Avast ye, salty sea dogs! Sea of Thieves has launched and it’s a mighty piratey adventure. Luckily for you, I’ve spent double-digit hours on deck learning the intricacies of the game, both before it launched and now at launch. The good news is it’s pretty damn great. While Rare is cleverly holding some of its bigger content cards close to its chest, here’s the bootylicious tips I’ve gleaned from my time with the game that can help you hit the water sailing (totally a saying).
Pirate with friends
This is a simple one but a golden one. I’ve played with too many randoms who don’t have mics, don’t follow what the group is doing, or endeavour to troll you. Playing solo is definitely a challenging experience and shouldn’t be your first port of call. You can play with one, two, or three friends, though. Unlike the beta, you don’t have to fill out the fourth spot on your galleon crew with a rando, but you can try your luck if you want many-er hands to maker lighter work (the fourth player does help). The good news is if you do bring in a rando and they’re any of those things above, you have a voting majority for getting them into the brig.
NEW: Talk like a pirate
It took me a lot of crossed wires to realise this, but the most important thing when playing Sea of Thieves with more than just yourself is clear communication. Call out what you need, but also when you leave your post. On a galleon, the player behind the wheel is often at the mercy of other players calling out navigation commands, working the sails, and dropping the anchor. This last point is most important if you don't want to sink your ship: ramming into hard stuff is the fastest way to sink your boat. It’s worth setting your VOIP settings to push-to-talk. By default, you’re always transmitting, and because there’s directional VOIP in Sea of Thieves, that means other players can hear you.
NEW: Settings, a new heading
On the Windows 10 version of Sea of Thieves, there's a handy setting for enabling FPS or FPS and ping (read: latency). While FPS isn't as important (and can be tracked by external software like ShadowPlay), knowing your latency is particularly important in Sea of Thieves because high latency impacts the responsiveness of the game, particularly when fighting. Jump into Settings, then Video Settings, and use the arrow next to Performance Counters to track it. I've been dropped into servers all around the world, so I'd honestly advise leaving the server and starting again until you get on a better one (for Australian players, it seems to be around 60ms).
Man, the cannons
Look at the cutesy exterior and you might be fooled into thinking Sea of Thieves is a game for casuals. While it is accessible in some ways, getting a grip on the cannons takes a while. There aren’t any crosshairs or firing arcs, you need to lead your target, and the motion of the ocean can throw off an otherwise perfectly aimed shot. Use the keyboard for bigger movements and mouse for finer aiming, but you really want to hit other ships just above the sea line. Higher shots will cause cosmetic damage but won’t make them sink. The only reason you want to aim high—and this is if you’re the Sniper Elite of cannon operators—is to take out the crew of the ship you’re attacking. Hit on or near enough to a player (say, on a cannon or at the wheel) and they’ll be knocked off their station, take damage, and may die if they don’t nom a banana.
Firing yourself out of a cannon is always hilarious, but you might be surprised at how useful it is. Pro tip: get the best cannon operator on your crew to line you up and fire you once you’re inside it. Firing yourself out of a cannon is great for boarding ships. It’s also great for getting off an enemy ship (remembering that a crew always respawns on a ship until it’s sunk). My crew also uses it to scout out islands, or to get ahead of a crewmember at an outpost to ensure they have a safe path for turning in valuable chests.
Master and sail commander
The basics of the sails are pretty self-explanatory. Put them up for a tighter turning circle (on the larger ships, put one or two up, partially or fully). Pull them down for faster speed. Angle them into the wind to get speed. Easy. You can raise/lower or change the angle of a sail much faster with another crewmember working the respective pully on the other side of the ship (UPDATE: it's about three times as fast as doing it solo, so worth the commitment of the extra player). When the wind is against you, angle the sails as far to the side that’s catching the wind. Alternatively, if you have a communicative captain at the wheel, pre-emptively change the sail or length of the angle to assist with course adjustments.
Nights out, lights out
Every ship my crew has hunted at night has been because we’ve spotted them from ages away. By default, the lanterns on your ship are lit whether it’s day or not. During the day, they’re hard to notice, but at night, they create a light trail that makes spotting ships on the horizon arguably easier than during the day. One of the first orders of business for my crew is to douse the lanterns. All of them. There’s enough ambient light at night to see everything you need to, and you’ll have a better chance of sneaking up on unsuspecting prey.
Plumbing the depths of the anchor
On a galleon, all four of your crew can work the anchor to get it up incredibly quickly. This is handy for fast getaways, or for when you’ve performed a rad handbrake turn. Seriously, handbrake turns—turning the wheel fully to port or starboard before dropping the anchor—are one of the most effective manoeuvres in the game. Get a feel for the wheel position in relation to the handbrake turn, and you can offer a full broadside at a ship that’s chasing you. Or you can set up your tub for a fast getaway. On top of this, if you’re the first one back on a ship and about to depart, you can get the anchor up to the point that you see the brass circle, then hold it there. That way, once your full crew is aboard, you only have a second or two of anchor raising to get underway.
Tub vs man o’ war
There are two ship types in Sea of Thieves: sloop and galleon. The sloop is a smaller vessel, and the only way to play solo or with only one other player in Sea of Thieves. Any player count above that (max of four) spawns you on a galleon. If you’re in a sloop, you’ll probably want to avoid taking on a galleon, at least initially. Gunpowder barrels, which can be found on islands, are a great way to do massive damage to ships. Sloops are also faster against the wind, while galleons are faster with the wind (mo’ sails, mo’ speed). On the flip side, sloops are more manoeuvrable, and their smaller size means they can get closer to islands and squeeze through gaps that galleons cannot.
Light the powder
Speaking of those powder kegs, there’s a whole lot of risk/reward around them. They make a juicy target when you’re carrying them, and you’ll die instantly if a shot hits the barrel (plus anyone close to you). This means getting aboard an enemy ship with a powder keg is a viable tactic, either to scare the other crew into not shooting you or going down in an explosive blaze of glory. You can also drop them in the ocean if you’re being chased, or just swim over and detonate the barrel when it’s floating outside an enemy ship. The barrels explode if the other ship hits them (these tubs don’t turn quickly) or you can shoot them to detonate them if the ship goes past it for some damage. Use the pistol or sniper rifle for detonating barrels, as the blunderbuss doesn’t have the best range for a one-shot detonation.
UPDATE: Store them in the crow's nest to reduce the chance of them being accidentally destroyed by incoming deadly balls. You can also jump overboard with a barrel from atop the nest, which is handy if you're being chased and want to leave an explosive surprise in the water for your pursuer to chance upon.
The Indiana Jones of sword masters
Sword fighting isn’t the best in Sea of Thieves. Though fairly rudimentary, there are some things to learn. Hold block to stop damage from front-on sword strikes, well, forever. While blocking, you can hit a direction and jump to dodge. As far as I could tell, there wasn’t any advantage to perfectly timing blocks (like a deflect), but that also might be because I was playing against people from different regions and latency does come into effect. Hold the attack button for a powerful lunge that deals huge damage but leaves you exposed for a couple of seconds afterwards. This is best used if you can lure a player to a chokepoint, like a set of stairs, where they can’t dodge it. Alternatively, take a leaf out of Indiana Jones’ book and shoot your honourable sword-wielding foe. It won’t always kill them first shot, but it deals plenty of damage and tends to make enemies panic.
Load up, set sail
It’s worth spending time raiding your spawn island’s barrels for the essentials: bananas, planks, and cannonballs. Run these to your ship and deposit them in the relevant barrels to ensure you have adequate supplies while you’re out seafaring. Resupplies can also be found on islands (like, all of them), floating in the water (look out for the birds), or on the ships of other players. There’s nothing worse than running out of cannonballs in the middle of a fight or planks when you’re sinking, so it’s worth keeping track of these at all times. Some of the more involved missions will make you use a lot of materials, which is why it’s worth stocking up whenever possible. I also tend to lug around the full amount of each respective item that my inventory will hold so there’s less busywork when the action strikes.
Late in the beta, Rare added the merchant missions to the game. These tend to involve collecting chickens, pigs, or snakes then returning them to a particular outpost on or before a certain date. The thing is, finding animals is tough. That’s why it’s worth starting any of the missions just to access the animal crates, then trying your luck at grabbing two of the same animal and trying your luck with quest-givers at different outposts. You can spot certain animals by doing a sail-by of islands, but be warned that certain quests ask for animals of a particular type (say, chickens with white feathers) and the animals can be killed. If you want to do these missions properly and have the relevant cargo, get back to the outpost as soon as possible or they can become a grind. Pick up any empty cages you find to store on your ship. Sometimes you might even find cages with animals in them already.
NEW: Swag with floaties
Every object that's held by your character in Sea of Thieves and storable on your ship will also float after your ship has sunk. This also applies to enemy ships. Sneaking aboard, stealing stuff, and making your escape is one way to loot other players. The other way is to just sink them. Bear in mind that players can't use the teleporting mermaids/mermen while holding an object, so sinking an enemy ship is the best way to buy breathing space when the players on that ship have to respawn back to their ship.
NEW: Ice-cold waters
In my experience, your recently sunk ship will spawn at a nearby island. This means it's possible to get revenge on whichever ship sunk you without too much fuss. If you still have players alive at your original sinking location, you can sail by and pick them up if they have swag. Alternatively, they can teleport back to the ship with a mermaid or merman, albeit without any collected, carryable items. This is also why it's worth taking notice of the name of the islands you're at or near at all times, in case you're sunk and have to use the respawned ship to return to collect crew members who are carrying valuable booty.
NEW: Cleansing bugs
Though a mostly seamless experience, there are some nasty bugs in Sea of Thieves. The best way to combat any major weirdness, whether it's missing gold, inaccessible weapons, or something else is to disconnect and join again. If you've got friends playing, use the Windows 10 Xbox app to connect back into the crew you were just on. This next tip is a bit more controversial because it's a bug exploit but you can find specific points of geometry on islands that will cause your character to get stuck and immediately teleport you back to your ship. So far, I've only randomly found these, but after a short black screen, it's by far the fastest way to get back to the deck of your ship. If you can find a repeatable sticking point, use it to teleport your entire crew back to your boat.
Additionally, foliage tends to render at certain points, but items of interest render before that. Use this to your advantage when sailing past items to spot potential chests and other collectable items without having to search through foliage.
NEW: Them dry bones
There are a few different kinds of skeletons that are best dispatched with different tactics. The regular skeletons can easily be killed with your trusty sabre. If they have a pistol or blunderbuss, it’s better to try to shoot them than risk getting shot (they’re very accurate, even through soft cover). This is a great time to practice headshots, too, which are particularly effective against players. Gilded skeletons have to be first made vulnerable by throwing a bucket of water at them (no, really). Their gold will turn black and they’ll still take a pounding, but they’ll eventually die. Alternatively, lead them to a water source to automate the transformation. The seaweed-covered skeletons are a lot faster, so kiting them is a great tactic for getting them to line up for your charged sword strike. Just make sure you don’t let them swarm you or they’ll kill you pretty damn fast. Then there are the named skeletons, which signal the end of a fight, but apart from taking a beating, they’re usually the easiest to kill. Nab their skulls when they die and return them to The Order of Souls at a nearby outpost for gold and reputation.
NEW: Keyboard/mouse/controller combo
This isn’t as much essential as it is advisable. I have a controller connected to my PC to use in Sea of Thieves while piloting a ship. On calm waters, the controller is incredibly optional, even if it’s easier to steer a ship with joystick movements than A-D-A-D taps. When those waters are less calm, the controller stops you from having to constantly tap A and D for course corrections. In the middle of a storm, when you’ll be constantly making course corrections, a controller’s joystick is infinitely easier for keeping your ship on track.
NEW: Rest to hide
Hold down Z to access the emotes in Sea of Thieves. Some of these are useful for indicating your peaceful intentions with other players. Some are there for laughs. And some of them are best used for hiding. Emoting puts your view into third-person, which means you can peek around corners. Use the sleep or sit emote to hide behind low cover, or even to hide in unexpected spots on an enemy ship, and use the FOV advantage to spot incoming threats.
NEW: Feeling bushed
If hiding with emotes makes you feel like a dishonourable pirate, try this trick instead. You can hide in certain bushes in Sea of Thieves. Find the right bush by moving into larger plant leaves that move and make a noise as you enter exit. I’ve tested this with my crew, but getting into the middle of one of these plants makes your gamertag disappear. This means you’re effectively invisible to other players and in a great ambush position. Bear in mind that if you move the leaves will move, too, and exiting the plant will make a noise that can give your position away.
NEW: One small step
Some of the treasures in Sea of Thieves have convenient maps with big red Xs on them. By the way, if you’re having trouble matching X to island location, zoom your FOV in to get a better look at the lay of the land. Hopefully, Rare adds a zoom feature. For the treasures that have riddle clues, though, the easiest way to measure out steps is by using the compass. Hold the left mouse button to raise the compass, which not only makes it easier to see the direction you need to be facing, it also slows your character’s movement down to an audible walking speed. Count out your steps while you hold up the compass to sniff out the treasure.