Sea of Thieves is making waves with its first season, but it still doesn't address one major problem for players returning to the game.
Sea of Thievesis one of very few games to get close to bringing the pirate experience to life in all its ridiculous glory. Since its initial release in 2017, players have been able to sailRare'simpressively rendered ocean, fighting off other pirate crews and giant sea monsters on their quest for fame and booty.
2021 has already seen some significant changes come to Rares popular multiplayer, withSea of Thievesentering a new phase with Season One. The first of a series of updates Rare plans to release for the game every three months, Season Onebrings new challenges and rewards. However, Sea of ThievesSeason One still doesnt address one big problem playing the game.
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Sea of Thieves Season One was a major content update released by Rare back in January, the start of a planned series of seasonal additions to the game. The first season alone comes with 100 new tiers of unlockable cosmetics and other rewards, designed to draw players back to the game.
This January saw the highest number of concurrent Sea of Thieves players on Steamsince the games launch. However, the Season One update has not fixed one of the major problems with the game, especially when it comes to sustaining player engagement in the long-term. Sea of Thieves still struggles to populate its Adventure Mode with other players, while its points-based Arena Mode doesnt capture combat in the same way Adventure Mode does.
Sea of Thieves servers are able to host around six ships - roughly one for each outpost on the map. However, oftentimes these servers are capped at five ships to prevent strain and lag. With a map as large asSea of Thieves, its easy to play Adventure Mode for hours without seeing another ship or any other players.One of the games best features is that all ship and character upgrades are purely cosmetic, preventing new players from being completely outmatched by those who bought the game at release. However, this also means that a huge part of the games reward system relies on running into other players for showing off cosmetic upgrades.
While the relative emptiness of Adventure Mode allows players to easily complete missions and accumulate gold/upgrades, their reasons for doing so are undermined by players so rarely running into other ships. The fear that another crew might be waiting around the corner to plunder the player's treasure can easily turn to frustration when no other ships are seen for hours on end. Whether Sea of Thieves players enjoy combat or are just in it for the booty, their reason to play is ultimately undermined.
For players who enjoy combat, Sea of Thieves Arena Mode has some appeal. However,Sea of Thieves Season One still fails to find a good middle ground between the population densities of its two main modes. In Arena Mode, other ships are visible from the moment the players crew spawns. The winner of Arena Mode is based on points gained by doing things like killing other players and attacking their ships.
However, this point system motivates a very different style of combat than what's seen in Adventure Mode. In Arena Mode, players arent defending treasure, so theres very few reasons to ever try to establish non-hostile relationships. Without the risk of losing treasure, half of the tension of encountering other players' ships is lost. Players are stuck between an Adventure Mode which can feel underpopulated and monotonous, and an Arena Mode so solely focused on combat that all the real tension that comes from encountering other players' ships isn't there.
The fact that Adventure Mode server limits have sometimes been capped at five ships to reduce strain on the servers is disappointing. Sea of Thieves servers would presumably struggle to handle player numbers that wouldmake Adventure Mode more exciting, or at least ensure several run-ins with other crews. However, without the ability to sustain more players in Adventure Mode servers, the rewards from the games new seasonal system risk falling flat. No matter how interesting the new cosmetics are, their appealis undermined when players find themselves interacting with NPC skeletons far more than they ever see rival pirate bands.
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In an ideal world, Sea of Thieves would have the option to play Adventure Mode with more players per server. The original mode would be preserved, but players would be able to enter into a version of the games map with higher risk and higher reward. Piracy itself would be far more common. With more ships per server, players would have more opportunities to make their fortune plundering ships instead of completing repetitive quests for NPCs.
Similarly, completing those quests would become more thrilling with greater possibility of attack, instead of feeling like a grind for cosmetics that other players rarely see. Even if Sea of Thieves Season One brings a huge amount of new players, until this is reflected in the amount of players per server, the boost to the games population could be shorter lived than Rareis hoping for.
Ultimately, whether the games new season system helps sustain a larger player base has yet to be seen. Despite how enjoyable Sea of Thievesis at its best, the game has less replay value when new cosmetics are prioritized over fixing the games more fundamental problems. It doesn't seem likely that Rare will be able to sustain a community with new in-game items, without more opportunities to show off those items; having memorable moments with other players, engaging in high seas chases, or toduking it out in fights with real tension and stakes, that's what makes Sea of Thievesspecial.
Sea of Thievesis available now forPC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.
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