As another E3 has come and gone, Rare's Sea of Thieves once again spent the show as the dominant focal point of DK Vine's coverage. For the third year running, Sea of Thieves enchanted our staff and a good portion of our audience, no easy feat considering that E3 is mostly made for the newest of the new. If it's not a shocking surprise or a long-awaited reveal, it's hard to carry much momentum at gaming's biggest event. Nevertheless, Sea of Thieves was nominated for or won many of 2017's "Best of Show" awards, and a palpable excitement for the game hung in the air of the Los Angeles Convention Center during all three days of E3. In fact, if casual chatter was anything to go by, Sea of Thieves was the most-talked about games by attendees outside of Super Mario Odyssey.
Still, a certain skepticism remains about Sea of Thieves among some long-time members of the Rare fan community (especially those that carbon date back to the Nintendo days). The Insider Program, where you can sign up and play the Technical Alpha, has enabled thousands of gamers to experience the game firsthand and be won over by its merits, but, for those who are still looking in on the outside, an ambiguity persists about why this game matters. My position on Sea of Thieves should be well-known by this point: This is, without question, Rare's most consequential game since GoldenEye 007. Like it and Donkey Kong Country before, it's industry-altering. To those who fall in love with it, it's life-changing. So if you'll give me and my musings a moment of your time, allow me to try to explain to you, the Rare fan not yet on board, the fundamental appeal of Sea of Thieves as only a Fake Paid Actor and accused YouTuber can.
The joy of cardinal directions.
To put it as starkly as possible, I've never played a game as joyous as this one. The entire shebang is a ridiculous recipe for madcap giddiness, a mad doctor's stitched together monster of delight. Sea of Thieves is, paradoxically, sheer escapist fantasy and yet the most accurate depiction of the human experience ever depicted in video gamery. The gamut of emotions you'll feel in a session ranges from jubilation to melancholy, but the caretakers at Rare have made sure that the pendulum always swings back quickly to the former. Gregg Mayles, design daddy of the first two Donkey Kong Country games and the Banjo-Kazooie series, has applied a "Wheel of Emotions" to the creation of Sea of Thieves to best enable these efforts. He and the rest of the team have the specific goal to make you feel all of the things that humans are able to feel, but to keep the experience mostly rooted in positivity rather than planting itself in the gutter as is the norm in this creative field.
Positivity. It's something I'm going to keep coming back to when discussing Sea of Thieves. Make no mistake: This is an optimistic yarn for these ultra-cynical times we live in. While you can certainly play the game all by your lonesome if you so choose (Rare having confirmed that small, single-manned ships will be available), the true magic of Sea of Thieves is crewing up with others and working together to achieve a common goal. Taking on the vast ocean with a team of like-minded weirdos is a simple concept on paper, but put it into practice and it reveals all sorts of complexities about human dynamics and what we're capable of when working together. Hyperbolic? Perhaps, but Sea of Thieves is somehow tailor-made to bring out the best in you. During my time with the game, from playing it at Rare headquarters, then E3, and then finally in the comfort of my own living room, I've been partnered with both longtime friends and strangers I've known for but a few minutes. Despite the disparity, each and every time I've bonded with these people, completely buying into the fantasy that we're in this remarkably goofy world together. No matter what bitter differences we might actually have in real life (such as Coke or Pepsi, or which Darren we prefer in Bewitched), that all subsides when we're put on a virtual boat and forced to work together for the greater good. Within minutes, you'll feel a deep connection with your other crewmates; a bond that puts Sea of Thieves heads and shoulders above every other multiplayer game I've ever played.
The joy of decompression sickness.
Working with others (in this case three others, the default E3 and Technical Alpha experience being the four-person crew) is something that presents itself differently with each session. There will be times that the group dynamic positions me in a leadership role, stirring me to grab hold of the ship's wheel and bark orders. Then, there are times when I take a backseat and let others focus on the big picture, with me instead worrying about maintaining our ship and keeping our inventory fully stocked. Still, there are other moments where I just gladly embrace the role as designated ship drunk and layabout, playing my hurdy-gurdy in the crow's nest until my inebriation gets the best of me and I plunge to a (temporary) death. This is almost always decided by how my other three crewmates are behaving, as they too always subconsciously adjust to what role suits them best for the betterment of the team. Who you are is determined by your crew, and how your crew operates is determined by you. It's remarkably egalitarian, and, in the many hours I've spent immersed in the game, a hierarchy has never developed amongst the team. We've always been four equal parts of the same whole, a philosophy that Sea of Thieves rewards by splitting your golden earnings equally amongst each other.
You see, there's no room for treachery and duplicity between friends. One of the most critical decisions Rare needed to make was whether or not you could inflict damage on your crewmates. Ultimately choosing that it would be impossible to do harm, whether intentional or accidental, on your band of pirates, was absolutely the right one. By removing even the option to give in to the worst of human instincts, an aspect that can and has ruined most other games of this breed, Rare has encouraged a consistent state of harmony in Sea of Thieves. That might seem like a laugh when you consider this is a game about unwashed ocean criminals (Unwashed Ocean Criminals being the second-best option for the game's name), but this is a semi-cartoony world and these are glorified fantasy avatars we're talking about here. Co-op in games is too often wrecked by people taking the easy way out and being petulant little shitheads (Petulant Little Shitheads being the third best). By removing that option entirely and forcing you to work together, Sea of Thieves keeps the experience a serene one. You never have to fear being backstabbed (or back-blunderbussed) by the shifty crewman just below deck. This allows you to focus on the dangers that come from the environment and especially from other crews, enabling you to bond even more with those you've chosen to team up with.
However, let me emphatically state that the euphoria that Sea of Thieves generates goes far beyond mere group dynamics. The entire game world is bustling with a warm tropical mirth that's the perfect antidote to the doldrums of Earth 2017. One of the things Rare has always excelled at, especially from Donkey Kong Country onward, is creating game worlds that we love to visit and secretly yearn to reside in. From the lush natural environments of Donkey Kong Island to the sci-fi/fantasy/polyester blend of Dinosaur Planet, a Rare world is always fully realized, never takes itself too seriously, and leaves just enough clues to its lore that it feels like a place that exists even when you turn off your console. The world of Sea of Thieves is absolutely a continuation of this design philosophy. It's the same exotic comedic escape that made us fall in love with their classic games for the Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64, but expanded for the modern age of gaming.
The joy of decomposed boar heads on disconcerting abandoned cave altars.
Finally, this is the Rare production many of us have always fantasized about: A chance to not just play a game set inside Rare's world, but live in it ourself. Yes, we all want a new Banjo or Conker title one day. Come on. This is DK Vine. We have an irrationally unhealthy love for those characters and their IPs. I've even got Helpo from off of It's Mr Pants as my emergency contact! However, Sea of Thieves deserves your attention, familiar characters or no. Think of it as the Rare adventure that never ends. Imagine, say, defeating Kaptain K. Rool in Donkey Kong Country 2, then going on to experience new encounters, quests, and missions in the game every single day for years afterward. Sea of Thieves is just that: The perpetual pirate motion machine. If that doesn't make you happy, then I'm not sure what can. Have you considered a kitten? No, you probably hate kittens too.
Written by Hyle. His book, "Better Living Through Muderous Piracy", has thus far been rejected by every reputable publisher.