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Sea of Thieves Beta Review: Sailing in shallow seas

We’ve finally had a taste of Sea of Thieves this week, as the closed beta launched on Xbox One. Good news, me hearties – this open-world swashbuckling adventure already looks close to ship-shape. Don your pirate boots, fill your best mug with grog and check out our Sea of Thieves beta review.

Sea of Thieves is certainly one of the more interesting online games to hit the Xbox One in early 2018. This open-world pirate sandbox allows you to explore a vast expanse of treacherous ocean with your mates, in search of booty and secret treasures. Or, if you’re a bit more bloody minded, simply blast and slice your way through other gamers using guns, cannons and cutlasses.

We’ve been playing the Sea of Thieves closed beta, to see how the game’s shaping up ahead of its official launch.

Sea of Thieves beta review: What’s the story?

Like quite a few other sandbox games, there’s no real ‘plot’ to Sea of Thieves. At least, not in the closed beta. Rather, you team up with up to three other buccaneers and head off into stormy seas to make your own stories.

First, pick how large a group you wish to command. We tested the Sea of Thieves closed beta as a pair of pirates, or alternatively you can go solo or set up a team of four. Bit of a Billy-no-mates? No worries, the game will set you up with other online loners.

Sea of Thieves beta review: Quests

Our first stop on Sea of Thieves’ starter island was the local quest merchant. This guy will sell you a map to a hidden treasure, which can be returned for a bit of wealth. Luckily the first one is free, as you begin the game absolutely skint. All you have is a small selection of weapons (cutlass, pistol and rifle) and your trusty ship.

This map shows the rough terrain of a nearby island, with an X marking the spot where you have to dig (oh yeah, you also have a shovel in your possession. Handy). We headed for our ship and went below decks, to compare the treasure map with our atlas. Quickly we matched the shape of the island with a spot of land just a short distance away. That was our target.

Sea of Thieves beta review: Sea battles

To get there, you don’t simply click on the island and sit back watching a loading screen, thankfully. Instead it’s up to you and your crew to steer the ship there, through rough waves populated by rival pirates. At least one person is needed to man the sails and helm, and keep your vessel from capsizing. Any remaining crew can watch for enemy ships. While other players may choose to ignore you, all of the beta testers we encountered were thirsty for our blood. Good thing our ship came with two cannons, and we’d stocked up on balls before leaving port.

Sea battles are certainly thrilling, not to mention tactical. You’ll need to work well together to get in an appropriate attack position and unleash hell on your opponents. Anyone not manning a cannon can even snipe at rivals using their rifle. A task made much simpler by the handy crow’s nest.

This is where a crew of four will come in particularly handy. With extra bodies, you can set about repairing your ship and clearing out water while a battle is ongoing, to try and keep afloat.

There’s nothing quite as exhilarating as that moment you bear down on an opponent, before letting cannonballs fly. Sailing away as their ship sinks behind you is definitely satisfying. Especially when they started it.

Oh, just be careful not to end up in the sea. It’s cold and there are sharks. Luckily you’ll find helpful mermen who magically teleport you back to your ship, which saves you from paddling for hours.

Sea of Thieves beta review: Islands

When you reach an island you’ll have to raise sails and drop anchor, before heading ashore. That map will come inn handy again, as you work out the exact location of the treasure by lining up various bits of terrain. A bit of digging later and you should have a chest, ready to return for your reward.

Of course, you’ll have to beware of any other enemies. In the Sea of Thieves beta, we encountered several skeletons who were far from friendly. Luckily three hits from a cutlass or a well-aimed blast from our rifles was enough to put them to rest. The combat doesn’t feel quite as fluid as dedicated shooter titles, with the cutlass proving particularly slow to swing. However, this may change for the final release; or perhaps it’s just a deliberate borking of the starter sword.

The islands feel quite empty at the moment, although we’ve only visited a handful. Plus, we’re sure they’ll really come alive with more players involved, and perhaps more enemies to battle.

Problems with the Sea of Thieves closed beta and extended finish date

Some players who pre-ordered the game apparently are still seeing error messages when loading the beta. As a result, a fix has been rolled out and the finish date has been extended to 8am GMT on January 31.

Check out the official Sea of Thieves beta page for more information.

When is the Sea of Thieves release date?

Here in the UK and the rest of the world, the final version of Sea of Thieves will release on March 20. It’s cross platform, so you’ll be able to play on the Xbox One family of consoles as well as Windows 10 PCs.