Not one, but two multiplayer pirate games were prominently featured at this year's #E3. #Microsoft offered another look Rare's cartoonish Sea of Thieves and #Ubisoft came out swinging with the Assassin's Creed: Black Flag-inspired Skull and Bones.
In some ways, the games are strikingly similar. Pirates, shared world multiplayer, PvP multiplayer, loot, lots of boat customization. However, it's clear the studios have approached their games from different directions.
'Sea of Thieves' Is Joy Incarnate
#SeaOfThieves takes a stylized approach to the genre. Its gameplay looks straight out of a cartoon -- and that's not a bad thing. Some of gaming's biggest titles have a stylized aesthetic including World of Warcraft, Team Fortress 2, Overwatch, and nearly everything Nintendo has ever made. The art style evokes whimsy and that appears to be precisely what Sea of Thieves is trying to accomplish.
The gameplay walkthrough shows off underwater exploration, treasure hunting, naval combat, as well as a hefty display of ground combat. Unfortunately, of everything shown, the ground combat was the least inspiring. The gunplay was questionable, and when the player missed a shot, it wasn't always clear why or how. Hopefully, blasting skeletons with a pistol or blunderbuss feels better when you're in control.
Kotaku seems to have found the gameplay a little clunky in their hands-on, however:
Just one problem: we had to turn around first. We tried our best to coordinate that complicated nautical maneuver, but instead we ended up plowing into the island at an angle and goddamn ramping our entire pirate ship off it, not unlike the time Christopher Columbus kick-flipped off the Bahamas and founded America.
Whether or not the clunkiness will be improved before the game launches, we'll need to wait and see. One thing is certain: Sea of Thieves does not know how to eat a banana.
Sea of Thieves strikes me as the kind of game where, as long as it's still fun, players will forgive a certain degree of clunk. The idea of going on cartoony pirate adventures with your friends is both endearing and compelling, and with the resurgence of roleplaying in games, Sea of Thieves could be a blast.
'Skull and Bones' Brings Real Competition
Ubisoft's #SkullAndBones discards the whimsy and instead focuses upon a more realistic, competitive aspect of piracy. Their presentation immediately sets the tone with words and phrases such as head-to-head and rivals. Skull and Bones appears to be pure naval combat with, as far as we know, no campaign or ground exploration. The title takes the beloved high seas shenanigans of #AssassinsCreed titles and cuts out absolutely everything else.
The game is gorgeous and its naval combat looks amazing. For anyone who fantasizes about epic battles on the high seas, the gameplay shown absolutely nails it: Maneuvering on the winds, blasting away at your enemy's hull, and scooting away laden with loot.
If there's more to Skull and Bones than PvP combat, though, we haven't seen it.
Something Pirate-y For Everyone
At this stage, it would be silly to suggest one of these titles is better than the other. Some people will prefer the whimsy of Sea of Thieves. Some people will love a game that's all about naval combat — particularly a title that hews a bit closer to reality.
In an age where streaming on #Twitch is so dominant, which game comes out on top might be determined by which game the streamers are playing. I'd hazard a guess Sea of Thieves will experience a brief, silly golden age until Skull and Bones becomes the new competitive hotness.
For me, I lean in the direction of Sea of Thieves. An adventure that doesn't take itself too seriously is right up my alley. As for Skull and Bones, I was one of the people who fell in love with Assassin's Creed: Black Flag and begged for a pirate-themed spinoff. However, when I asked for that pirate game, an #esport was the last thing I had on my mind.
Is 'Sea of Thieves' or 'Skull and Bones' more your speed?