I think it’s safe to say that following the amazing trailer at the Xbox + Bethesda showcase earlier this year, XboxEra’s resident Sea of Thieves superfan (that’s me dear reader) was beyond excited.
It’s an amazing combination of Piratey brands, a ‘no-brainer’ if you will. Pirates of the Caribbean, despite having a bit of a break from the box office, is still adored by millions, and Sea of Thieves, against all odds is thriving in terms of player engagement and growth as Rare brought seasons and more to their pirate world.
A Pirate’s Life is the headlining content of Sea of Thieves’ third season – a new set of Tall Tales for players to play either solo or with their crews, with 5 chapters in total. If you’ve played the first set of Tall Tales, called Shores of Gold, you’ll understand the premise – swashbuckling adventures, taking you across the Sea of Thieves and to new and interesting places.
So, let me set the stage. I loved Shores of Gold. It stands, after many, many years of gaming, as one of the best co-operative and most fun experiences I’ve ever had. And because of that, I finally finished A Pirate’s Life earlier this week and feel nothing but bitter disappointment.
A Pirate’s Life for me
Let’s get the good out the way first, shall we? A Pirate’s Life is a superb nostalgia trip for Pirates of the Caribbean fans. The various new locales and environments Rare have crafted with Disney here are beautifully realised and absolutely gorgeous to look at. From deep underwater corals full of new enemies and mysterious puzzles, to hauntingly beautiful moody groves and long abandoned sea forts and coastal towns, the new expansion is a looker. You’ll be pressing your screenshot button with surprisingly regularity.
All of these locations are a backdrop to a tale that brings key Pirates of the Caribbean characters and mythical vessels to life. Everyone from Gibbs, Davy Jones, Calypso to the Black Pearl and The Flying Dutchman herself. We also have some returning Sea of Thieves characters and new enemies and weapons from the deep to contend with.
The new elements the expansion brings to the overall game world are great, and I’m all for them. The biggest problem that Sea of Thieves has had to contend with is an audience that is constantly demanding more, and for Rare, they’ve had to reorganise their team to be able to deliver that with a swifter cadence.
Alas, it’s the gameplay and storytelling of the Tall Tales themselves that I have an issue with.
One of the reasons this review was so delayed is the numerous technical bugs and issues I encountered, particularly in Chapter 2 of this new set of Tall Tales, named The Sunken Pearl. I play Sea of Thieves with a group of close friends, usually once a week and have done since launch, and we of course jumped in as soon as possible to play through them – not only so I could write this review, but also because we enjoy the game.
It started off well enough, but after having sailed to the destination of this chapter, swimming down, we found our progress regularly blocked, unable to progress. It happened on four separate occasions, with our path through the chapter blocked at various points. Stuck in caves that wouldn’t fill with water when they should, doors blocked off when they shouldn’t be and so on.
All because other crews are present…in a ‘shared world’ game. A game designed to be played with others. I’m not sure exactly what Rare thought would happen, but it was very frustrating. Sea of Thieves is not a game that respects your time, despite all the attempts from Rare to make it a bit more friendly in that regard. They did roll out a hot fix to contend with this, but we still faced issues, weeks after launch.
It’s Just a Ride
One of the biggest issues I had with this expansion (outside of being able to actually see it through), was the mission design and gameplay itself. The absolute best thing about Sea of Thieves is it’s nautical combat, and I become more and more downhearted as the Tall Tales progressed to be forced into frequent on-foot combat instead.
It’s passable at best, and after the umpteenth mermaid statue puzzle, followed by waves of bad guys that present zero challenge to a well worn Sea of Thieves player, to find that only one of the five chapters actually focuses on being on your ship was really disappointing.
I also have issues with how the game gave you amazing looking locations and then did virtually nothing with them. One example, a ghostly purple thick grove with calm winding waters, full of apparitions and mysterious dwellings seemed ripe for exploration. Except it wasn’t – don’t bother parking your boat at a jetty and getting off, there’s nothing there to see. Stay on the ride, flip the switch, get back on the ride and off you go.
There is a lot of standing around and listening to characters delivering exposition, the gravitas of which is often ruined entirely by the presence of multiple players. Some of the spoken elements and story telling drag on for what feels like an eternity, and while the voice actors do a pretty good job all in all, I couldn’t help but tap my foot with impatience at times. There are many gameplay moments where a non-player character is doing or saying something, and if you’re not standing or looking at the right place at the right time, you’ll miss it, and often be left wondering what you should be doing next or why you’re there at all.
If you’re a huge Pirate of the Caribbean fan, you may get some enjoyment out of it, and I wholeheartedly admit, being forced to listen to the same drawn out intro four times for Chapter Two likely really soured the experience.
Dead Men Do Tell Tales
I mentioned nostalgia before – indeed, if you’ve ever been on the actual ride for Pirates of the Caribbean, you will absolutely love this. If you haven’t, you might be a bit perplexed at all the hype. While I know of the ride, I’ve never been on it, so it didn’t do a lot for me. As I progressed through, there were many incredibly gorgeous environments, but it soon became apparent it was mostly set dressing for what felt like unremarkable gameplay encounters.
The final chapter did bring out the big guns – a great backdrop, awesome naval combat, and some genuinely cool moments throughout, but its triumphant tone fell somewhat flat, as it just didn’t feel earned by what had come before. And again, bar some elements, a lot of it was recycled encounters from previous expansions. Good encounters, sure, but bar the scripted moments, there still wasn’t a lot of new.
Should you play it? That’s the big question, isn’t it? I think, now that the dust has settled, and most of the bugs have been resolved, it’s still worth a go – especially if you’re a fan of either franchise. But beneath the lovingly crafted veneer, the longstanding issues that have plagued Sea of Thieves since it’s launch are still prevalent. Average combat and poor signposting for new players, if this was your introduction to Sea of Thieves, you may be left scratching your head and wondering what all the fuss was about.