E3 2016 was filled with exciting news and reveals, from the announcement of God Of War 4, to early glimpses of a new Spider-Man game, to numerous headlines regarding VR games and headsets. But as is often the case at E3, there were additional bits of excitement mixed in among the greater headlines, and this time around one of the most interesting things was the gameplay trailer for Sea Of Thieves.
Scheduled for a 2017 Xbox One release and billed as the return of the UK-based Rare developers, Sea Of Thieves has been on gamers’ radar for a little while now. It’s set up to be an action-adventure game with open-world multiplayer elements, and one in which player decisions impact the plot line moving forward. In other words, it’s a perfect fit for modern console gaming and could become the gold standard for pirate-themed gaming. But the trailer shown at E3 showed us a little bit more about what we should expect.
More Cartoon-Style Piracy
While there have been a few pirate-related video games with lifelike graphics (most notably Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag), the trend of late has been to bring pirate action to life through cartoon-style animation. We’ve seen numerous mobile games introducing pirate gameplay through playful animations, and more recently the character-based gaming options at a prominent online bingo site has welcomed a new title called “Fortunate 5,” which also involves cartoon pirates. Featuring a cover with five animated pirates (and of course, a parrot), this piracy-themed slot arcade introduces itself with a hearty “Ahoy, mateys!” and promises prizes worth their salt. But the whole thing comes off pretty playfully because of the animation style.
Sea Of Thieves looks to be following suit in this regard. We’ve seen images of the game before and known that they were going the cartoon route rather than mimicking the ultra-realistic style of, say, Assassin’s Creed. But this full gameplay release shows more depth to the animation of both characters and settings. And visually, at least, there’s an interesting blend of richly detailed, high-quality art with comic quality.
But Violent, Nonetheless
The interesting thing about the visual style of Sea Of Thieves is that while it appears to be somewhat kid-friendly, the E3 trailer also revealed a decent amount of violence. Naturally pirate action is always going to involve some swashbuckling and cannon fire, but this gameplay reveal went a little bit further. While it’s not as if there was blood and gore splattering across the screen, we did get a look at one pirate appearing to shoot another overboard into shark-infested waters. That’s not exactly a tame image.
The takeaway is that the choice to go with cartoon-style graphics appears to be a purely aesthetic one. Rare and Microsoft may have felt they could do more with this style of animation, but don’t let the graphics fool you into thinking this is a kid-friendly experience in line with, say, the LEGO games.
The Disney Influence Is Apparent
You probably won’t find anyone from Rare or Microsoft admitting it explicitly, but there’s a lot of Pirates Of The Caribbean influence to be found in the Sea Of Thieves gameplay trailer. In a way that’s to be expected. Not only is Disney’s series the biggest and most influential pirate narrative of modern times, but it’s also fairly traditional in its approach. That is to say, the imagery and themes of the Disney series pretty much speak to our imaginations regarding the age of piracy to begin with. That it would look similar to other pirate fictions or games is not surprising.
Still, it’s worth noting that a few scenes from Sea Of Thieves look to be directly borrowed from Pirates Of The Caribbean. For instance, we see the living battling the dead in a cave filled with treasure, an image that looks a great deal like the climactic scenes of the first film in the Disney series. We then see a skirmish on board a ship that’s being consumed by the massive tentacles of a kraken, which is right out of the second Pirates Of The Caribbean film.
The Game Is About Collaboration & Sailing
Finally, looking a little bit beyond the trailer, it’s important to note that this isn’t a traditional adventure game about fulfilling missions or accomplishing specific goals. Rather, it’s something of a free-for-all. In a detailed account of the gameplay, it’s pretty much confirmed that this is an MMO, even though Rare isn’t calling it that. In Sea Of Themes, you can team up with other players to sail a ship (which really means sailing it by rigging up sails, dropping anchor, etc.) and decide what to do with rival vessels. You can trade with them, flee from them, try to sink them from a distance, or head right over and engage in a close-up battle. By the sound of things, there’s a great deal of activity you can enjoy, and you never know quite what’s coming—because there are actually no AI characters in the game!
As that write-up noted, this probably isn’t a perfect game. But it does look like a very unique one blending all kinds of gameplay elements. Sea Of Thieves isn’t going to be for everyone, but it looks to be one of the most inventive console adventure experiences we’ve seen in quite some time.