The first thing I did in Sea of Thieves (opens in new tab) was play the accordion. It seemed like the right thing to do in a tavern surrounded by scallywags swilling grog. Once we drunkenly stumbled onto our galleon, I further earned the loyalty of my crew by teaching them you can remember that "port" means "left" on a ship because it has the same number of letters, prompting us to shout about port and starboard for the rest of our brief voyage (I even tossed out a "stern" at one point, which I don't think was right but nobody called me on it).
We saw another ship on the horizon, so of course we set sail to engage it in honorable boat combat. Then we all learned that winning a skirmish in Sea of Thieves calls for substantial coordination. The person, sorry, salty dog at the ship's wheel will need constant feedback about the enemy's location, since they can't see through the masts. The cannoneers will need to know which side of the ship to flock to for the best firing position. And everyone will need to know when and where they need to head below decks to start patching up the hull… also that there are two decks down there instead of just one. By the time I realized the latter point, my ship and her loyal crew were well on our way to Davy Jones' Locker. Yarrg.
Despite our watery demise, running a ship with a pack of five strangers was a thrill. The ship is full of roles that need to be filled, but there's no formal system for divvying them up. You could have an iron-fisted (or hooked) captain who tells everybody what to do, or you could have a naval commune where everyone drifts from station to station at their leisure. However you distribute them, each individual task feels easy enough on its own, whether you're angling the masts or aiming a cannon, but they come together in a way that makes you feel cool. Even when you're sinking.
With such a massive need for coordination and cooperation, your experience in Sea of Thieves will only ever be as good as your crew. Ideally you'd have a boat full of friends ready for high-seas adventure at any time, but Rare also plans to use the newly announced Xbox LFG tool to group players up for impromptu sea sessions. I didn't notice any options for non-voice communication (aside from playing the accordion, but that could be difficult to interpret in the heat of battle) but hopefully Rare builds something like the Overwatch communication wheel for less vocal players.
The demo also didn't reflect any of Rare's plans for players to do things aside from drink grog and shoot cannonballs at each other: namely fighting through non-player monsters like skeletal pirates and sea monsters on the hunt for treasure. In the full game, every player will have their own persistent, customizable ship they can upgrade with the treasure they take home, and which they can retrieve at some cost from the bottom of the sea. Grabbing other peoples' treasure is the whole reason you'd want to attack another band of pirates to begin with (unless you just like sinking ships). But sinking other ships, and getting sunk yourself, is still a lot of fun by itself.
My crew respawned on a tropical island with a new ship waiting for us just offshore. Remembering the lessons we'd learned in our first voyage, we climbed the portside ladder, raised the anchor, dropped the masts, and took off toward another set of sails on the horizon. The demo ended just as the first salvo of cannonfire began. Yarrg. I hope we can drink grog and discuss nautical directions again sometime after Sea of Thieves hits Xbox One and PC in 2017.