Plea of Thieves: peaces of eight

One of my favourite things about video games, other than narratives, is exploration. I love the feeling of being transported to somewhere wonderful and given a new world to discover, not knowing what lies in store around the next corner or over that mountain in the distance.

This is the reason I find myself always returning to The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO). I might put the controller down for a while after playing it constantly for several weeks, but you can guarantee I’ll end up going straight back to it after a few months. It’s thanks to Solarayo from Ace Asunder (my gorgeous partner for The Great Blog Crawl event) that I’ve reinstalled it again recently after she decided to try it for herself during the lockdown. It’s amazing how quickly you get back into it and it feels as though you’ve never been away.

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There are so many things to enjoy about this game. Find a book and the tales within help create a world which feels living, with its own history and colour. Dungeons provide plenty of action if you’re brave enough. And when you’re tired of slaying monsters, you can head in any direction and simply run because there’s all sorts of other things waiting out there. A villager who’ll reveal some local gossip, a hunter chasing a fox, a clifftop with a beautiful view; all simple events that don’t have any real impact on your journey but ones which add more depth to your adventure.

This partly explains why I’ve always been keen to give Sea of Thieves a go, even though it’s taken me over two years to get around to doing it. I can’t deny that my fondness for the Monkey Island series has helped too: there’s just something about swashbuckling characters who are out to seek their fortune which is attractive. The blue waves, sandy white shores, swaying foliage and shadowy caves of Rare’s 2018 release always appeared as though they were hiding plenty of secrets and buried treasure.

So why such a long delay? Well, as I’ve written before, I’ve never been all that keen on competitive titles. Long workdays, family commitments and adult responsibilities mean I don’t have enough time – or the desire – to improve my skills to an adequate level to be able to compete. The lockdown may have given a lot of us more time to play video games but in my ‘normal’ life, it seems pointless spending the few free hours I have being slated by my teammates for not being good enough.

But when friend-of-the-blog Phil offered to give me an overview, I gratefully accepted. Here was my chance to finally try out Sea of Thieves without being made to feel completely useless by a group of strangers online and I knew he’d be patient with my lack of hand-eye coordination. In preparation for our session, I created a character (a blonde-haired pirate in honour of Guybrush Threepwood) and worked my way through the short tutorial, trying to remember the buttons so I wouldn’t let our small team down. So far, so good.

In fact, the Maiden Voyage section captured exactly what I thought the game would be like in my head. You awake on a dessert island and are greeted by the ghost of the Pirate Lord who kindly guides you through the controls. You’re given the opportunity to explore after finishing with him and this was exactly what I wanted: beautiful beaches, tranquil waterfalls, abandoned caves, secrets notes and the promise of treasure. If the rest of the title was like this, I immediately knew it was going to be one I enjoyed.

And for the first hour, it was. Phil showed me where the Mysterious Stranger was so I could find out more about the three Trading Companies; where the Gold Hoarders were located so I could collect our first voyage from them; and how to loot barrels for food and cannon balls. Less usefully, he also showed me how to drink enough grog to make your character throw up – and then how to catch the vomit in a bucket and throw it over your teammates (that’s just his sense of humour). After spending a short time at the Outpost, it was time to hit the seas.

I’ll admit, he thankfully did most of the work while we sailed but I tried to help where I could and not get in the way. I could see here why playing with a team was beneficial because there were several jobs to take care of at once, including steering the ship and angling the sails. We made it to the spot marked on our map and finally set out to find some treasure on a small island – after I was momentary distracted by how cute the snakes were and became sidetracked with chasing a pig along the beach.

The good news was that we eventually managed to find what we were looking for. The bad news is that we also found other players.

Before we could even make it to our ship with our loot, we were ambushed by a team of four others. Obviously I’d predicted this because Sea of Thieves is a competitive multiplayer; but what I didn’t expect was just how relentless this group would be. They kept knocking me down repeatedly and were waiting for me every time I respawned. They even ignored our white flag once we’d raised it and after my fifth death in a row, I gave up trying to defend myself or attack them back. Was this supposed to be fun?

Sea of Thieves, video games, sea, beach, island, ships, pirates

I was aware we’d eventually end up in battles with other players. But I hadn’t expected it to happen so quickly, and I was hoping I would have been given more time to prepare for it. The initial enjoyment of sailing in our boat, discovering dessert islands and even being crushed by a massive Kraken eventually sunk below the waves, along with my desire to continue playing. That was the one and only time I played Sea of Thieves; I’ve now uninstalled it from our Xbox One and I’m sure I’ll ever bother returning to it.

Don’t get wrong: I completely understand that the cause of my disappointment with the game was me. I’d been focusing on the exploration elements I’d been attracted to and not what the title fundamentally was – an online action-adventure multiplayer where participants strive to become a Pirate Legend. When it became apparent that what I was searching for here wouldn’t be delivered in the way I wanted it to be, and the gameplay was going to be far more competitive than I could ever get into, I couldn’t help but feel short-changed.

I spoke to Phil about this the following day and he mentioned a thread on the Sea of Thieves forum, where someone had posted a suggestion for a peaceful mode for ‘people who just want to complete voyages and not be bothered by other pirates’. I checked it out for myself and was surprised by how many negative responses they’d received. Comments such as ‘I’m pretty sure it says in the name SEA OF THIEVES not sea of peace’ were not only grammatically incorrect, but not very respectful.

I don’t get it. Why would certain players feel so hostile towards the implementation of a new mode which didn’t change anything about the competitive aspect they enjoyed, but had the benefit of welcoming different kinds of players into the community? Rare would expand their customer-base as a result and could potentially use the extra profit earned to implement further improvements to the game, and surely that’s a win-win situation for everybody? If being a pirate means I must deal with scallywags like the people on that forum, it doesn’t seem so appealing any longer.

Have you ever wanted to play a game in a way other than it’s been designed? And how do you feel about exploration or non-competitive modes in new releases? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

13 thoughts on “Plea of Thieves: peaces of eight

  1. I knew full well that Sea of Thieves would be at least 50% (if not entirely) full of bored Killer players who find it fun to treat the game like an FPS in an endless murder/respawn cycle while playing with buddies for social fun. It’s why I’ve never touched it with a ten foot pole, and watch other people stream it on Twitch instead.

    Minutes of sailing tedium, followed by spurts of adrenaline and excitement as they encounter PvE monsters and loot, while risking total loss (or gambling jackpot) versus other PvP gangs. Fun enough to watch, but not for me personally.

    I’d wait for another game to take a more curated PvE spin on things. No point trying to make a game designed for something else into something it’s not. Sea of Thieves is patently balanced around encountering the risk of other player gangs to add on a spice that solely PvE encounters cannot. Stripping out the PvP would turn it into a half-game of transporting parcels to quest givers. You could get better PvE out of… oh, Puzzle Pirates or Sid Meier’s Pirates, because there’s more systems and activities for it.


    • The thing is, other than the encounter we had with other players, I enjoyed my time in Sea of Thieves. I liked the atmosphere of being at sea, we found a few islands (one with a cursed statue thing and traps was pretty cool) and it was great being able to hang out with a friend for a few hours. If adding an optional peaceful mode – not at the expense of competitive players, but alongside and outside of it for those who want it – brings in new players and more revenue for the developers, then it seems like a positive thing.


  2. Games (as a service) like this one live or die on their player base, once that starts to dry up, they’ll add some kind of PvE only mode to keep the sales trickling in for years to come. They can’t keep knocking out content for the rabid multiplayer crowd forever.


    • I hope you’re right, Dan. I’d love to be able to play Sea of Thieves one day… without being killed immediately after respawning, and without feeling completely useless. 😆


  3. Oh it would be so nice to chill out in a private world sailing the seas and fighting skeles! If they ever allow this we are going straight back in.

    I’ve got a private world in Fallout 76 and so nice to have the place to yourself to enjoy it as you see fit. I imagined always using the private world but half the time I’m back in the public worlds to team up with others on events. Even with Sea of Thieves I can imagine jumping back into the public oceans now and again for some team based action. It’s not always bad and I had some fun times with random players back in the early days by helping them find treasure, and you’ll also get a share of the rewards.

    It’s possible that by now the good mix of players have moved into other games leaving just the diehard players bent on ruining the fun for everyone else.


    • Diehard players who think it’s fun to continuously kill you as you respawn, you mean? 😉

      I don’t see how adding a PvE mode is going to take anything away from the game. The most valid argument I came across online was to do with the leaderboards, and how it would be unfair to let peaceful players onto it when the others had been taking part in PvP; so surely the answer is to make it completely separate for those who want it? I’m not interested in becoming the top pirate, I just want to sail the seas and find treasure!

      Although not that cursed statue again. That was weird.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The jerks with bad grammarz on the forums clearly enjoy bullying people who just want a peaceful experience and would hate for that “feature” to be removed, I’m guessing 🙄

    Thank you for the shout-out! ❤ And now I'm tempted to boot up ESO even if I have to get up for work in 5 hours, haha


    • It’s weird to think that gatekeeping still exists in 2020. If you’re getting what you want out of a game, surely if doesn’t matter if someone else is getting something entirely different from it? The more players online, the more profit the developer is making, which means the more money they can put back into the game or their next release to make it even better. That’s got to be good for everybody. 🤔

      ESO has been a huge temptation while working from home. I’ve now stationed my ‘office’ on the other side of the house so I can’t get distracted! ha ha

      Liked by 1 person

      • Whoa! Fell waaay behind on blog social stuff. Sorry for the incoming super late replies, haha.

        I’ll never, ever understand the mentality behind gatekeeping. It seems like those people get a power rush from being a jerk to others. My punchy senses are tingling… 🙄

        Another reason why I had to force myself to get back to not working from home, haha.


  5. I’m a big fan of Sea of Thieves – when you’re out on the seas with a group of friends it can be an incredibly chill experience but I worry your first impressions have not done it justice. You can run into a bunch of aggressive players who like nothing more than to ruin your night and that can happen more now with the new Reaper faction encouraging some real PvP piracy. We lost a ship full of swag last week from characters like this. 😦

    One thing that can help is to raise the alliance flag from your crow’s nest (the one with the heart) and most ships will respect that and maybe also let you share in the spoils if you respect it – I had one crew not sink me but help me complete a challenge even if they did also clean out my supplies as part of the deal. It did become very profitable after that though. 😉


    • Now that’s what I’m looking for: a chilled experience with friends. I genuinely think I’d really be able to get into Sea of Thieves if I didn’t feel so much pressure from the PvP element (although I do understand that this is a core part of the game and an attraction for many).

      I wasn’t aware about the alliance flag… if I’m ever tempted to jump back in, I’ll do that. Thanks for the tip. 😀

      Liked by 1 person

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