As a preface, this is a lengthy post, and it is rife with OPINION, you may not share my opinions, and I absolutely may be wrong about some things, but please bear with me and hear me out.
This game is good, and that's what I believe is it's biggest problem. This game is JUST good, when it could be GREAT. When I say great, I don't just mean really really good, I mean gaming hall of fame great. There are 3 major problems that hold this game back. The first problem follows one of the game's strong suits, it's world. The world is relatively vast, I enjoy the various islands, though in a perfect world each island would be a bit more different, though overall I think it's fine. The problem is that the world is vast, but shallow. Yes, there are lots of different islands, and yes there are lots of things to do in terms of missions. But the missions really only serve one purpose, and that's to ferry players through various areas and let them explore different islands, but that's all they do. There is no TRUE variance in the missions, and what I mean by that is that basically all the missions from low rep to high rep are the same thing over and over again. "Go to this island, dig this treasure or kill this skeleton, get these things and bring them here,” etc etc. I'll come back to this point a little later, but these missions serve as nothing but surface level exploration with a small reward. I don't want to sound like a negative nancy here, like I'm complaining about everything or that I hate this game, so I'll say I do enjoy the content the tall-tales bring, but again they don't solve the problem of the variance in the journey. It feels to me as though Rare has focused too much on getting you from island to island that they've neglected the JOURNEY between them. The grind from the low rep is absolutely horrendous. It's no fun at all after about 8 hours - if I'm being generous - once you experience the various regions of the map, and you get the gist of what you're doing, it's dreadfully boring because there's nothing to do while you're travelling, there's no detours that are worthwhile or rewarding. I want to be sailing around, and see a strange light in the water, I want to be intrigued, I want to dive beneath the waves and find these underwater ruins that are ripe with lore and with treasure, I want to feel as though I'm truly in a vast ocean with history, and mystery, beneath the waves. In the "Seabound soul" tall-tale, you follow ghost ships, and I really liked this part. I think it'd be incredible to see ghost ships recreating battles of the past, or even fight them as enemies, have legendary ships and pirates of the past show up to attack you. The closest things to "fun", intriguing moments like these are the times when you sail through a giant cloud of fog, when you're sailing through a storm, or when you're beset by surprise encounters with Megalodons, Krakens, and skeleton ships. They inspire a fear in you that you don't find anywhere else in Sea of Thieves, and even in other games on the market, for the first little while I played the game, I LOVED these encounters, and I was truly afraid of them. UNFORTUNATELY this fear/respect that the surprise encounters garner is completely lost after a little while, once you realize that the danger isn't real, which brings me to the second issue.
There is NO sense of danger or foreboding. When I sail around doing chores for various factions, I stand on the crows nest looking around at NOTHING. Other than the occasional player ship in the distance, there's nothing to see other than passing islands and random rocks. There's basically no danger in this game. The only time I'm ever worried is when I'm attacking a skeleton fort, because I’m just a sitting duck and any passing players could come and ambush me and take the fort for themselves, and I actually REALLY LOVE that nervousness I feel when I unlock the stronghold and desperately run loot to my ship frantically looking around watching for players coming to pilfer my hard earned loot. But once I'm in the wind, that nervousness is essentially gone with it. The only other worry I have at that point is running into the Kraken, but even then it's not really a big deal. Provided you have the supplies, the Kraken is not at all difficult to at LEAST escape, if not beat outright. Same with the Megalodons, they're extremely easy to beat, and they just give up easily. Skeleton ships are easy to escape as well. Now a few of these issues are alleviated by playing alone, but if you're playing with a friend, or even 3 other friends, the challenges that face a solo player become trivial. Even if the Kraken, or a persistent skeleton ship or Megalodon do manage to sink me, and that's a BIG if. I just pile my loot onto my rowboat and row away. Again, if you have more than one person this is an insta-fix for the situation. Your friend can easily just come pick you up. Speaking of skeleton ships, I can hear one firing at me as I'm tabbed out writing this while sailing to the next island while I grind out the Wild Rose wheel. The only true danger are other players, but ships are easy enough to spot that it's relatively easy to steer clear of them, though some of my favourite moments in Sea of Thieves are times when I'm being chased by an enemy and I have a ton of loot and we're each trying to outmaneuver the other, and I end up escaping by weaving between some rocks or sailing into a storm. Some great moments are when you're sailing a sloop in the dead of night, hauling a bunch of treasure, and you spot the lanterns of a player galleon off in the distance. But these moments are few and far between. Storms and mists are just inconveniences rather than problems. It would be nice to have more danger in those things. For instance, the Flying Dutchman appearing out of the mist to ambush you, or some sort of creature that dwells in the storm, perhaps another ghost ship that has a chance to appear in any storm, these sorts of things would add complexity, depth, and excitement to the journey between islands, or the trek back to an outpost. For instance, if you were heading in a straight line towards an outpost, but there was a giant cloud of fog in the way, there would be some deliberation about whether it would be worth it to risk heading straight on through to get to your destination faster, or adding upwards of 10 minutes to your journey by taking the long way and bypassing the fog entirely.
Finally, the third issue. I feel as though we, the players, are "Pirates" in name only. If anything it would be more accurate to call us adventurers. We sail from island to island digging up treasure, killing some skeletons, or hauling some cargo. The tall-tales have us going through some pretty cool adventures and learning stories of pirates of the past, but that's all they are. Adventures. We see curses, magic, and great troves of treasure and stories left by the pirates of the past. There are many pirates mentioned in passing. Anyone who's played this game has likely noticed what I'm about to bring up. Where are they? This is supposed to be a sea, right? A sea where pirates of all stripes come to test their mettle? Maybe I'm missing something, but what the hell happened to everyone else? I understand the design choice of wanting the players to be present forms of these past pirates, forging their own paths and creating legends of their own for future pirates to discover, but it just DOESN'T WORK. The map isn't nearly large enough, and the servers aren't nearly full enough. I have a decent amount of hours in this game, and I can count the amount of times I've actually had my loot stolen by other players on one hand. What exactly is a "Pirate Legend"? I'll be totally honest, I'm not a pirate legend, but as far as I know it's nothing major. Just some new fetch quests, a new song, some cosmetics, and a new hangout. What's the point? Who are we legends for? As far as I can tell, there's no benefits. It's not like the NPCs view us like legends. TLDR, what are the benefits? You would think a renowned pirate of legendary repute would have favours to call in, people willing to help them out. We've seen magic in this game, but we can't use it - besides cursed balls. Why not allow pirate legends to access unique services, like paying some of their extra money to have 15 minutes where you can see the current locations of other players, or their positions but delayed by a minute or two, maybe even the ability to summon a kraken in a specific area, or a megalodon or a storm, SOMETHING. As it stands, when I do merchant missions I feel like a mailman, when I do gold hoarders missions I feel like Shia Labeouf in Holes, when I do Order of Souls missions, I feel like an exterminator - and not the cool kind.
In short, Sea of Thieves has a ton of potential, it's world is vast, but it's disappointingly shallow. The distinct lack of variety is extremely evident, and while the tall-tales DO help alleviate this dreadful monotony, it doesn't last long. I have high hopes for the future, and here is a list of some problems, and a few solutions, that I believe could improve the game:
The quests feel like they're just fetch quests. Once the luster of sailing the seas and finding new islands fades away, the quests just become fetch quests, they're boring and unimaginative. AGAIN, the tall-tales are mostly GREAT, but those experiences are mostly one-and-done, once the wow factor fades, it's right back to the same old same old. Gold Hoarder missions would be helped by adding some caves into the mix, as far as I'm aware you get all the chests from digging, it would help variety A LOT if chests would spawn in caves, if some chests were trapped, or if sometimes a powerful skeleton ship would pursue you until you defeated it
- earning you a far greater bounty in the process - or evaded it by reaching the safety of an outpost. The latter idea could be applied to any type of mission.
NPC ships. Again, I understand the design choice to not include things, but without ships to actually PIRATE, the title of pirate feels like just that - a title. Adding convoys from the different factions such as cargo ships for the Merchants, or Treasure escorts for Gold Hoarders would be a wonderful addition, and would add breath to an otherwise empty sea. They shouldn't be easy, or common, perhaps once every in game week or something, and guarded by enough ships it would either take a skilled galleon, or a full on alliance to take down.
Following in the same vein as NPC ships, there should be more roaming skeleton ships. This goes to the point earlier about the dangers of the world. This would add a much more palpable tension to the waters of the Sea of Thieves, and would force players to vary their ships course more often, rather than basically only going in straight lines.
I think that there should be more wildlife, it would be nice to see more creatures out and about. Seeing whales breaching the surface, or a pod of dolphins coming to help you back to your ship if you fall off, monkeys on islands whipping stuff left and right, things like that. Hunting whales with harpoons and spears might be a fun addition, there could even be a special whale that shows up sometimes that will swallow the player and transport them to an underwater cavern filled with treasure, something like that. Another thing I noticed is that the Sea of Thieves has a distinct lack of birds in it's world. I guess the government forgot to change the batteries or something.
To that end, there should be more monsters as well. As I mentioned earlier the sea monsters that currently exist are basically more of a hindrance than anything else, and the normal sharks are punching bags anyway. The sea is rich with lore, and I would love to see sea creatures straight out of mythology showing up. Sirens that charm you, some kind of drowned ghost that pulls you beneath the surface when you fall off your ship, ghosts that offer cursed treasure that could make you drunk, or make you limp for a certain time, things like that. I would love to have a moment where I look off into the distance and see a massive shape in the fog, and I want to sully my pants imagining what terrifying creature could be coming my way. I hate sailing through fog, seeing a massive shape in the mist, and being disappointed because I know it's just some rock. I'd like to look to my right and see a massive fin come out of the water, or see a massive whale breach the water, Moby D*f**k style. This may be an unpopular opinion, but the Kraken is lame. I think it needs a bit of a redesign, though maybe Rare are saving that stuff for later on.
Unique enemies on the sea. As I mentioned before we hear a lot about pirates of ages past, and follow the footsteps of some legendary ships, who's to say that those ships are done sailing? When I'm sailing through the mist, I want to be AFRAID, like pirates of old, of someone like Davey Jones dragging me to the depths. I'd like to see encounters with ghost ships that have unique designs and rewards.
The Wreck of the Blessing of Athena
The Wreck of the Bloody Death
The Wreck of the Cursed Dawn
The Wreck of the Damned Hydra
The Wreck of the Devil's Rage
The Wreck of the Feared Dragon
The Wreck of the Flying Hell
The Wreck of the Forsaken Serpent
The Wreck of the Foul Eel
The Wreck of the Hangman's Hate
The Wreck of the Hellborn Mermaid
The Wreck of the Howling Beast
The Wreck of the Liar's Fortune
The Wreck of the Marauder's Revenge
The Wreck of the Siren's Gale
The Wreck of Szami's Undead Galleon
The Wreck of the Wrath of Hades
You gotta admit, these ships have some pretty sick names, and I think fighting these legends of the past would make for a great addition.
Pirate legend doesn't have the magnitude it should have. It doesn't really come with special perks, and the new missions don't matter, considering at that point you're not really wanting for cash that much. This could be improved by adding the things I mentioned before, magic, services, etc. NPCs that are unique to the legend tavern that you can employ to do various things, such as track other players, set up blockades (if the next suggestion is taken), they should be able to set bounties, summon mist, weather, things like that, things that make you feel powerful in the world. I'd even say Rare should consider the idea of legends having a unique ship class of each size. Hell I think there should be unique ships in general, but I see how that could be asking too much.
Next is the NPC fleets thing. If NPC sailors are actually added, then the ability to hire crew should be as well. Being able to hire another sloop or something to be part of your fleet, to escort you, etc etc. Maybe this idea is a little far fetched considering two galleons roaming around the map would be hard for any single ship to deal with, but I still think that this should be considered. It would be extremely satisfying to work your way up to pirate legend, and to see NPC sailors cower at the sight of you, turning their ships around and straight up fleeing because you are a pirate on par with the legends of the past, a pirate who is known throughout the sea as one of the greatest, and most dangerous, pirates of all time.
Player housing. This is something that EVERY grindy, money making, exploration based game should implement. There's no reason players shouldn't be able to purchase their own little house to display their various trophies. It'd be relatively easy too, you could just make it a separate zone that you access by sailing into a certain part of the restricted area of the map, or that you access through some kind of secret entrance in a cliff - like the batcave - that you can dock your ship in, and only opens if you play the pirate legend shanty, assuming you make the player housing unique to legends. It would have a vault, places for various trophies, skulls, wheels, hats, swords, or flags of the unique enemies that I mentioned earlier. I think that this is one of the easier, and more important things that could be added.
I hate the fact that I go to Lone Cove, see an ominous glow in a cave, walk into it, see some glowing mushrooms and whatnot, say "Oh okay cool," and then just leave and forget all about it five minutes later. Adding adventures that don't need to be voyages would really help the depth of the game. Being on an island for a different reason, then seeing a cave with ominous glowing, leading to a small adventure would be a nice touch. Maybe there's a skeleton captain doing a ritual, or a cultist, SOMETHING. Do a quick five minute fight, kill some stuff, avoid a trap or two, and get some extra loot. This doesn't need to happen on EVERY island, and it doesn't need to happen on specific islands EVERY time, but it should be something that happens sometimes.
A lot of things I complained about could be solved by one in ten chances. One in ten chance that Davey Jones attacks you in the mist, one in ten chance that the ghost of a legendary ship attacks you when passing a shipwreck, one in ten chance that you dig up a chest that curses you, one in ten chance that there's a trap somewhere. The rest could be solved by expanding beneath the oceans, we know there are mermaids, and mermaid statues show up sometimes, where do they come from? Are there mermaid cities? Could we trade with them, visit them? Are they hostile? Are there ruins of cities beneath the water? ATLANTIS? This is going to sound weeby - and it is - but I think Sea of Thieves would benefit from taking a bit of inspiration from One Piece. The entire plot of the show is one massive adventure through a vast world spanning from literally the top of the clouds, all the way to the bottom of the sea. I see why we couldn't go to a cloud island in the game, but still, the principles of the world building, the vast amounts of lore, and the amazing locales in One Piece are among the best in all of fiction - whether you like the show or not.
There are literally thousands of possibilities, and it would be one of the greatest wastes of potential in gaming history if Sea of Thieves didn't explore these possibilities. Lest any Rare employees happen to chance upon this, I'd like to give props to Rare for sticking with this game over the years and continuing to do their best to update and improve the game when they easily could have simply abandoned it in favour of more profitable endeavours. Obviously these are just my humble opinions on things that I believe could vastly improve the game, and if you disagree with them then all the power to you.
Note - I don’t mention cosmetics in depth, and that’s because - for the most part - Rare did an excellent job with them, and I have basically no complaints. The only issue I have is the Pirate Emporium, while I understand the need to make some more cash from this game considering they put out free content as much as they do, I’d like to see some of the ships in the store taken out and put into small one shot voyages that lead players on a hunt for a unique ship, or just a quick little puzzle, just to add a bit more variety to the exploration.
Thanks to any poor soul who ends up reading this whole thing.