Sea Of Thieves: A Pirate's Life Review - Dead Men Tell Five Tales, Actually

  • First Released Mar 20, 2018
  • XONE
  • PC
  • XBSX

The Pirates of the Caribbean tie-in content for Sea of Thieves offers a whole lot to do, and while it can be buggy and a bit frustrating, it's still pretty fun.

Sea of Thieves is often at its best when it devolves into chaos. After raiding a skeleton ship and loading up your brig with loot, suddenly, a player galleon appears from behind an island, turning its broadside cannons in your direction for a sneak attack. Returning fire, repairing your ship, and desperately turning your sails to make an escape--or firing a crewmate over to the enemy to lay waste to them and steal their stuff--are the moments that make Rare's pirate adventure live game so memorable.

But don't discount Rare's ability to make deep, brainy story content, either. Since its launch, Sea of Thieves has come to encompass Tall Tales, lengthy voyages centered on solving riddles and learning about non-player characters that make up the game's lore. It's in this more directed, narrative-driven realm that the game's latest expansion, A Pirate's Life, lies as well. Tying in with Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean film franchise, the expansion provides new stories to uncover that are both fairly delightful for fans of the films and the theme park attraction that spawned them, as well as big, involved new Sea of Thieves locations to explore.

A Pirate's Life adds a lot to Sea of Thieves, expanding on its sandbox with new enemies and a new weapon, while providing several hours of story content that's deep enough for experienced players to enjoy and approachable enough for newbies excited to sail the seas with Jack Sparrow. Though it's held back occasionally by bugs and relies on some of Sea of Thieves' weaker elements, like hitchy platforming, the expansion is a great excuse to man the helm of a pirate vessel.

Core to A Pirate's Life are five new Tall Tales stories, which follow Pirates of the Caribbean mainstay Jack Sparrow and his crew. Through some adventuring, the movie characters have found their way into the weird and mystical video game world, but they've been chased there by Davy Jones, the magical Pirates of the Caribbean villain. Jones wants to take control of the Sea of Thieves, so you need to save Jack from the realm of the dead (called the Sea of the Damned), figure out Jones' plans, and ultimately send the squid-faced villain back to where he belongs to preserve the ultimate freedom of the pirate life.

Playing through those five stories takes you to the Sea of the Damned itself, a new location full of puzzles and secrets, and the Sunken Kingdom, a colorful underwater realm. The Tall Tales themselves are generally pretty linear story levels, but like Sea of Thieves' other Tall Tales, they do a great job of challenging you to explore the environment, solve puzzles, and navigate imaginative areas. In the first, for instance, you'll need to rescue the head of an undead, skeletal pirate captain, and you can uncover secrets throughout the area by placing his head on skeleton bodies so he can take control of them.

Of course, this is a Pirates of the Caribbean story, so you'll spend a lot of the duration encountering various movie characters. Jack Sparrow is around the most, and he's actually a pretty fun addition to the game, bringing a lot of humor and occasionally even helping you out in fights against the various enemies and creatures Davy Jones sends to stop you.

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Sparrow's presence helps meld A Pirate's Life's Disney inspirations with Sea of Thieves' foundation, which helps to make sure the content doesn't feel like an unwarranted digression into another franchise. He's the same funny, quirky character from the movies, but he's also pretty useful at some key moments, even joining your crew for a while toward the end of the Tall Tales series. He's around just enough to make this feel like a Pirates of the Caribbean story, while also working as a fitting Sea of Thieves story. That's a balance that could have been tough to find, but Rare does a great job of mixing the two properties together to make for a fun diversion from your usual pirate escapades.

A Pirate's Life is also a great entry point for new players. Because the Tall Tales mostly take place off the beaten path or in their own instances, you're unlikely to run into other players who might try to steal your stuff, sink your boat, or otherwise hassle you. The stakes are also pretty low--any time you die, you just respawn again in the same place in the Tall Tales story (an appreciated change from how the rest of the game handles dying, which either puts you on your ship or, if it sinks, in a nearby outpost). That makes this content pretty great for just getting started in Sea of Thieves, or for lone players who want to venture into the game without a crew, but don't like the risk of losing a ton of progress to other players.

The drawback is that A Pirate's Life doesn't really feel like the rest of Sea of Thieves; it's more of its own separate thing. In the rest of Rare's game, sailing around requires constant vigilance as you scope for other pirates who could potentially decide to engage you in battle (or, in somewhat rarer cases, prove friendly). The openness of the game and randomness afforded by other players are what make Sea of Thieves so fun and unique. A Pirate's Life doesn't really include that aspect; while there are side puzzles to solve and secrets to uncover, the stories are more straightforward and traditional video game fare. You'll move through distinct levels on a specific path, and while there are no waypoints leading you, there's still only one real way forward.

So entering Sea of Thieves for the first time through A Pirate's Life isn't quite giving you a taste of the core experience, or the taste it's giving you is incomplete without other players. That can be good and bad, since A Pirate's Life eases you into the water rather than shoving you off the plank, but it can also give a skewed perception of what the game is. And if you're looking for more Tall Tales that have you sailing all over the Sea of Thieves, driven by obscure clues and exploring the world you already know, you're going to be disappointed; these levels are large and complete in their own right, but they're decidedly more self-contained.

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The Tall Tales for A Pirate's Life are also a bit on the buggy side at launch, although Rare has already released a patch to deal with some of those issues. It's also easy to get lost and confused in the big levels, or to experience game-affecting oddities like falling from high places and finding yourself stuck behind locked doors you already opened. During a boss fight in the second Tall Tale, I used a pulley system to lift a shipwreck high in the air to level its cannons against my foe--but mid-fight, I got knocked off the deck and killed. When I loaded back in, the boat was out of position and couldn't be moved, but the fight continued, with cannonballs now shooting straight up in the air and passing through the boss's body. The glitch subsided a few deaths later, but for a while there, the fight was a mess that couldn't be finished.

I played through all five Tall Tales alone and didn't encounter any game-breaking issues, although the experience was somewhat marred by the aforementioned troubles and checkpoints not loading correctly. It's also easy to get lost thanks to Sea of Thieves' lack of guidance--something that makes the game compelling when you're out in its full world, but which can be annoying when you're stuck in a room trying to figure out where the game expects you to go next.

Some glitchy issues aside, A Pirate's Life's Tall Tales are pretty fun to play, even alone. They do feel a bit easy and low-stakes at times, which undercuts the story Rare is trying to tell of a world-threatening villain. But it's nice to have something you can jump into that's fun to play but doesn't involve the potential stresses of Sea of Thieves' usual risk-reward nature.

Apart from the new stories, the other upshot of A Pirate's Life is the way it reinvigorates the rest of the game. The Tall Tales you'll play introduce a bunch of new enemies. On land, there are the three kinds of creatures called ocean crawlers--a giant armored crab, a poisonous clam monster, and an electric eel enemy. All three require distinct strategies to defeat, and they can synergize their abilities to add additional challenge. There are also new phantom pirates that can disappear and reappear to deal massive damage, and undersea sirens who make jumping off your boat all the more treacherous. To help you deal with these threats, you can find a new item called the Trident of Dark Tides, which charges up to fire a bubble of energy that can be devastating to AI enemies and other players alike.

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These additions are all part of the stories of the expansion's Tall Tales, but you don't need to play the stories to experience them--they're also out in the rest of Sea of Thieves as well, and they inject some welcome variety into the sandbox. For most of the game's life, players have been fighting different kinds of skeleton pirates, all of which do battle in more or less the same way, so throwing in some new creatures livens things up quite a bit. And if you can find it in the world, the Trident of Dark Tides also puts a new weapon in your arsenal, creating new strategies in combat. It all adds a little more depth to Sea of Thieves to help make the game continue to feel like it's evolving all the time.

A Pirate's Life is a big, fun addition to Sea of Thieves that brings a lot of new content, is full of fun elements for Disney Pirates fans, and refreshes the rest of the game with smart additions. It doesn't quite represent the best of what Sea of Thieves is or has to offer, but this is still a great excuse to hoist the pirate flag for the first time, and offers a new horizon to explore for long-time scalawags.

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The Good

  • Big batch of story content provides lots to do for new players and veterans alike
  • Jack Sparrow is a fun character to have around
  • New areas are big and full of secrets to find
  • Additions to the sandbox help energize the rest of the game
  • Low stakes means A Pirate's Life can be completed alone

The Bad

  • Some Tall Tales are buggy, with issues that can stall progress
  • Story content relies on the weaker aspects of Sea of Thieves, like platforming
  • New content misses a lot of what makes the game great, like the unpredictability of its open world

About the Author

Phil Hornshaw played A Pirate's Life for about 12 hours and saved the Sea of Thieves all by himself, with moderate help from Jack Sparrow. He then joined up with his crew of ruffians and convinced some random players to help test whether the Trident of Dark Tides could sink their ships. Only a few pirates were harmed during the making of this review.