‘Sea of Thieves’ will live or die by how its world grows

Sea of Thieves is unquestionably an absolute blast to play. It unashamedly embraces every seafarer cliché and trope so you can live out all your pirate fantasies, just without the sunburn, scurvy and missing appendages. You can down grog until you puke, take to the open ocean in search of treasure or conflict and, when you lose a cannon fight, play a mournful tune with your fellow scallywags as you go down with your galleon. But Sea of Thieves isn't supposed to be a game you spend a few fun evenings playing before forgetting it just as quickly. Developer Rare envisions its core audience spending hundreds if not thousands of hours plundering this new world. If that's going to be the case, though, it has to grow to be twice the title it is today.

Sea of Thieves is a bit of a gamble for Microsoft, which has played it safe for years investing in the Halo, Gears of War and Forza franchises. A twee open-world pirate simulator is, by comparison, well out of Microsoft's comfort zone. First-party studio Rare could also do with a new, big hit. The UK-based team hasn't really done anything of note since the Viva Piñata games, the last of which c...