At large showcase events you generally get to see a lot of games, but only a little bit of each. It’s hard to a make a judgement on a 15 minute demo, but those special games will grab a hold of you from the off, and have you crying out for more once you’re done. A few weeks ago, Microsoft let a number of games media folk into a dimly-lit function room with the intention of letting them go wild on a few upcoming Xbox One games. Out of everything there — and I’m as surprised as anyone with what I’m about to say — Sea of Thieves left the biggest impression.

Seen as Rare’s comeback to proper games, the veteran studio’s pirate-themed co-op affair isn’t something that would normally interest me. I don’t mean anything bad by that, I just don’t generally go for these ‘create your own adventure with friends’ style titles. When I give a stand-up comedian money, I want them to make me laugh; I don’t want to write my own gags using his pen and paper. For the 20 or so minutes I had with Sea of Thieves, I was happy to use the Leicester-based developer’s biro, though.

Sea of Thieves Screenshots

On PC, this looks an absolute treat: inviting waters crash up against hulking ships, and sunlight illuminates lush islands that bare treasure for you to unearth. That was my first goal, in fact: locate a treasure chest on an island. Helped along by my teammates that were working the event, I jumped on a vacant pirate ship and set sail for a nearby island, so we could line our pockets with silver and gold. I steered the vessel while everyone else did the hard work of looking after the sails. All in all, it was a smooth enough journey (except for the part where I narrowly missed a humongous rock that was in no way difficult to see from distance) and we parked up by a postcard-looking paradise. What impressed me about Sea of Thieves is how free it feels; there was no waypoint on the map telling us where the treasure was, or even where we were. We had to figure out our position by spotting landmarks on the map near our person. I We They eventually found where we needed to dig, and after a few thrusts of the shovel, we were rolling in pirate dough. A rollicking success.

Strolling back to our vessel, we spoke of where we might venture next, or what mischief we could get up to. Well, apparently mischief had been done unto us. Y’see, while myself and two others had stepped onto the island, our fourth crew member (who wasn’t communicating with everyone else via the headsets) decided to stay put and use our transportation as his personal getaway vehicle. Cheers, buddy. Nice one. No biggie, though, because in Sea of Thieves there are these mermaids in the ocean that can teleport you back onto your ship if you need them. It did mean our jaunt onto dry land was for nowt, because you can’t bring treasure chests with you when chatting to Ariel about getting back on your ride, but HEY HO. 

We weren’t resting on deck for long before a skeleton, who’d set up shop on the island we’d just been on, started firing cannonballs at us. We sped away after repairing the damage the boney bastard had done to the hull, and spotted a shipwreck that I was told may have something we could loot. Things were coming good, thank God. My swim around the dilapidated boat didn’t prove fruitful, sadly, but that was the least of my worries once I came up for air.

Sea of Thieves Screenshots

After reconvening with my pirate pals, we saw an enemy ship in the distance that appeared to be making a beeline for us. My crewmates and I knew we had to prepare for the battle, so we loaded the cannon, and got ready to batter down their britches. When within range, both sets of guns started to light up the sky like a firework display. Cannonball after cannonball soared through the air, with both boats taking a lot of damage. Sillily, one of my mates informed me that you can use yourself as ammunition. In mere seconds I was being propelled a great distance into enemy territory. I didn’t last long on the enemy ship, but the joy I felt when I’d landed on it is something I’ll remember for some time.

It was so good, it was like it was scripted. And that’s the issue Sea of Thieves players will run into, I’d imagine. I had an experienced crew that took me on this wonderful journey rather than a group of rookie sailors. I can only talk about my time with Rare’s upcoming sail ‘em up, and my time was great. Whether that fun can materialise every single time is something we won’t be able to judge until the seas are full.