Over the past couple of weekends, Sea of Thieves has been running some stress tests. Granted, these are specifically meant to push the walls of their server capacity and are less about refining game systems or even adding new game systems entirely. With that said, my time in-game and in the forums has shown me that Rare Ltd. have a lot to do and a number of unanswered questions related to player griefing and its form of PvP.
Allow me to preface this by saying that I honestly don’t want PvP in Sea of Thieves to go away. Frankly, part of the thrill of digging up stolen treasure is the feeling that you got away with it and the AI enemies in this game don’t exactly instill one with the sense that they’ve pulled a fast one…at least, not currently or at the beginning of one’s reputation. That said, it’s clear that the devs behind the game are either vastly underprepared for the things players will do in order to screw with others “for the lulz”, or are all incredibly pure cinnamon rolls who have never played online with others in an open environment in their entire lives.
Case in point; one particular instance while playing in said stress test, where I happened to cross paths with a galleon on the open seas while heading back to an Outpost. As one would do, the galleon thought to open fire upon my small little sloop, but I outran it due to my size. Regardless, the thing gave chase all the way to the Outpost, where one of the crew met me on shore and blew me away while I had a chest in hand. Eh, pretty much expected behavior, and I certainly don’t begrudge them for doing that.
Afterwards, though, they kept themselves moored to the outpost, raining cannon fire down on my ship until it sunk and onto the island while also sending crew members out after me. Even though they turned in my chest and blew up my ship.
From that point on, I immediately went into “play along” mode, hiding in buildings and getting the jump on a few foes, running at one swinging my shovel around while shouting into the mic, and rather foolishly trying to swordfight with someone stood on a rock while I was in the water.
That said, it was less like an “Oh boy I get to battle!” feeling and more like a “Great, time to put up with bored children until they move along out of disinterest”. Combined with the fact that I openly laughed on mic during my deaths and, sure enough, their interest waned within minutes. It was the opposite of fun; it was droll self-defense.
Afterwards, I went to the game’s official forums and found similar stories from others, or accounts of players that ranged from frustrated to outright feeling deceived, with one even going so far as to say that the game devs were billing Sea of Thieves as something it’s not. On the other hand, there were perceptually about as many claiming that the game will be different at launch, or that people who hate PvP should just suck it up or get lost. In other words, the usual tug-of-war for the soul of a game between player killers and people who want a shared world without shared interactions.
In my opinion, the PvP in Sea of Thieves is great but also far too open. While I definitely feel that risk on the high seas should be inherent and that alliances between ships for shared gameplay such as the recently discussed skeleton forts should be tenuous at best, the fact remains that – as is often the case with sandbox PvP – all of the risk lies in the attacked and none with the attacker.
This is specifically aimed at those who slaughter folks at Outposts, since anyone running the chest back for a turn-in is still an open target and the player killer only has mere feet to travel to get the reward. The idea of risk when in open water is, indeed, still there, as any gains on board your own ship are ripe for anyone else or even ripe for retaliation against whatever ship you may be attacking assuming you haven’t sunk said ship.
But that doesn’t completely absolve spawn camping or players who could form fleets for the express purpose of enraging others. For example, I can easily see players coordinating efforts to plant galleons at every outpost in the game and sink every ship that approaches that they’re not affiliated with simply because they can. I’m no game developer, but even I can think of that. I’m not convinced the Sea of Thieves devs have thought that far ahead.
What frustrates me further on the whole matter is the perceived absence of caring. There hasn’t been any lengthy official response to the concerns raised by players on both sides of the discussion recently. Or if there has, it’s damned near impossible to find because navigating the game’s official forums is a miserable chore.
Again, I don’t want PvP to go away, but controls need to be put in place for Sea of Thieves to really succeed and thrive, especially regarding spawn camping or Outpost camping. No matter how little content the stress test has, there will always be a subset of players who get bored of what the game offers and will only find fun in making others miserable and right now it’s far too easy for that to happen without repercussions.
Sea of Thieves is one of the few titles that feels like it could be a change of pace for online sandbox gaming, particularly with its inviting art style and free-wheeling romantic pirating life. That said, it also doesn’t seem like the devs are aware of the sort of monster they’re creating. There are more than enough great games that shrivel away because the entire community is considered toxic; it’s something EVE Online has done to correct, and it’s something Overwatch is struggling with now. And while Overwatch is large enough that it’s likely not going away in spite of that perception, Sea of Thieves likely won’t be big enough to sustain itself through in the same way.
I want this game to succeed, but the devs need to pay closer attention to what players are doing to others, especially out of boredom. Something needs to be done or else this boat is sunk before it even launches.