‘Sea Of Thieves’ has found its sea legs in 2021

Pop-up, pirates

When it launched in 2018, nobody had a clue what it meant to play Sea of Thieves. I had played it twice at trade shows and I was still none the wiser, and the lack of a review period only furthered my fears. After receiving code at launch, I wrote that it had an existential crisis thanks to an evident lack of content. At the time, this was a fair point. Sea of Thieves had Skull Forts, Shipwrecks, a Kraken event and three factions offering similar fetch quests. But it also had a certain je ne sais quoi!

What I admired about Sea of Thieves back then (and what has brought me back now) is that it is essentially a giant framing device for multiplayer adventures. It nurtures emergent gameplay in singular, fascinating ways, but players have to give themselves away to it and make their own fun. I remember the first time we snuck on an enemy Sloop in the opening week and took it over from the inside while they were out at sea. I remember when we stashed and retrieved the loot from our first Skull Fort in the bushes of an outpost after being hounded and destroyed by an experienced crew. I remember getting to grips with the water-skipping cutlass glitch, which has been embraced by Rare ever since.

These moments were memorable, but I didn’t stick around because the minute-to-minute grind just wasn’t fun in the long run. There was no endgame or secret pirate adventure — the depth was all artificial and created by the community. Thankfully, Rare has done nothing but indulge in its fans and add more toys to the sandbox ever since. If you fell off of Sea of Thieves (and I wouldn’t blame you), then I would implore you to check it out in 2021, as it’s come a long, long way since launch.

It was never in any doubt, but it’s clear that Rare knows how to have fun with its fanbase. The studio recently pushed an update that added several quests into the game that immortalised community memes and devout Sea of Thieves players. Oh, and remember when I said I snuck onboard a ship to take it down from the inside? That’s a straight-up tactic now, with special emotes added so players can cosplay as cannonballs, hide behind posts and dip down to find tricky squat spots. Perhaps my favourite part of Rare’s Sea of Thieves self-awareness kick is that the studio has added a Figurehead that pokes fun at the game’s early-development build. Though it does cost more than 3 million coins…

The secret pirate adventures have also come to fruition in the form of Tall Tales, which are sprawling multi-episode campaigns with NPCs, tricky puzzles and new locations aplenty. The latest series, A Pirate’s Life, is a compelling crossover with Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean, which should go a long way to convincing your old crewmates to pop their peg legs back on.

My favourite addition is the ability to form an alliance with another crew if you make friends at sea. It means you can come to their rescue and benefit from their haul, which goes a long way in the unruly waters. Another haul-benefitting addition is the Emissary system, where you can fly the flag of a trading company and increase the value of your loot based on your progression, which is a good way of incentivising long play sessions.

There are some new considerations for hoarders, too, like cheeky chests that make you drunk and others that sink ships with their tears. Megalodon world events have also arrived, alongside the introduction of fire damage and new biomes like The Devil’s Roar, where lava storms can send ships into the briny deep. Fishing and cooking have also been fleshed out, giving big crews extra jobs as they sail the seven.

Sea Of Thieves. Credit: Rare

What I like about all of these additions is that Rare has never intruded on what made Sea of Thieves feel special in the first place. They’re all hands-off, optional opportunities for sea-savvy pirates. The world is still the guardian of player storytelling, but enough is going on in the moment to play it regularly and chase the elusive Pirate Legend rank.

I’m back on the poop deck, and I’ve got my own pet now, a purple monkey called Little Radgie. My friends love firing him out of the ship’s cannons to annoy me, but we’ve since started using him as a joke projectile to fire at other crews to see their reaction. Thanks to the newly added Speaking Trumpet, we can throw our voices and holler at them from afar to see if they caught him.

The leverage of a loot-filled hull still summons a tense burden, but you’d be surprised at how lovely the Sea of Thieves community is in short-lived monkey peril or even defeat. Players are mostly quite generous to others when they can be, and you have so many dynamic systems to work towards that one sunken ship doesn’t feel like the end of the world.

If you jump back in, don’t be afraid to be a bit cheeky when you can, though. When a Galleon Started chasing us this week, my right hand had the idea to turn off the lanterns, slip off the back with a gunpowder barrel and Metal Gear Solid my way to the hull. We all laughed about the ensuing explosion in the Ferry of the Damned.

Sea Of Theives
Sea Of Theives. Credit: Rare

We also snuck up on an Irish guy piloting a solo Sloop yesterday. After spooking him with Little Radgie, we calmed his nerves, explained the situation and started cracking on about the final of the Euros. He said we were “asking the wrong man” but that Italy would beat England 2 – 1, which wasn’t too far off. One underrated part of Sea of Thieves is that we’re both in this pocket dimension choosing to roleplay as pirates, which is always a massive icebreaker. Putting aside our differences, we formed an alliance and let him in on the take from our vault haul.

Sure enough, just as we were moaning about not being able to afford the cannons we wanted, our new friend put in a monstrous haul of his own, which pushed us over the edge and into a new era of nautical style. I don’t remember his name, and I’ll probably never speak to this person again, but that little twist of fate made our day, and guess what — it could only have happened on the Sea of Thieves. Fair play to Rare for turning the boat around. Now I just need to get past the Mysterious Stranger…

Sea of Thieves is out now, for the Xbox and PC. 

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