barrels away from your ship, too. I’ve seen enemy pirates blow themselves up on their own ship, presumably because they mishandled gunpowder.
--------- No matter how aware you are, you can be taken by surprise. You should be ready to go at a moment’s notice. This means not keeping your anchor down when you’re parked, whether you’re at an island, a seapost, a shipwreck, an outpost, anywhere but a storm. To do a quick and satisfying parking job, follow these steps:
----- 1) Pull anchor to stop
----- 2) Roll up your sails. Unless you’re in a storm or an earthquake, your ship won’t move if your sails are up.
----- 3) Raise your anchor. This is a time-consuming process that you’re doing now so that when you need to go, you need only spend a second dropping sails instead of wasting precious seconds raising the anchor.
----- 4) Use the wheel to adjust your ship’s direction to be pointing into the sea, where you can speed off without having to steer immediately if you need to.
----- 5) If you like, adjust the angle of your rolled up sails to be straight ahead. Wind changes all the time, and half the time you’ll get the best speeds out of the default straight-ahead sail angle. (Refer to the Battle section for more on this) Now you’re ready to go!
--------- It’s rare that you can hide behind the island you’re stopped at, but if you can, do it. Not seeing you will give players less reason to head in your direction. Take note how close the edge of the map is and hide on the side that exposes you to the least of the map. Do try to scan the horizon when you’re on the island however, since your view will be blocked from your ship.
--------- If you're doing a Tall Tale and have some important loot that you need to complete it, it can be extremely frustrating to get attacked and lose it. This can't always be avoided, of course, but when you make a stop at an island or outpost, you can do something to prevent it happening to you. Take the important loot off your ship and hide it somewhere on the island, not in eyesight of the sea. Make sure to remember what island it is. This way, someone could blow up your ship, take whatever you had on your ship, and you can hold on to your Tall Tales stuff by just returning to the island with your respawned ship.
--------- Okay, so despite your awareness, despite your hiding, despite your avoidance, a player has come to fight you and is pursuing you. This is inevitable if you play long enough. You're flying your alliance flag, but they're not taking the offer. Don't try to talk them down, they won't listen. You might be able to sail past an outpost and hop off with a single armful of loot, but a lot of the time that isn't going to cut it. Fighting back is your best chance for satisfaction.
--------- If you're playing solo, don't try to board the enemy ship. You'd need to either stop your ship or leave it sailing unattended, both of which are options with a high chance of disaster. Playing defensively and letting your enemy come to you is your best chance.
--------- If you're lucky and your pursuer isn't very smart, they're sailing directly behind you. Drop a gunpowder barrel in the water off the back of your ship and they might just run into it, possibly sinking them or at least slowing them down. It'll also be hilarious.
--------- Most PvPers aren't that stupid, however. They'll likely be sailing parallel to you, but far off enough that you can't easily drop something in their path. This is when it's time to engage.
--------- A decent setting for your ship wheel is like so: Turn your wheel one quarter (two spokes) in either direction, preferably in an area where you don't have anything you'll crash into. Crashing will leave you vulnerable and extra damaged.
--------- Do not stop your ship mid battle, and NEVER anchor unless you are very far away and performing a hairpin turn. A stationary ship is, in a more literal sense than most uses of the phrase, a sitting duck.
--------- Roll your sails about halfway up and angled directly forward. I like to call these 'battle sails'.
-----You should keep the sails angled forward regardless of wind direction, at least while you're circling. Fun fact about sails and wind: If you can’t catch the wind exactly, keeping your sails pointed forward will result in better speed. See this video for more information: (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XaHT0ZLeMdU) This means that over half the time, if you're turning in circles, keeping your sails forward will result in the best possible speed overall.
----- The half-up position of the sail gives you optimal battle speed for two reasons: A slower speed allows for more precise maneuverability, and it's still too fast for a swimmer behind your ship to easily catch up.
--------- During a ship battle, the orientation of both your ship and your opponent’s is crucial. You want to avoid having their broadside face you, but even more important is that your broadside is facing them. This enables you to fire upon them with your cannons. The best possible situation is when your broadside is facing their backside, preventing both their cannonfire and any possible ramming.
--------- If you're not currently in firing range and need to make a tight turn, turn your wheel all the way to the side and roll up your sails all the way. Make sure to resume battle sails and a quarter wheel turn once you have your desired angle.
--------- If you find yourself in the worst situation (Their broadside is facing you and your rear is facing them), pull down your sails all the way to gain some distance and give yourself some time to maneuver into a favourable position. Patience is key, do not take a risk in a battle if you can avoid it. Resume battle sails when you’re ready. This is also a good strategy to get some time to repair any holes in your ship.
--------- You might try using your harpoon on the end of the enemy ship, preferably their back side, as you're passing. This way you can swing around and put their rear right in front of your cannon for a good pounding. You don't need to buy them dinner first, you're a pirate.
--------- When firing upon your enemy, there are two places you should aim. You want to aim low and hit holes toward the lower part of their ship, of course, but it’s also very important to fire every other shot or so at their deck. This will damage their steering, their anchor, and their sails, making the fight more difficult for them. Also, you might hit them and prevent them from easily firing back from their cannons. You might even knock them off their ship or kill them. Beware your enemy trying to do this to you, they’ll most certainly try.
--------- It’s highly likely that if a ship is attacking you, there’s more than one pirate on that ship. They may send someone to try and board you, either via their cannon or by swimming. Listen for the sound their cannon makes, a player being shot out has a more 'whistling' sound to it than a cannonball shot. Keep an eye on your ladders, and you’ll maintain the high ground. You could try shooting swimmers in the water, but if you have your battle sails set up properly they will have a hard time getting a hold of your ladder and you may be better served focusing on their ship. If you spot a swimmer, feel free to pull down your sails and really give them a hard time.
--------- Most battles will involve at least one successful boarding attempt, however. Be ready for them to sprint to your anchor. Their first priority is to pull your anchor and immobilize your ship. Guard your anchor, and if they do pull it, don’t panic. Certainly don’t try to raise it while they’re still on your ship, they’ll just kill you. Focus on killing the boarder first, everything else will have to wait.
--------- As far as pirate-to-pirate combat goes, there are a few tricks involved. First off, if you swing your sword and only hit the air, you’ll suffer a small delay that could be a big problem in the heat of battle. Try to aim where if you miss the enemy pirate, you’ll still hit a part of your ship. This way you won’t suffer the same delay between swings.
--------- The ideal situations for different weapons are probably obvious, but just in case: Blunderbuss is best practically at melee range, Eye of Reach is a long-range weapon, and the pistol is a good all-purpose/medium range weapon. I play on PC, so personally I get a lot of mileage out of just jumping and spinning about my enemy frantically swiping my sword at them and making myself hard to aim at.
--------- If you get damaged, try retreating for a second to eat some food. Keeping your health up is first priority, you can’t fight or defend your ship if you’re dead. I’ve been in fights where all it took was for me to die once and that was it, by the time I respawned my ship had been sunk.
--------- If things are looking really bad, such as your supplies have run out, and you’re low on food, etc, you can still get a little satisfaction if spite is your thing. Dump all your loot into the water and make it a real hassle for your attackers to pick it up. Petty? Sure. Funny? Also yes.
--------- This section is one that I haven’t read anywhere else, but I think it’s important for those of us who are PvE minded. PvP players will probably have a laugh here, but this guide isn’t for them. If you hate PvP, there’s a good chance that fear is involved, and for good reason. Battles aren't enjoyable when you don’t want to fight. Getting attacked and sunk can make you develop a fear of any player ship on the horizon. What if they come over and ruin your fun?
--------- Practice your battle skills on Skeleton sloops. They won’t give you any help as far as boarding encounters go, but you can improve your aim and sailing tactics considerably by fighting them. Plus, you get some loot out of it. If you're feeling brazen, pick a fight with a skeleton galleon or even a skeleton fleet. These can be even more difficult than a PvP battle, but they are more consistent in their difficulty and thus make good practice.
--------- Sinking Skeletons might help, but there’s really only one thing that’s going to give you confidence in your abilities against players: Practice. Empty your sloop of loot, and hunt down a ship on the horizon. It doesn’t matter whether they have loot or not. I understand you might have some conflicting feelings about this, having been on the receiving end of this kind of behaviour, but this is a necessary step.
--------- Turn off Other Crews voice chat. Chances are that if you don't attack players for fun, you're the type of person who possesses Sympathy. This is something that the PvPers who hunt you down do not have. The subject of your practice might be throwing toxic insults or begging for you to stop, and that can be hard to listen to. However, until a PvP-free adventure mode is implemented, they're going to have to put up with it as much as you have to. As the God of War puts it, you must close your heart to their suffering.
--------- Please note that I only advise turning off voice chat when you have absolutely no intentions of co-operation! When you're not explicitly hunting players for PvP practice, keep your voice chat on. As CotU42 below says, communication with other players is a big part of the experience in Sea of Thieves, and hopefully once you stop fearing encounters with other ships you might make some friends.
--------- If you want to extend an olive branch to your practice target, fly the "Offer Alliance" pennant flag. If they activate an alliance, consider calling off your practice. You could stand to profit from it. You might be wise to be wary of betrayal however, as you should be with every alliance. Alliance members can see eachother’s ships on the map, so keep an eye on them.
--------- If you’re never attacked someone before, it’s entirely possible that all of your PvP experiences have involved you losing or avoiding fights. That sort of past experience very reasonably can give you a negative outlook on a fight, that there’s nothing to gain and you’re just going to die. Practice may be the only way to change your outlook on battle.
--------- Sinking another player, even one you take off-guard, helps build your own confidence. You gain the experience of seeing yourself win against another player, and suddenly all those ships on the horizon seem less frightening and stressful.
--------- If you lose or win after a tough battle, think about what your opponent did that ticked you off. All's fair in love and war, and you should take notes on what strategies you might incorporate to give your future enemies a hard time, whether you're attacking or defending.
--------- If the worst happens, and someone sinks you before you know what hit you, that is of course very frustrating. It's perfectly normal to be angry, sad, or depressed about your loss. It can be particularly awful if that's how your session ends. I heartily recommend switching servers after such an event, and doing at least a little more. Spawning on a new server will give you room to sail away from anyone else, and do one thing with a good chance you won't see anyone. Complete just a single island on a voyage or a cargo run. A small victory goes a long way to wash out the bitter taste of defeat.
I hope that someone out there who suffers from a fear of ships on the horizon reads this. I want you to know I understand how you feel. But, if you can eliminate that fear, the Sea of Thieves becomes a far more enjoyable place. Sail with your Alliance flag flying, and let all those who take that as a sign of weakness be proven wrong!