Sea of Thieves

While suffering from some flaws, Sea of Thieves is also an incredibly fun co-op game.

I really like Sea of Thieves. I’ve been playing it at least every other day for the last few weeks. Usually, I’d have no problem recommending something I like this much or have played this much, but Sea of Thieves is special and so I have some caveats attached to that recommendation. Or perhaps it might make sense to think of them as warnings. I’ll go into them in more detail in a bit, but here they are in short.

Sea of Thieves isn’t an MMO, it’s a playground. I’ll write more in depth on this later, but the game has no in-game mechanical progression. I think it’s easy to look at this and see a bad thing, especially if you’re used to having leveling and progression systems that make the game easier for you as time goes on. The positive side to having no mechanical progression is that you will always be mechanically equal with your friends, no matter who has played the most. Someone who has never played before can jump in, and be a contributing member of your crew from minute one. The only increase in “Power” that you get is a more solid understanding of the game’s mechanics and systems.

Multiplayer is more or less required, friends are best, randos can be passable, but playing solo is an exercise in frustration. There are a set of people who do a thing called Solo-Slooping, but I think for most of us, the joy of the game is doing stuff with your friends. Outrunning the Kraken, fighting off ghost ships, and booking around an island to dig up treasure are all things that are best done with other people, and the game’s mechanics actively encourage you to play with others. As just a quick example, almost every ship outside of the two player ship has the capstan (boat thing used to drop the anchor) fairly far from the steering wheel, so good luck docking your boat at the dock without multiple people. The way the sails work means that in fights, you’ll want to be constantly changing them to actually get your boat where you want it, and not crash into things. Same for firing cannons, fixing the boat, and more or less every other mechanic.

Finally, the game isn’t super cheap. Most of the folks I’m playing it with got it at $20 on a Steam sale, but that’s still a hefty chunk of change. This might be a bit less of a deal breaker for the anyone with a Windows 10 PC, since you can get Gamepass for PC for like $5 a month, and a month of playing Sea of Thieves is most likely enough for you to figure out if you like the game or not. I debated keeping this section, but I still think it’s worth the callout.

Ed note: The game does have cosmetic microtransactions, and at time of writing, apparently will be adding a battlepass system in it’s next update. I have mixed feelings about this, since a friend already got me the game for $40 as a Christmas present, and cosmetics are the only thing to actually spend in game gold and doubloons on.

Okay, here’s the thing: I love the moment-to-moment gameplay of Sea of Thieves, and if that’s the case, why did I feel the need to put three paragraphs of warnings ending in “Here there be Microtransactions?”

Well, it’s for two reasons. I do love the game, but I suspect there are a fair number of people who won’t, for one or more reasons. I don’t think these categorizations of people who play games are hugely accurate, but I still want to toss them out there for a moment: if you’re the sort of person who plays games in a fairly “hardcore” manner, min-maxing, following meta guides, and going for every inch of DPS you can get, I’m not sure there’s much in Sea of Thieves for you. The only things you get are cosmetics, the “optimal” gold/time quests are fairly dull, and large portions of the game if you look at them from the standpoint of “How much progression does this get me?” are purely grind. On the flip side, Sea of Thieves is not a “Casual” game, but for a different set of reasons: play sessions in which you actually get stuff done can amount to several hours in length, the game can be brutally punishing and wipe out those invested hours quite easily if you get a bit unlucky or stop paying attention, and of course, there’s always the chance to end up in a PvP situation and just getting blown to smithereens.

So why do I play it? Simple: I find it fun. I talked about Sea of Thieves as a playground up above. What I mean by that is Sea of Thieves is primarily a place to be, and a place to play above all else. Everything about it is designed to function in that way, and I can’t actually think of any other games that provide that experience. The fact that everyone is on equal footing each time you log in means that no matter how experienced you are, your friends can always join in and contribute. There’s no DPS checks, no being carried through raids, no dodging queues.

I do have one last gripe though: The fact that you can’t change ship size, which is effectively player party count without remaking your party is a complete bummer. I would really like them to change that. I won’t stop playing if they don’t, but if there was a way to change ship size, it would be a massive improvement.

While the hand to hand combat for both PvP and PvE is clunky, I really enjoy almost every other moment of the game. The clunk of hitting a treasure chest with your shovel is awesome. Working with friends to run around an island working on a riddle is great. The tension and relief of running vaults, and looting them is fantastic, and boat combat is mostly solid.

Like a playground, though, you will occasionally get knocked down and bullied. It’s an unfortunate part of the experience. In terms of pure, primal frustration and rage, Sea of Thieves made me feel a way I hadn’t in quite a while, and when that happened, I had to take a break from playing for a bit. But after that break, I was ready to return. The game is just enjoyable.

Fighting megalodons, trying to outrun other players, and looting bosses are all fun. Like I said above, Sea of Thieves is a playground, and as such it’s more than the sum of its parts. It’s not just treasure hunting, or riddles, or cargo delivery, it’s all the small moments that make up doing those things, from having someone stand lookout, to having one person call out directions, while another steers, and a third person tries to keep you from crashing into the rocks. It’s a place to be together with other people, and enjoy their company, and do things with them. To cook shark, to play silly songs, and to generally mess with each other.

And to Sail Together

Pummel Party

Mario Party minus bullshit. It’ll still make you rage at your friends, though.

Ed Note: I grabbed the images for this article mostly from the Steam Page. I doubt this will ever be an issue, but I do like to make sure people are aware of the differences between images I take, and stuff that is effectively marketing material.

It’s easy to look at Pummel Party and think “Oh, it’s a Mario Party clone, but for PC.” But while Pummel Party does feel heavily inspired by Mario Party, after playing quite a bit, I think it’s actually a much better game. With that said, just like Mario Party, you will need friends to play it with, because playing Mario Party by yourself is incredibly sad. So let’s talk about why Pummel Party is good, and why it doesn’t feel like the 50 minute exercise in coin flipping that is Mario Party. Oh, and it supports up to eight players, instead of just four.

So, first let’s talk about the general structure of the game. If you’ve played Mario Party before, you already know most of this, so you can skip this paragraph.

All players are placed on a large board, and a game consists of a series of rounds. During each round, players can choose to use an item if they have one, then they roll a die to move across the board. Based on where you end your turn, you might get items, coins, or some sort of special event might happen. After everyone has taken a turn, players play a mini-game of some kind, and are rewarded with currency. Currency (Coins/Keys) can be spent to buy victory points (Goblets/Stars), but they can only be purchased by reaching specific areas on the board. Whoever has the most victory points after a given number of rounds, or reaches a threshold first ends the game, and is (probably) the winner.

Okay, boring introductory stuff out of the way. Let’s get into the big differences between the two, and talk about the idea of player agency for a bit.

The biggest things that Pummel Party adds to this formula are a second stat called health, better items, and different turn order mechanics. Lets start with those turn order mechanics shall we?

In Pummel Party, turn order is decided each round by placement in the last round of mini-games. Winners go first, losers go last. This is important because it means that actually being good at the mini-games is important. If two players are neck in neck trying to reach a Goblet, whoever wins the mini-game is likely to reach it first, as they get to move first. In addition, doing well in mini-games rewards items, which are far more useful for interacting with other players than anything in Mario Party.

So let’s talk about those items and health. Health is a secondary stat that caps out. If it hits zero, you lose 30% of your currency (according to patch notes) and get placed back at a graveyard. You might lose health because you ended on a damage spot, or another player’s Reaper Spot (TLDR: First person to touch them chooses either health or keys. Every player who steps on them after that loses that resource, and it’s sent to the spot claimer). More likely though, you’ll lose health because another player has opted to pull out a shotgun and blast you in the face. It’s one of those items that you can get for winning mini-games, or by picking it up from the map.

The big thing here for me is that in Pummel Party, you actually have the ability to stop someone who is starting to cruise their way to victory. You can team up in mini-games, you can work together to drop wrecking balls onto their head, or you can just blast them with a cross map orbital laser. Winning mini-games lets you pull ahead and act first, before your opponents can take action, and losing means you have less resources.

Okay, so now that I’ve sung the game’s praises, lets talk about the elephant in the room: the mini-games.

Some of the mini-games are very good.

Some are okay.

And some are just not fun.

While the game does let you turn off mini-games you don’t want to play before the game start screen, it’s undeniable that some of these games are just… garbage. There are also quite a few that seem to give host advantage, and others that feel buggy or glitchy. (Looking at you, laser train game.)

This doesn’t bother me enough to stop playing Pummel Party, but it does mean that I usually want to actually play the board game mode instead of just mini-games.

Wrath: Aeon of Ruin

Wrath is good, but it’s not finished. You should wait to buy it for now.

Editorial Note: The images in this article I grabbed from the Steam Page. Usually I take my own screenshots, because independence and other stuff, but I had some difficultly with that, and honestly, the screenshots are accurate. But I don’t want to give the impression that I got all these photos myself.

I really like Wrath: Aeon of Ruin. It gives me a wonderful sense of nostalgia for an era of games that I never actually played, that of the old Doom/Quake/Duke Nukem Era. It might be because you will spend most of the game strafing around gothic corridors with a bunch of weapons. It might be because you will use those weapons against monsters that look like they were pulled from a fire sale at low-poly Lovecraft R Us.

The screaming head dudes with multiple faces are legit fucking terrifying.

And it might be because it was actually built on the old Quake engine. I had a ton of fun playing it, which makes me feel a bit bad about what I’m going to say: Even if this is a genre you love, I don’t think you should buy Wrath yet.

My recommendation doesn’t actually have anything to do with the gameplay itself (despite the fact that I definitely have a few gripes with some of the game’s systems), but instead with the fact that the game simply isn’t finished. There are only four levels, and while they’re good and polished, they only took me about 8 hours to play through on the medium difficulty. I actually delayed this write-up a bit because another update was supposed to come out a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, it just got pushed back to this month… so yeah. While I’m sure they intend to do their best to keep their promise, it may be a while before the game ends up in its final state, and as such, I think you can wait on this one. If you’re reading this article after the summer of 2021, you should probably check to see if it’s fully out, as that’s the current estimate for its release date.

Okay, so with that whole thing out of the way, let’s talk about the other simple truth of the game: I had a lot of fun with Wrath. It’s well polished, and very smoothly executed. It’s just fun to run around shotgunning demons and pulping zombies with a stake cannon. I played Wrath because the gameplay was fun. There was no point where I found myself pushing through a boring bit to get back to the story (there really isn’t one right now) or grinding for numbers. Wrath has more or less zero filler.

This doesn’t mean Wrath is perfect by any means. I have some problems, so let’s talk about them.

First of all, while the game is really fun, if you want to actually replay a level, you need to make a brand new save file. There’s no option to just reload a given level, or to skip to a certain point with weapons unlocked. This is annoying. The second part, that wasn’t super frustrating for me mostly because I was playing on the medium difficulty, is the save system. Wrath lets you save by either reaching a checkpoint, or by using an item called a Soul Tether, which you find and pick up as you play through the game. You have a limited number of these, and while this limit caused me zero problems on the medium difficulty, I can see it becoming frustrating super fast on the harder difficulties. Wrath is in some ways a puzzle game of “Connect The Bullets With The Enemies” and it’s entirely possible to get through a section of the game you’ve already solved, only to die over and over again in a specific area. This means you end up replaying the same parts a lot, and if you’re trying to conserve soul tethers, it can take like five minutes to get back to the point you were at previously, just to get another try at something.

Walking in a winter murder landdddddddd

These were my two main problems with the game. Wrath is fun, the levels are well made, and outside of a slight overreliance on “You touched a button, now we’re gonna spawn in 10 enemies in your blindspot” the game doesn’t really have any patterns that are frustrating. I honestly expected to be seeing the same levels over and over again, but the actual layout and design is quite varied.

So yeah. Wrath is fun, but currently it’s not finished, and it’s rather short. I have some gripes with the save system, and how you can’t replay levels, but outside of that, I’m excited to see what the full game looks like. If it maintains the level of polish and creativity that I’ve seen so far, it will easily be worth the $20-30 price tag I expect to see on it.