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Monday, May 23, 2022

Sea of Craft in test: This seafaring sandbox is threatened with shipwreck

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Sea of Thieves meets Minecraft sounds good! But the test shows: The Early Access game Sea of Craft still has a long journey ahead of it.

Sandbox games are among the most popular genres of recent years: the classic Minecraft delights players with a penchant for squares, Empyrion: Galactic Survival and Space Engineers are dedicated to the infinite expanses of space, Ark: Survival Evolved even lets us experiment with prehistoric dinosaurs.

But one setting is still being criminally neglected: seafaring. After all, Atlas was more of a failure. The developer studio Wizard Games now wants to close the gap in the market with its new Early Access title called Sea of Craft.

However, this game does not only offer classic sandbox mechanics, but also wants to appeal to fans of rogue-lites and multiplayer action. The game concept reveals some potential in the test, but we still want to walk the plank with many of the design decisions.


The dream ship is nothing compared to this!

The greatest feature of Sea of Craft? Clearly: Here you can become a boat builder yourself and build the watercraft of your dreams. You can also construct your own vehicles on land, but the game places much less emphasis on this. Ambitious designers are best advised to use the creative mode, because there you have an infinite number of components in your luggage.

Depending on what kind of means of transport you are in the mood for, you choose one of three maps: The “Oasis” is suitable for land vehicles, the “Ocean” for ships and the “Archipelago” for both;

The starting point of your creation is always a rudder that stands on some tree trunks. This alone is somewhat suboptimal, because if you want to build a steel tank, for example which is also quite possible it looks extremely out of place if you operate it with a wooden steering wheel. With ships, however, it usually fits reasonably well.


Fun in creative mode

Press the space bar to enter build mode. When you are constructing a ship, the water under your boat disappears within a certain radius. This makes sense in principle, as it gives you a better view of the hull.

But there’s a problem here, too, because this said perimeter does not adapt to the dimensions of your boat: If the pot is too big, it will partially hang in the water again, which makes the building process much more difficult.

In Sea of Craft you can choose from well over one hundred components: You can expand the hull with planks, attach propellers and rudders for locomotion, install weapons for defence and also build in decorative objects.

This is somewhat reminiscent of Minecraft, but even more so of Space Engineers, because like in the space game by Keen Software, you can turn all the components in any direction, which makes very complex constructions possible. And indeed: it is undoubtedly fun to build ever better, bigger and prettier barges. Creative minds will get their money’s worth here.

Space Engineers in test: The best Minecraft alternative without the brick look


Nervous control quirks

At the same time, however, the building system is plagued by a few problems. The first of these is the control system. Untypical of the genre, you don’t take control of a real character, but only move a free-floating camera. This has certain side effects.

If you want to look around in Sea of Craft, the camera moves around a certain focal point (for example, a part on your ship) and not around your character, as is traditionally the case in titles of this kind. In addition, you cannot adjust the height of the camera via the keyboard, but have to hold down the middle mouse button and move the mouse in the desired direction.

If you’re used to other popular genre representatives, this will all seem very unintuitive. Aligning the camera is a real pain in the ass in places. In the test, even after more than ten hours of play, the operation was still not comfortable.

Another strange thing is that you don’t remove blocks with a simple left or right click, but have to press the “Alt” key and right-click at the same time. As you can see, a lot of things in Sea of Craft are more complicated than they should be. At the moment, you can’t adjust the controls yourself either.

If the prefabricated parts don’t fit

The second big problem lies in the construction elements. The regular construction elements have a lot of hard edges, which makes your creations look correspondingly angular and blocky. This might not be to everyone’s liking especially not with ships. The developers also seem to be aware of this fact and have included some prefabricated elements that look much rounder and more lifelike, for example several hull parts and a sail.

However, these are only available in a certain size. The sail, for example, looks completely out of place on anything larger than a sloop. So if you want true-to-scale components, you usually have to make them out of small blocks. The community shows great ingenuity here, but it is still not optimal.

(Here we are building a mighty new ship, but the bow is stuck in the water. That sucks.)
(Here we are building a mighty new ship, but the bow is stuck in the water. That sucks.)

This brings us to the next feature: You can post your ships online, but not in the Steam Workshop. Instead, you have to use the developers’ specially created platform simply select “Ship Fair” in the main menu. Here you will now be presented with a series of creations from the community that you can subscribe to and download.

(This tank created by the community shows: In Sea of Craft, you don't just build ships.)
(This tank created by the community shows: In Sea of Craft, you don’t just build ships.)


What Sea of Craft has to do with lollipops

But what are the rest of the modes good for? The campaign here is called “Solo Lv.”, where the “Lv.” probably stands for “Level”. In four chapters with ten missions each, you have to solve physics-based puzzles with your ship.

Among other things, you have to direct energy beams in the right direction with the help of mirrors or put basketballs into the appropriate basket (for whatever reason). If you have an affinity for puzzles, you will find yourself mildly entertained by the brainteasers.

At the same time, however, it is annoying that there is no narrative framework and the balance also still has room for improvement: The first half of the campaign is playfully trivial, after which it becomes abruptly more difficult. Wizard Games should improve the level of difficulty a little and include hints in the more difficult missions.

The developers are well aware that the campaign is not a huge success and give you so-called “honour coins” as a reward for completing levels. You can then redeem them in the “Glory Shop” to buy new colour schemes with which you can then paint your components. These include the colour green and the lollipop colour. Yes, that’s right, you can buy a lollipop colour in Sea of Craft. Is that actually real satire?

After all, there is no real money shop in Sea of Craft yet. But we wouldn’t be surprised if this were to be added to the game later the foundation for it is already there. So don’t be surprised if you are asked to pay for the lollipops again in the future

A little roguelike never hurts

The third mode in the game is called “Open Waters”. The starting situation here is pretty simple: pirates are terrorising the fictional Beella Islands, you are supposed to stop them! You start with very limited resources and have to get the most out of them by making your flagship, which is not quite so splendid at the beginning, as effective as possible. After all, you have to explore the map and liberate the many different pirate bases.

To achieve the latter, you have to transport the defending ships to the bottom of the sea and will be rewarded with new components for your ship and also with currency. You can then invest this currency in new abilities and upgrades, for example an additional 1,000 life points for your hull.

(You can unlock useful bonuses in the talent tree.)
(You can unlock useful bonuses in the talent tree.)

You also have to complete challenges for the god Poseidon, for example, your ship has to reach a certain size. However, if you die, you lose some of your loot and have to rebuild your ship from scratch. Just like in Rogue-lite!

This mode was the most fun for us in the test. Yes, it definitely needs more content and variety conquering pirate base after pirate base also gets boring in the long run but the experience is basically fine.


Middling presentation

In “Open Waters”, however, you also spend a lot of time just sailing across the ocean and looking at the areas. This in turn brings us to the presentation of Sea of Craft. Your ships and the waves look solid to good, but the rest of the technology is on a much poorer level. Explosion and fire effects, for example, look like something out of a game from 20 years ago. Don’t even get us started on the shadows, which look as if someone has poured ink over the screen.

The soundtrack of the game is basically solid. You should expect a lot of good-mood music, which definitely fits the casual tone of the game. However, there is a lack of variety. When you hear the same piano melody for the twelfth time, you will seriously consider turning the music off completely. No comparison to the atmospheric shanties of Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag.

(With our mobile house we explore the unfortunately very lifeless oasis.)
(With our mobile house we explore the unfortunately very lifeless oasis.)


How about performance and bugs?

On our mid-range test system (RTX 2060, i7-6700k, 16 GB DDR4 RAM), Sea of Craft almost always ran at a smooth 60 FPS on the highest settings. However, as with almost all sandbox games, even the most powerful computers will eventually break out in a sweat if you overdo it with the size of your building projects.

We did not encounter any major bugs or crashes in the test. The most annoying thing was the fact that in our first round of “Open Waters” we spawned without a propeller in our inventory we couldn’t move. However, a restart remedied this. Otherwise, it was noticeable that some descriptions of components were too long for the text boxes and were therefore cut off. This should be easy to fix.


Slack in multiplayer

By the way, you don’t only play Sea of Craft alone, but also in multiplayer. Here you again have the choice between three modes: two-player PvP, races for four players and open waters for six players


In the PvP battles, you have a short window of time at the beginning of a round to build the most battle-worthy ship possible with limited materials. Then the actual battle begins whoever sinks the other person the most times within the time limit wins the round. All in all, we are talking about a basically interesting and entertaining mode, but one that lacks variety in the long run (for example with regard to the arenas).

Unfortunately, we were unable to test the other modes because we never managed to get enough players together to start a round. A look at the current player numbers (at Steamcharts.com) shows that there is quite a lull on the seas of Sea of Craft tendency still falling.

(In the Duel Arenas you fight one-on-one battles, but you have to build your own ship first).
(In the Duel Arenas you fight one-on-one battles, but you have to build your own ship first).

Gathering six companions for a round of Open Waters is an almost utopian undertaking considering the low player numbers. Even in the two-player PvP battles you have to be prepared for many empty lobbies and long waiting times. So as long as you don’t bring any friends to play Sea of Craft with you, you shouldn’t expect anything from the multiplayer.

As you can see, there is a lot in the game in theory, but in practice most of it is only half-baked. There have undoubtedly been much worse Early Access releases than Sea of Craft, but there have also been much better ones. The game currently ranks in the midfield in terms of quality and that can be devastating, because the competition never sleeps and the player base is finite. If Sea of Craft is not to be lost in the flood of promising sandbox titles, the developers will have to turn the quality screw enormously.

Sea of Craft can be bought for just under 15 euros on (Steam).


Preliminary rating box


Editorial conclusion

I could have filled another half a novel with all the little things that bothered me about Sea of Craft. Testing this game was a frustrating and ambivalent experience for me. If Sea of Craft didn’t have any interesting approaches at all and I could categorically advise you against it, that would be one thing. But that’s not the case! I think the basic idea is great and I really want to love the game which is simply not possible in its current state.

The individual game components are too unfinished, the controls too uncomfortable and the campaign too boring. The crucial question now is: Can Sea of Craft turn the tide within its Early Access phase? Yes, I think the potential is undoubtedly there. I could well imagine that in the long run we are talking about a good, maybe even a very good game. But here’s the rub: it’s just as likely that Sea of Craft will be completely forgotten in just a few months. If you haven’t exactly been looking for such a game and you’re desperate to get started right now, I would advise you to exercise caution for now. The motto is: wait and see and drink rum.


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