I’ve only had one experience with Sea of Thieves, and it was terrible. My friends and I were excited to customize our ragtag group of scurvy dogs and sail the high seas in search of fame and fortune, but all we found were shitheads and trolls who made it their job to ensure we had a bad time.
Things started off promising as we gathered our first contracts and set off to find buried treasure, but we didn’t even make it to our first island before our ship was boarded by terrorists who blasted radio ads over proximity chat while hiding inside our mast by – as I later learned is a meta exploited by griefers – using an emote that made them practically invisible. I still remember the crackly sound of the O’Reilly Auto Parts jingle our attacker spammed over comms for ten full minutes while we frantically searched our tiny sloop for him. I hate to give the trolls what they want, but we uninstalled shortly after and never went back.
Suffice to say, I didn’t get on with Sea of Thieves. I wish I could write it off as an unlucky experience, but at this point griefing has become part of Sea of Thieves DNA. The lack of meaningful progression outside of cosmetic rewards has fostered a make-your-own-fun mentality within the community. Things only got worse when big Twitch streamers like Summit1g took up the game and popularized harassment techniques. While a lot of Sea of Thieves players didn’t like the way Summit1g and others were representing the game, there’s no denying that they contributed to its sudden rise in popularity in 2019. For many, the appeal of Sea of Thieves is that you can be a piece of shit to other people who are just trying to enjoy themselves. I’ll admit, it’s a very pirate thing to do.
Rare did eventually add private servers to Sea of Thieves, but only for streamers to play with their communities, so I’ve long given up any hope for the game. Still, my love for the pirate life lives on, and I’ve been waiting for someone to take the Sea of Thieves formula to the next level. Now that Ubisoft’s Sea of Bones has finally been re-revealed, I have hope that it will be the pirate game I’ve always wanted.
One of the most appealing things about Skull and Bones is that it offers actual power progression. As you earn money and infamy, you’ll gain access to new ships, weapons, abilities, and defensive options. Though you start with a basic ship and a small crew, you’ll eventually be able to fully customize a variety of vessels with different kinds of cannons, mortars, flame throws, armors, and utilities. I like collecting hats as much as the next guy, but we’ve seen what happens to a game when you don’t give players meaningful goals to work towards. The Infamy system and power progression grabs me in a way that Sea of Thieves’ open sandbox playstyle didn’t.
Skull and Bones does have PvP of course, but it’s completely opt-in. There are PvP servers where players will be able to ambush, battle, and plunder each other’s booty, but if you don’t want to worry about some level 100 no-lifer who has discovered an exploit that makes all your sails fly off, you don’t have to.
The big difference between the two games is that you aren’t teaming up with your friends to man a ship together in Skull and Bones. Instead, each player is the captain of their own ship and has control over a full crew of pirates. While my gut reaction to this was negative, the more I think about it the more sense it makes. This way, each player can customize their own ship to better serve the fleet. One can build a hauler to carry all of the treasure home, while another can build a reinforced battleship to defend the team. More ships means bigger, more exciting battles too. As much as I like the idea of rushing around a galleon firing cannons and bailing out water with my two best friends, three men on a boat isn’t exactly an authentic pirate experience. This way, everyone gets to be the captain, and every ship gets to be your own.
It may be another open-world action game, but it’s nice to see Ubisoft breaking the mold with Skull and Bones. It looks like Ubisoft Singapore has used the extra development time wisely and created something that fills a gap in the multiplayer pirate-sim market, which I guess is a thing now that there’s two of them. If Sea of Thieves wasn’t for you, Skull and Bones might be what you’re looking for.
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