It’s Three AM. Your two-individual ship, a modest sloop, is anchored at Golden Sands Outpost whilst you unload the loot from a 5-hour voyage. You’ve been crusing as an emissary of the Gold Hoarders, and thru questing for a prolonged stretch with out your ship sinking, you managed to make it to rank 5. Now, each chest, trinket, and gem you promote is value two and a half occasions its regular worth, however there is a catch: Sailing with an emissary flag, significantly a excessive-degree one, etches a large pink “X” in your again. Any participant that sinks your ship and steals your emissary flag will get their very own large payday, and pirates sworn to the brand new Reaper’s Bones faction may even see you on their ship’s navigation map in the event that they rank up their very own emissary flag excessive sufficient.
In an on the spot, your triumphant loot flip-in transforms right into a catastrophe. Another duo’s sloop rounds the nook behind your boat, positioning their cannons to put waste to all of your arduous work. Adrenaline washes via your physique like an icy tidal wave, however you noticed them coming too late: An enemy participant has boarded your ship with a dangerously explosive stronghold keg, which erupts as you hurl your self from the deck. There’s nearly no strategy to get better from this onslaught; your total boat is on hearth, the hull is punched via with holes that gush water at an alarming charge, your mast is leaning uselessly to 1 aspect, your steering wheel is lacking a number of pegs, the capstan (which raises your anchor) is half-damaged, and the incoming cannonballs are knocking you round inside your individual boat.
Somehow, extremely, you and your crewmate restore the mast, elevate the anchor, put out the fires in your deck, and decrease the sails, all of the whereas bailing water, hammering planks over the gouges within the hull, and utilizing your trusty blunderbuss to fend off the opposite crew’s continued makes an attempt to board. By this level, your arms are violently shaking. You sail off and do the one factor you possibly can: With the pursuing ship immediately behind, you set your boat on a transparent heading, soar off the again, and seize their ladders. Distracted as they’re, you slay them each; within the interim earlier than they respawn, you steer their boat onto some rocks, destroy their mast, decrease their anchor, and use some handheld firebombs to gentle the entire thing up like a floating tinderbox.
You hail a glowing mermaid that returns you to your boat, and discover that you have entered thick fog. You’ll by no means know whether or not they sank or managed to save lots of their ship, however one factor is for certain: You misplaced them. The booty is yours, and as soon as the adrenaline dissipates out of your system, you will sleep soundly–hours later than you’d supposed, and with vivid goals of burning ships on a colourful sea, however nonetheless.
That type of emergent, participant-pushed interplay has characterised Sea of Thieves because it launched in 2018, and most of the recreation’s strengths, from its jaw-droppingly beautiful artwork to the gripping really feel of how ships management, have been current all alongside. But so most of the particulars of that tense encounter had been solely potential due to the numerous options, instruments, and techniques that the builders at Rare have added to the sport within the two years since, most not too long ago within the huge April 2020 replace referred to as Ships of Fortune. The hearth that spreads throughout your boat is new, as is the flexibility to revive fallen teammates, probably avoiding prolonged respawn waits on the Ferry of the Damned. Hyper-specific ship harm like cracked, falling masts requires extra coordination throughout fights and offers myriad methods to cripple opponents’ boats, whereas additions like the dual harpoons cresting each ship and the rowboats you discover round islands make new methods potential. Players may even use actual cash to purchase pets now, buying a monkey, chicken, or cat that explores your ship, follows you on land, dances alongside to your hurdy-gurdy, celebrates once you unearth new treasure, and infrequently provides you away when it accompanies you to infiltrate an enemy ship.
But it is the emissary flags which have actually propelled Sea of Thieves into new waters. By incentivizing gamers in varied delicate methods, the emissary system, launched in Ships of Fortune, solved most of the issues which have plagued this recreation for years. The danger/reward equation is straightforward: The longer you sail as an emissary, the upper your multiplier once you lastly promote your prizes–but the extra engaging you might be as a goal for different gamers seeking to safe a payout with out doing the questing themselves. This system is sensible: It alleviates a few of the recreation’s arduous grind by making it simpler to generate income and rank up factions, dashing the climb to coveted Pirate Legend standing. It encourages gamers to hunt each other out somewhat than sail by as literal ships within the night time; even when you’re not crusing as a Reaper emissary, which may make different emissaries seen on the map, the lengthy, banner-like flags are extremely seen, and a degree 5 emissary spied within the distance is a tempting morsel that many gamers will really feel inclined to chase after. On the opposite hand, pledging to a faction at the beginning of each voyage is completely optionally available, and though foregoing the flag means accepting decrease payouts on the finish, it additionally means probably flying beneath the radar when different gamers see your flag-much less ship and choose that you just most likely aren’t definitely worth the bother.
With some tuning to the numbers shortly after Ships of Fortune’s launch, the emissary system has efficiently incentivized gamers to tackle larger dangers, making each voyage extra rewarding and harmful, whereas additionally enabling the meek and the pacifists on the market to extra typically keep away from conflicts with different gamers. It’s flat-out sensible.
Sea of Thieves at all times had the inspiration of one thing nice; even from its barebones launch, it was a blast to set sail with mates and wrestle with the triple sails and clunky dealing with of a large galleon or embark on the nimble sloop and zip across the waves. At the start, there was little to really do within the recreation, however Rare has regularly alleviated that ache with constant content material drops which have added every part from a collection of dynamic, enjoyable-to-clear up narrative challenges referred to as Tall Tales to an Arena mode that pits small or giant crews towards each other in chew-sized, hectic aggressive matches. If you have been landlocked for any important period of time, your return to Sea of Thieves will probably be marked by never-ending discoveries, together with a treacherous new space of the map referred to as the Devil’s Roar, huge quantities of recent beauty gadgets with which to deck out your pirate or your ship, a 3-individual ship referred to as a brigantine, fishing and cooking, throwable grenade-like gadgets that unfold hearth or knock gamers again, new world encounters like harmful skeleton fleets, robust challenges just like the Fort of the Damned, and different small and huge surprises ready to be found on each new voyage.
Granted, as the sport’s scope has constantly elevated, Rare has clearly discovered it difficult to maintain up with steadiness points and bugs which have remained current for a very long time. That journey described in the beginning stretched out to 5 grueling hours as a result of a bug attributable to a dreaded server merge (which tends to interrupt issues) had prevented us from steering our ship, beaching us on an island. As we tried to make use of gunpowder kegs to blast the ship free, it merely disappeared, disintegrating into skinny air as hours’ value of loot rained from the sky round us. We needed to respawn elsewhere and sail again to reclaim our treasure earlier than it despawned, then elevate a brand new emissary flag, restarting the climb to rank 5 with a view to get the utmost payout. That made it all of the extra maddening after we had been attacked on the finish of the night time. The incontrovertible fact that we managed to get away is the one factor separating that harrowing story of danger and reward from an infuriating nightmare that will have necessitated taking a break from the sport for a number of days.
The most up-to-date replace, which arrived towards the top of May, contained many high quality-of-life enhancements, but additionally introduced with it model new bugs; gamers’ musical devices are mysteriously going silent, boats emit a nails-on-chalkboard scraping sound even when in the midst of the ocean, and ship textures are popping out and in so severely that it may be tough to acknowledge one’s personal boat when moored at an island. Meanwhile, steadiness issues persist. The blunderbuss weapon can one-shot opponents, however in an inconsistent manner that feels prefer it has extra to do along with your community ping than your goal. In the Arena, gamers can rack up extra factors by constantly pelting a single enemy ship with cannon hearth than by really finishing the target of securing treasure chests. And nothing is extra irritating than dropping hours’ value of labor when your ship sinks, not since you had been stunned or outmaneuvered by one other participant or because of any mistake in your half, however as a result of the sport determined to spawn a kraken, a megalodon, and a skeleton ship concurrently at your location, generally whilst you’re additionally in a harmful storm that makes it arduous to navigate, or with a lethal volcano erupting close by when you’ve ventured into the Devil’s Roar.
The extra time you make investments into Sea of Thieves, the extra these cases appear to stack up, making a laundry listing in your thoughts of all of the issues Rare has failed to handle or enhance. And a lot of this recreation is designed to maintain you enjoying; Sea of Thieves is filled with commendations, promotions, and unlockables that require unholy numbers of kills, voyage completions, or different milestones to unlock. It’s a treacherous whirlpool of investment–it takes dozens and dozens of hours to achieve Pirate Legend degree, however that is not the finish, as along with a brand new space so that you can hand around in at outposts, it additionally provides a brand new faction to degree, cool cosmetics you’ll undoubtedly wish to grind for, and pages of commendations so that you can unlock. How many skeleton ships have you ever fought and sunk in your voyage up to now? It does not matter, since that you must sink 500 extra after hitting Pirate Legend to unlock these colourful cannons on your ship, for instance.
Those concentric circles of funding, twisting in on each other in order that the extra you play, the extra you are compelled to proceed enjoying, can really feel exploitative at occasions. And gamers looking for greater and better payouts will discover brief periods more and more unrewarding, making a must play for lengthy stretches with out breaks, lest you get stunned by one other ship whereas on a canine stroll or disconnected by the sport’s aggressive AFK penalties. To compound that, the sport frequently goes offline for upkeep and patch releases, however the one in-recreation notification about it seems simply 15 minutes earlier than the servers shut down, which is barely lengthy sufficient to race to the closest outpost and switch in. If you missed the official Tweet or Reddit put up about it, you are out of luck, and more likely to really feel such as you wasted a bunch of time climbing emissary ranks or combating a prolonged sea battle when the shutdown arrives unexpectedly a number of hours into your session.
On the opposite hand, irrespective of how excessive you climb, you will by no means unlock something that is technically higher than what the greenest sailors on their maiden voyage possess; each single unlockable within the recreation stays purely beauty. What’s the hurt of some true stretch targets for probably the most devoted pirates? Many gamers won’t ever attain these heights (or lows, relying in your perspective), however not like when Sea of Thieves launched, at this level, there is not any scarcity of different issues to do. The “Tall Tale” story missions, specifically, present a superb start line for brand new gamers to study the ropes, whereas additionally providing a grind for devoted gamers who wish to repeat them time and again to earn sure cosmetics.
Now greater than at another level, Sea of Thieves caters to all sorts of gamers, from informal sailors who merely wish to goof off with their mates, to steadfast Pirate Legends who reside to hunt achievements and homicide out their boats within the rarest skins accessible. Unlike in lots of comparable video games, the place as soon as-unique gadgets lose their standing regularly because the builders make them simpler to achieve over time, Sea of Thieves nonetheless has gear that may make an impression on different gamers, like sails that say “don’t mess with this ship” when potential attackers glimpse them on the horizon. The tales of loot misplaced and ranks not gained, or, then again, slender escapes and knife’s-edge victories, solely have weight as a result of there are arduous-to-get hold of rewards that matter to gamers, and each little bit of booty counts.
Sure, sure gamers have begged Rare for a “PVE-only mode”–servers in which you’ll be able to’t be attacked by different players–since Sea of Thieves’ inception. But the hazard of being dumpstered by one other crew is that this recreation’s beating coronary heart. No matter how good you suppose you might be, what number of hours you have invested, and the way badly you do not wish to lose the haul you’ve onboard your ship, crushing defeat is a single second of inattention or a lone infiltrator holding a lethal gunpowder keg away.
Since the sport’s launch over two years in the past, Rare has labored constantly to construct on Sea of Thieves’ sturdy framework, and the numerous options and techniques they’ve added have all enhanced that core, simple fact. They nonetheless have work to do, and for some gamers, it would by no means be sufficient. But there are open seas and clear skies forward. For the present and future Pirate Legends out there–and even for the gamers who won’t ever attain that degree, however merely wish to make a few of their very own tall tales out on the unforgiving waves–Sea of Thieves is lastly a voyage value embarking on.