I’m now playing Sea of Thieves for about 4 hours a day. Playing solo is awful, but with a crew of close friends/family members, it’s transcendent. A huge part of that is the ship battles, which can be approached with an intensely OSR sense of creative mayhem. There’s so many many strategies you can employ to take out someone’s ship, but even when you do it expertly (which I am very bad at) you’re on these large, fast vessels with a lot of Patrick Stuart’s held kinetic energy so there’s so many variables and ways for things to go wrong.
When you shoot cannons at enemy ships you want to hit them below the waterline, but that’s tricky because both ships are moving up and down on the waves as you move. You can also shoot down their masts to slow them, blast enemy PCs off the deck or shoot firebombs to light their ship on fire (which spreads). There are also magical cannonballs that can drop their anchor, seal all their supply barrels, make them all drunk, dance, sleep, or lame, or break their cannons. Each ship has harpoon guns on the front that you can use to latch on to enemy ships to pull them in, or reel in treasure, allies, or enemies in range. When you get hit below the waterline, water starts pouring in the hole which you have to patch by hand and then bail by scooping water into a bucket and throwing it over the side. BUT you might want a little bit of a leak because you can use it to put out fire on deck, or bail the water ONTO THE OTHER BOAT. There are barrels of gunpowder you can drop over the side and hope that enemy ships hit them, or you can swim one over to their boat, climb on board, and then blow it up. You can load yourself into your own cannons and have a friend FIRE YOU ONTO ENEMY SHIPS from 100 yards away.
The game’s an amazing story generator. Instead of giving you game mechanics to manipulate and attack numbers that go up, the game just gives you tons of tools that you can use creatively and then waits to see who is going to be the cleverest. All the canons in the game do the same damage, all ships of the same class go the same speed. You don’t level up your character, you level up your real-world strategic skills.
There’s basically no HUD in the game. Everything has to be done physically. To know wind direction you look up at the sky, to know what direction you’re facing you have to pull out a compass, to navigate you have to look at a map on a table.
It’s also an extremely cooperative game and pretty easy to learn, so it’s ideal for hanging out with people in isolation who maybe don’t play many video games. You have to work together to even sail the ship effectively (steering, charting a course, adjusting the sails, scanning the horizon for enemies or floating barrels etc.) so you’re always talking to each other and doing something. You can play it super cheap for a month by paying $1 for an XBOX game pass (which works for PC as well) and then cancelling before the end of the first month. I might end up just buying it though.