I just had one of the best video game experiences that I’ve had since the first time I played Tee K.O. in Jackbox Party Pack 3. I genuinely enjoyed every moment of what I was playing and I kept smiling.

A few months ago, Sea of Thieves released to lukewarm reception—many of the conversations I heard surrounding the game painted a picture of vast oceans with little to do—and it left me without the desire to give it a try. Alas, when the game launched it was also available on Xbox Game Pass so I didn’t have to spend the big ticket price just to try it out.

My first experience with the game was lousy. I fumbled with the character creation process, skipping through essentially the same few character models without finding the one I really liked before settling for whatever came up next. I set sail and within a minute my boat was at the bottom of the sea. I found a merman who set me back on course and my second boat sank quicker than the first without any real indication of why.

Not finding my way on my own, I decided to pair up with some strangers and see how things would shake out. After all, the game was always pitched as something to be enjoyed with others. The only pairing I had was with two other folks, one of whom had a headset to bark commands and the other who was relying on the in-game chat wheel. Still, I had no idea what to do or how to actually help what we were doing and found myself just slashing at some skeletons until the other two players left our party and I uninstalled the game from my console.

Imagine my disappointment when I texted Marc to see if he wanted to continue on our adventure through Halo: Reach and he instead invited me to play Sea of Thieves with our friend Joe. Knowing that the two of them were having a fun time, I decided to install the game and quickly found myself back in it.

I again fumbled through the opening bits as I tried to remember controls and what the point of the actual game is. This time, I had two people to rely on who were both communicating with me. It wasn’t even that either of them particularly have a ton of experience with the game. It was simply that we were talking and working together as a team. It helped that Joe took control of the ship and called out directions for Marc and I, but even when he didn’t know what our next move was it was the open dialogue that got us going.

The premise of the game is simple: get directions from strangers that lead you to treasure, find that treasure, then sell that treasure. But of course, this is one of those games where the destination matters little and the journey along the way is everything.

We stacked a few bounties together and set sail bouncing across the waves and finding the islands marked by riddles. Once we were there, each of the times we collected treasure played out similarly. We killed a bunch of skeletons until we found some treasure. Or we found the thing on the island described in the riddle and then walked some number of paces until we found some treasure. Again though, the game isn’t about getting the actual treasure. It’s about getting that treasure back to safety and the risks you’re willing to take to get the bigger bounty.

We kept deciding to push it. We’d gather some treasure and then lay down the markings for the next in our queue. We’d sail there and collect the next, watching the stack of chests and skulls (skulls can be traded into another shop at an outpost for different rewards) beneath our hull grow larger by the minute.

Then we came crashing through some rough waves and neared the next island on our charter. The nearer we were the darker the sky and suddenly cannonballs were raining down on us from the skeletons awaiting us. We circled around to the backside of the island but not before hitting land and causing a few holes in our ship. Marc and I raced to patch them while Joe steered us to safety. We quickly dumped the excess water overboard with our buckets and dropped the anchor to bring us to a stop. Surviving the attack was the first part of the challenge, but knowing that our collection was safe gave us the confidence to charge the island and take the next.

We’d run this game a few more times until we neared almost twenty different chests and skulls combined. At this time we knew it might be the point in our journey to head for an outpost. While Joe and Marc set the sails and raised the anchor, I headed below deck to chart a course for the nearest outpost. There was one due west and another southeast that seemed like a straight shot. We set a course southeast and did what we always did on the open water: celebrated.

As we looked over at the open sea and played our instruments, we were all three audibly giggling over voice chat because of the sheer joy that comes from the sense of accomplishment in this game. We killed a lot of skeletons and collected a lot of treasure. Now we were just a few miles of ocean waves away from cashing it in and saying, “Goodnight.”

And then one by one our instruments fell silent. The sound of music and cheering dissipated as we each spun around watching the peak of a giant blue fin circle our ship. We weren’t quite sure what it was but it looked big. Really big.

“I’m gonna shoot it,” said Marc.

“Yeah, kill it,” Joe and I both echoed.

Cannonball after cannonball we watched our inventory shrink to nearly nothing left as we pumped endless shots into the side of this monster. It’d retaliate too, slamming his full weight into the rear and sides of our ship. It wouldn’t be long before we were running out of wood to patch the holes it’d create. Our confidence subsided as we watched our materials disappear and the monster not. Without hesitation it just kept pounding our ship and soon we were without a way to patch it.

I kept running from below deck to above, carrying as much water as my bucket would hold and throwing it overboard. It kept us afloat, but I knew it would only last as long as Marc and I were working together to remove it and Joe was working to steer us to safety.

Then it hit.

The megalodon slammed the ship as I attempted to dump water overboard and I went flying. It was up to Marc and Joe.

Then it hit.

Marc was now ejected into the water while Joe steered a sinking ship to nowhere. In found myself back on board thanks to a friendly merman and quickly tried to get the water out of the boat.

Then it hit.

Joe was dead. It would be another minute before either of them would get back on board and I had nothing to do but carry water off the boat until they arrived, hoping that I wouldn’t crash and that the boat wouldn’t fill faster than I could carry.

Somehow we all ended back on board and set course back on track for the outpost. Marc patched every hole but one before he ran out of wood and we worked to keep the water out of the bottom until Joe got us back to shore. It seemed like the monster was gone just as the island revealed itself in our view.

Then it hit.

We thought it was over but it wanted us dead. We watched as it continued to circle the ship and its green eyes glowed beneath the waves before teeth came flashing at the sides of our boat.

In a blur we kept emptying the water and Joe kept pushing us to shore. Somehow we survived the shark and dropped anchor. Marc and I kept emptying as Joe ran to find more wood for us.

Returning, he’d patch the holes until there was no more water and we could safely escape the ravage of the sea with our treasures in tow.

We didn’t feel safe until we had cashed everything in and suddenly we all let out a huge sigh of relief. I actually felt my chest grow lighter as it happened. It was one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever had and it felt so good.

We cashed everything in and then went to the pub at the outpost. We each downed whatever was in our cups and drunkenly played music until the spinning stopped.—all the while we were laughing and celebrating in our headsets at what we just achieved.

After a day that really didn’t leave me with much to be happy about heading to bed, this completely changed the day. I feel exhilarated and my heart is still racing. I can feel the adrenaline still flowing through me.

I’m so happy that I gave this game another shot and grateful that Marc and Joe talked me into it. I don’t know if we’ll be able to repeat this again but at the very least I got to experience this. If this is what Rare has been up to with Sea of Thieves, then I think the future is bright. I can’t wait to jump back in and sea what else awaits me in the deep.

Posted by Joe Dix

Joe is the creator of The Free Cheese. He eats a lot of pizza and takes thousands of pictures of his pugs Oswald and Earl every day.

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