How Sea Of Thieves is revolutionising the open world


Will Rare’s big comeback be worth the wait?

Sea Of Thieves is designed to simulate stories, to stimulate a feverish hunger for exploration and an urge to go out in search of the unknown with friends by your side and enemies on the horizon – their thick silhouettes sit calmly against the setting sun, a cautious reminder that danger and adventure is ever-present on the open seas.

Rare looks like it could be back to its very best, building a unique and bespoke experience that’s quite unlike anything else you’ll find in the industry. Sea Of Thieves looks like a videogame theme park that beckons you to indulge your most ridiculous pirate fantasies across a sumptuous sprawl of sea and sandy beaches.

At the heart of the experience is the world itself – an open-world, to be more precise, where Rare is leveraging its immense talent in building memorable locales to generate a space that doesn’t feel procedural but intimately crafted. A web of connected islands, dungeons and enemy ships full of players looking for loot in their leisure and searching for the adventure of a lifetime. The world itself reflects the sort of gameplay that Rare wants you to encounter in the wild and foster for yourself – fun and freeing, wrapped in an overbearing sense of joy and creativity; the breezy art style ties it all together. 

Forming uneasy alliances under the block-blue Dreamcast sky, coming together to explore isles long-forgotten and utilising an array of intuitive mechanics to engage in ship-to-ship combat all comes together to bind the magic of Sea Of Thieves into a cohesive whole. What still isn’t clear is how much of a traditional quest structure will feature here. With ship customisation, upgradable weapons and loot to be found, it’s likely that one will exist, although it may play second fiddle to a sense of progression that is far more potent – one forged expertly from imagination and ingenuity.

The older we get, the less we tend to stimulate the imagination centres of our brain, though you’ll need to dust it off for Sea Of Thieves, pushing yourself to return to a childlike sense of wonder and manipulation. The game itself thrives on emergent play; honestly, it looks to be perfectly angled towards the Twitch and YouTube generation of gamers/content creators as much as it is anybody else.

You’ll need to work with friends (and random pirates) as a team to discover plunder and navigate islands – which could be teeming with skeletal marauders or other players looking for mischief – let alone sail a ship across the sea, an activity that requires deft cooperation. Raising the anchor, angling the main sails into the wind, steering and directing the ship, putting out the occasional fire and, yes, fixing a pesky leak threatening to put you at the bottom of the ocean, can only be achieved by working together with those around you.

Rare has gone to great lengths to make all of this intuitive and fun, easy to understand but ultimately difficult to master. These are the design tenets that make up this treacherous shared world experience, though ultimately it’s up to you to choose how you crew up, how you chart a course through this fantastical world and how well you can maintain your own pirate code of honour in the face of dangerous rival crews.

While there are lingering concerns surrounding what will make up the minute-to-minute distractions, they are the very same that would typically be levied at other games that rely on emergent play for entertainment – the likes of Minecraft, DayZ and countless others that have come to define this era of Twitch-driven consumption. Sea Of Thieves is tapping into that culture, building a vibrant game world around it and setting it loose on the oceans. Whether you’re on Windows 10 or Xbox One, it’s a game that should remain firmly fixed through your spyglass as you sail into the New Year.

Rare’s been the source of so many great games, but how many made it into our 100 Greatest Games Of All Time? Download our special issue to find out.