Sea of Thieves beginners guide
Sea of Thieves seems like an intentionally obtuse game. The piratical sandbox wants you to discover things on your own. That’s part of the appeal. And yet… Developer Rare probably took things too far by not explaining things as basic as how to switch weapons. So we’ve compiled a guide of simple but valuable tips to make for smoother sailing on the open ocean.
Nearly everything in Sea of Thieves revolves around voyages—although the game itself does little to explain them. These three mission types are the main method of earning gold and reputation among the game’s three NPC factions. Higher reputation with each faction unlocks more difficult, better paying missions. Although they’re all fundamentally similar within each faction.
To begin a voyage, you must purchase them with gold from one of the various merchant types on any island named as an “outpost” (Golden Sands Outpost, Sanctuary Outpost, etc.). The Gold Hoarders, located in tents at each outpost, will give you treasure maps. Members of the Order of Souls, found in the glowing occult buildings, offer bounty hunts. And finally the Merchant Alliance, perched on the end of every outpost’s main pier, assign trading voyages.
Once you have a voyage in your inventory (each player can carry up to three at one time) head for your ship. You can recommend any voyage you’ve picked up by placing it on the table next to your ship’s map. Although your crew will still have to vote to accept it—even if you’re playing solo. Once that’s done, however, instructions for what to do next will appear in your map inventory.
Here’s a breakdown of those basic missions.
Treasure and Riddle Maps
These quests come courtesy of the Gold Hoarders. Their treasure maps sport just a simple picture of the island you need to reach, along with an X marking the spot where you’ll need to dig for booty. The islands on the maps aren’t named, however, so you’ll need to zoom in and search for them by shape via the map room on your ship. Return the chest to the Gold Hoarder to cash in.
Riddle maps are slightly more complicated. These usually will give you the name of an island and, upon reaching it, a series of clues leading to the chest.
These are by far the simplest missions in Sea of Thieves. They’ll give you a target skeleton to “kill” along with a location. Just find the island in question on your map, set sail, and defeat the undead buccaneer. Your targets will even have names over their heads, unlike most generic skeletal enemies.
The boss monsters won’t appear right away, however. Once you reach their specified location, you’ll likely run into some generic undead enemies first. To spawn the named foe, simply kill a wave or two of the unnamed variety. The boss will eventually rise out of the ground when you’ve met your quota. Return the glowing skull they drop to the Order of Souls to cash in.
Trade missions are by far the most complicated and tedious quests in Sea of Thieves. They’re timed (albeit pretty generously) and rely largely on random chance. Once you start a trade voyage, you’ll be given a list of required goods to bring to a specified location. These can range from specific breeds of chickens to powder kegs.
If you’re unlucky enough to get a mission that calls for a live animal, however, you’ll need to collect capture crates from the Merchant Alliance vendor first. Carting these around will make you unable to sprint—just as if you were carrying a chest or skull—but they will let you catch pigs, chickens, and snakes alive.
Once that’s done, be sure to keep the cages abovedeck. Captured animals can drown in the water your ship takes on during storms or after taking damage. Store them in the hold instead, and you might lose them altogether, and have to start all over again.
As for where to catch these critters… That’s where chance factors in. There’s simply no way to know where a specific color of livestock needed for each quest will spawn. Chicken Isle is a good place to look for chickens, but that’s no guarantee you’ll find the black plumed or red speckled chickens you need.
That said, these islands listed below seem to be the best places to find each class of creature (thanks to Gamepedia for the list). Just make sure to hit whichever islands are closest first. Time is always ticking on trade missions—which you can check for yourself using the in-game pocket watch.
- Barnacle Cay
- Cannon Cove
- Chicken Isle
- Crook's Hollow
- Marauder's Arch
- Old Faithful Isle
- Salty Sands
- Shipwreck Bay
- Thieve's Haven
- Twin Groves
- Wanderer's Refuge
- Blind Man's Lagoon
- Cannon Cove
- Devil's Ridge
- Kraken's Fall
- Lone Cove
- Old Faithful Isle
- Paradise Spring
- Rum Runner Isle
- Sea Dog's Rest
- Shipwreck Bay
- The Sunken Grove
- Thieve's Haven
Once you’ve got a voyage loaded up, it’s time to actually set sail. Sea of Thieves doesn’t give much (or really any) advice on this process, either, but it’s fairly simple once you’ve got the basics. Speaking of which, here they are.
Whether on a nimble sloop or a mighty galleon, you’re not going anywhere until you raise anchor. To do so, find the horizontal wheel (located to the back of sloops and in the center of galleons) and press X to grab hold. You need to crank the wheel manually to raise it from this position, but the process goes faster the more players you have turning at the same time.
To drop anchor you just need to hold the action button. It’ll take a few seconds to stop your ship completely, however, so think ahead.
The wheel is exactly what you’d think. It lets you steer your ship.
There are a couple of neat wrinkles that make it easier to use. First, there are gold rings on the wheel’s spokes marking the farthest you can turn it left and right, as well as its center. So if you want to straighten out your ship’s course, just find the middlemost spoke with a gold ring. You can also tell when you’re sailing straight with a controller by feeling for a vibration. That soft shake means you’re clicked in to dead center.
Another neat and not obvious trick is anchor turning. This is done by dropping anchor and, while the weight hasn’t quite stopped the ship, turning the ship’s wheel as hard as possible to either side. This will make your ship do a sharp 180 degree turn (or less depending on how hard you crank the wheel).
Tilting, Furling, and Unfurling
Look up to your ships sails. You’ll see they're connect to ropes that come down on either side of the hull. These latch points, on either side of the ship and in different spots depending on the class, are where you adjust the tilt and fold of your sails.
The more unfurled your sails are, the faster you can potentially travel. The downside is this will also make your turn radius much wider. So remember that anchor turn trick when you really need to spin on a dime.
Tilting your sails into the wind to maintain maximum speed requires a bit more babysitting. You can see what direction the wind is blowing by looking into the sky, but depending on the weather and course you’re plotting, you might need to constantly adjust so you’re getting bang for your buck. Thankfully, like many things in Sea of Thieves, there’s some diegetic feedback. A sail that’s catching the wind as best it can will suddenly billow out hard, loud, and suddenly to let you know you’re doing it right.
Patching and Bailing
Sooner or later you’re going to take on water—whether it’s because you hit a rock, got shot by some surly player’s cannon, or simply because it’s raining. Let it go on too long, however, and your ship will start to sink (along with whatever loot you had aboard).
In case of rain, there’s not much you can do besides bail the water out. Luckily every player starts with a bucket. Just go to where the water is and use the complex device to fill it. Then pitch the brine over the side and repeat. Bear in mind, though, that particularly low water levels are difficult to see. So you might need to swing the bucket one or two more times than appears necessary to make sure.
It’s a different story if you take damage. Holes will appear in your ship that let water inside—continuously or intermittently—and must be patched before making any headway with a bucket. Simply equip your planks of wood from the inventory and use them on the holes. If you don’t have any, the hold of your ship should have a barrel full of extras. And remember that, although not as immediately dangerous as holes in the hold, punctures can also appear in other rooms of the ship that might not be immediately obvious.
On-foot combat in Sea of Thieves is pretty basic, but there are a few tricks of the pirate trade that can make your life easier. Such as…
Charge Attacks and Stamina
Melee attacks break down into two categories: your basic swings and charge attacks. The former is good for crowd control and punishing foes who try to heal mid-battle by cronching a banana. The latter does more damage (enough to kill most basic skeletons in one hit) and sends you flying forward in a lunge.
The real benefit of the charge attack, however, can be that it sends opposing players flying. Oftentimes the best way to repel boarders (or to be one successfully) is by flinging unprepared players overboard with a well-timed charge. You can also block to absorb any such unfriendly melee strikes.
Just bear in mind that Sea of Thieves apparently has an invisible stamina meter. Too much striking in too short a time will cause your character to lower their sword for several seconds. If that happens, make some distance and consider changing to a ranged weapon.
Ranged Weapons: The Blunderbuss, Pistol, Eye of Reach, and… Vomit
Speaking of firearms, they come in three categories in Sea of Thieves—all of which can be swapped between at the armory on your ship. Each gun has limited ammo and must be reloaded after a single shot. More rounds can be acquired infinitely from ammo crates that spawn on certain islands, as well as next to your armory.
The pistol is best used at medium distances while the blunderbuss is a close-range shotgun. The “Eye of Reach” is your basic sniper rifle. It’s good for long ranges, but does have significant bullet drop. Other players will also know when you’re using it, as raising the rifle’s scope creates a shining glint that gives away your position.
Oh, and notice how you start with a tankard of grog in your inventory? Drinking it all down at once will get your pirate drunk and appropriately swerve-y. Drink even more and they’ll start vomiting. This can be collected in your trusty bucket and tossed out just like seawater. The difference is that, if you throw it at another player, they’ll be temporarily blinded. It’s a great, disgusting way to give you and your crew an edge over opposing plunderers.
Not every bit of booty in Sea of Thieves comes from voyages. Although the basics are the same. Occasionally you’ll come across skulls, loot like silvered cups, or boxes of spice and textiles just randomly strewn about islands or the ocean. These can be taken to the proper NPC merchants back at towns and turned in just like the stuff from officiated quests.
Even this isn’t completely random. It’s just all unmarked on the map. The sea of Sea of Thieves is also home to a number of named shipwrecks that, while mostly submerged underwater, are full of random loot to loot. And while you can’t find them on the map, you can tell where they are by scanning the horizon for flocks of seagulls.
These congregations mark shipwrecks directly beneath them that can be searched for all kinds of goodies. The trick is that you’ll have to swim around and through the derelict vessels, looking for entrances to their holds and dragging the valuables to the surface. This comes with the added danger of attracting sharks, the massive kraken which randomly patrols Sea of Thieves and, most likely, drowning.
Despite there being no traditional O2 meter in the game you most certainly can drown. The process is slow and avoidable, but can easily sneak up on you. You’ll want to listen for your character to start gurgling and watch for the edges of your screen to turn black. This indicates you’re just about out of breath. Waiting much longer to surface will start to drain your health. So take periodic breaks while searching shipwrecks.
Messages in Bottles
You might stumble upon a message in a bottle—marked by glints of light like the ones produced by scopes and spyglasses. Picking one up will give you and your crew a free bounty, treasure, or riddle map.
The Order of Souls equivalent of shipwrecks are fortress raids. As you sail the Sea of Thieves, you’ll likely notice small, dark clouds shaped like skulls with glowing eyes on the horizon. These indicate that one of the map’s usually unoccupied fortresses has spawned a horde of skeletons.
You can attempt to raid these fortresses for loads of loot. Just know that you’ll have to fight waves of skeletons, often armed and backed up by distant cannons, before the fortress captain spawns. Killing said captain will either drop a bounty skull (as if you had done a regular Order of Souls mission) or a key to the fortress’s vault. In the latter case, even a full crew will likely have to make several trips to collect all the loot from the vault.
All of your consumable items—planks of wood, cannonballs, and healing bananas—disappear when you leave and reenter the game. Make sure to stock up at whichever outpost the game spawns you before setting sail.
You can vote to scuttle your ship from the in-game menu—even while dead—and respawn with it elsewhere on the map. This will destroy anything on it, but otherwise has no detriments. It’s just the thing for escaping spawn camping players waiting to kill you aboard your own ship.
Holding the pocket watch up to your character’s face and walking slowly will cause the controller to vibrate with every step you take. This is useful for riddle map clues which require you to walk a certain number of paces.
Gold skeletons have an absurd amount of health, but can be slowed and weakened by throwing buckets of water at them, or luring them into water. Ghostly “shadow skeletons” are more powerful in the dark, but can be weakened by shining your lantern.
Now get out there and cause some mayhem, pirate! Happy sailing!