In a world where every game that gets announced with an intriguing setting seemingly anchors itself with some form of online (usually 4-person) co-op, fans of single-player experiences can have some frustration. Games like Destiny, The Division, and Outriders all offer experiences that seem grounded in solid gameplay and are supported by committed developers but are all tied to core mechanics that require multiple reliable partners.
Games like Destiny and Sea of Thieves claim you can play alone, but there is no argument that you are not meant to. Whether it’s countless swarms of enemies that are a pain to face alone, an unadaptive difficulty curve, or “abilities” that are clearly meant to be only a 1/4 of your arsenal, these live service games tend to forsake any poor soul who takes them up on their offer to play alone.
As a gamer who not only came of age in an era where online games were far from the core focus of the industry, as well as lived in an area where it was impossible to acquire a good enough internet connection to even try and play online, I have always favored and sought out games where single-player content was king. I logged hundreds of hours in Halo 3, but only in the campaign and forge alone. As the industry at large began to shift towards internet-connectivity required, it left gamers like me slightly behind. Nevertheless, we persisted.
Through varying degrees of success, a player can play live-service co-op games as single-player games and actually have fun, but every single piece of software, whether it was Destiny or The Division, feels very obviously incomplete. Every game except Sea of Thieves.
At its core, Sea of Thieves provides players the opportunity to explore the high seas with a group of 3 other players. Simple quests can range from following maps to hidden chests, embarking on cargo runs, or hunting down various enemies for bounties. These quests are dispersed through different factions that allow you to take on bigger and better jobs as you climb through the ranks, much like many role-playing games include. However, the most engaging experience comes from completing Sea of Thieves’ “Tall Tales”. Longer quests that involve a little bit of everything, and require frequent puzzle solving.
While the game promotes a cooperative experience, each and every task your seafaring avatar has available to them works as a single-player experience, and a good one. The game’s strength is in its beautiful environments and whimsical atmosphere, both of which stand just as strong, if not stronger when appreciating them in solitude. Exploring things at your own speed allows a player to take in Rare’s adeptly crafted world, from its rolling blue oceans to its mysterious haunted isles.
Navigating your ship of choice through the world’s ocean on your own can be rewarding as well. While Sea of Thieves offers 3 different vessel sizes, only the smallest two (the sloop and the brigantine) are feasible for one pirate to operate. Even the brigantine can prove difficult to steer solo, however, the higher firepower may be worth it for those who enjoy the challenge of running back-and-forth to operate the sails and anchors.
There is also the thrill and risk of spotting an enemy ship on the horizon. Though I am happy to champion Sea of Thieves as a viable single-player game, PvP is not an aspect I can fully recommend. On the rare occasion you spot another one-manned ship that wants to engage you, the experience can be fun. However, in most scenarios, you will be at an incredible disadvantage if the ship has even one more member than you. Regardless, the experience of out-navigating a larger ship in your more agile sloop can be a part of the fun.
Even the most mundane quests can hold surprises. Relying on you and yourself only to navigate out of a shipbreaking storm while maintaining the integrity of your vessel, fighting off or avoiding ghost ships and a variety of nautical leviathans, or deciding to take your goods into a port with a ship nearby that could be friend or foe will keep your on your toes during even the most basic quests. Being a crew of one raises the stakes each and every time you set sail.
Sea of Thieve’s grandest adventures, Tall Tales, are an enormous amount of fun even done solo. Navigating across the dozens of islands, deciphering clues and puzzles, engaging in combat that usually incorporates a pretty forgiving respawning system, feels like a handcrafted experience that could be found in any single-player adventure game. Thanks to their recent collaboration with Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, players now have the opportunity to voyage with the like of Captain Jack Sparrow and battle against Davy Jones and his mighty Kraken.
Though the combat is simple (think Skyrim but even more barebones), that is not what the attraction is to Sea of Thieves. The taste of the high seas, the enchanting world, and the mysteries found across the waves and caves all cement it as a truly unique live service game that can stand on its own as a great single-player experience.