There’s a sloop at Plunder Outpost. I spot it as soon as I drop my sails from Crook’s Hollow, where I stopped to grab a couple of chickens and a snake. It had been one of those mornings where Sea of Thieves offered up some lucky synergy; one cargo run requesting 7 items to be delivered to Plunder Outpost, followed by a merchant voyage to deliver a boatload of chickens – most of them gold – to the same place. Crooks Hollow had delivered what I needed, as it so often does, and in addition to the chickens and cargo, I’d got a couple of chests and skulls from a shipwreck that had only needed a short diversion to loot.
Basically, I was in the money. Or at least, knew I could be. A lot of it was going to depend on that sloop.
Setting my sails into the wind, I climbed up to the crow’s nest to put up the Offer Alliance flag and to get a good look around – as nothing’s worse than being caught by surprise when you’ve got a ship full of loot. Surveying the whole horizon, I saw no sails other than those of the sloop. Good news. I slid down the mast to settle behind the wheel and take a moment to consider my approach. Basically, I needed this guy to either play nice, or sail away. The former was fine, the second probably the best scenario – alliances are often tentative. What I didn’t want was to get in a fight – cannon fire hitting my sloop would shatter my rum bottles and kill my chickens, costing me gold and, more importantly, merchant reputation. Checking my inventory, I saw I’d picked up a Peace Ball somewhere along my voyage. A plan B began to formulate as I swapped my pistol for a blunderbuss.
I sailed in, slowing down as I did so and doing my best not to look threatening, and positioning myself in front of the other sloop – in a position where I could fire on them should I need to, but they’d need to adjust their position to return it. Pulling my sails all the way up to the top, I got on the text wheel. “WE’RE FRIENDLY!” was the first message, followed a moment later by “LET’S FORM AN ALLIANCE!”.
I waited a moment for the response. There was a crackling sound – the sound of a mic being dragged into position – and then a voice. It was American, teenaged, and aggressive.
“Fuck you, asshole. Fuck your Sea of Friends! Fire!”
Pulling my own mic down, I responded: “Fair enough mate.”
Their first cannon shot sailed harmlessly across my prow, a split second later my peaceball slammed into their hull. I could hear the kid screaming at his crewmate, clearly not realising that his buddy was incapable of returning fire – and wouldn’t be able to hit me even if he could. I loaded a venomball and a grogball and slammed each of them into their sloop – the grogball hit the crewmate, killing him instantly. The kid was running around, clearly panicking or swapping weapons, or both. I unloaded cannonball after cannonball into the sloop, landing shot after shot beneath the water line. As I fired the final shot, I saw the kid swordlunge toward my sloop – I ran to the steps and equipped my blunderbuss. As he climbed up the ladder, still cursing me out, I had time to say:
“I gave you a chance, you should've taken it. Learn.”
Then I shot him in the face and watched their sloop sink. The whole confrontation had lasted less than 30 seconds, I think – a blur of cannonfire and adrenaline. A moment after the sloop sank beneath the waves, the treasure began to appear. First one chest, then another, and another. Captain’s chests, Ashen chests, Seafarer’s chests. Gunpowder barrels. Various skulls. Cargo. The sheer amount of loot this kid had been sitting on was crazy – and still I can’t work out why he had it all. He’d been parked at Plunder Outpost for ages so had had plenty of time to unload it, but for some reason hadn’t. I’d offered him an alliance, which would have allowed him to have kept it all… or he could have sailed away. Instead, he picked a poorly advised fight – which he lost – and went to the Ferry of the Damned spitting anger and vitriol. Needless to say, I retrieved and sold every single item at my leisure, then offloaded all of my kit. By the end of it, I was thousands of gold up on the day, and my Merchant Alliance and Order of Souls rep had been swelled. I’d like to think the kid learned something, but somehow I doubt it.
Looking back through my blog, I mention Sea of Thieves regularly but I haven’t actually dedicated a post to it since August – back when the Cursed Sails expansion launched. Since then, the game has continued to develop at a solid pace, with each new feature added remaining in the game and expanding the whole. Cursed Sails introduced Skeleton Crews to the game, which now exist in the same way that Skeleton Forts have since the game launched – with a cloud above them that players can sail toward to enter battle if they choose. The more recent Forsaken Shores expansion has opened up a whole new area called the Devil’s Roar – an area in which the environment itself is out to get you, where volcanic rocks hurled into the sky can sink an unattended ship in moments, and where boiling seas can cook swimming pirates to death before they can reach shore. The riches to be found in this area are worth more than almost anything else in the game, as a trade off to the considerable risk it takes to obtain them. Regular Bilge Rat Adventures add smaller features to the game, most recently the ability to light beacons around the world with different coloured flames – earned by dying in different ways. Bilge Rat adventures also offer players the opportunity to earn an additional currency (doubloons!) that they can use to purchase time limited cosmetics… or levels with the existing factions that eventually take you to Pirate Legend status.
As these expansions have shipped, it’s pretty clear that Rare are listening to their audience and adapting. Cursed Sails featured a time limited campaign that could literally only be completed by playing at some awkward hours – Forsaken Shores removed that requirement, while upping the difficulty. More recent Bilge Rat Adventures have also lasted longer, reducing the intensity of the play needed to complete them. Personally, this is something that I like – being able to combine these with other voyages instead of having to concentrate exclusively on them makes me enjoy them more.
With regard to Pirate Legend status, I’m still not there – but it’s close now. I can almost see it. I hit level 50 with the Gold Hoarders and sail the ship to prove it, and Order of Souls and Merchant Alliance are both sat just under 44. The introduction of Cargo Runs is making the merchant voyages far more enjoyable – and also give something that can be done in a comparatively short space of time. All of this is almost incidental though, as I’m still playing Sea of Thieves for the simple reason that it regularly generates stories like the one at the start of this article.
I’ve played a lot of games. I’ve played some of them for extensive amounts of time, too – but I’ve simply never played anything as free-form as the experience that Sea of Thieves offers. While the criticism of “no content” was maybe reasonable at launch (even if I didn’t particularly agree with it), the pace at which Rare is adding new things to do is impressive. Each time I log in to the game (which at the moment is most days in any given week, even if it’s only for a quick 30 minute cargo run!), I never know what to expect. The presence of another player can make a game or ruin it in moments. A storm can blow you off course or force you into an area of the map that you have no reason to be in – which can lead to you stumbling across extra treasure that you weren’t really looking for. The only thing that’s guaranteed with each login is fun – and in the last few weeks, I’ve found a new way of having even more of it.
Because if sailing solo is fun, and sailing with my regular galleon crew is even more fun, I think I’ve found the peak of the mountain – and that’s sailing with my kids. A couple of weeks back, a third Xbox One found its way into my house, meaning that I can play Sea of Thieves on a Brigantine with both of my kids. Pretty much every other night, some bits and pieces are moved around so that the three of us can sit in a row across the games room and landing, sailing together. We take it in turns to kit out the ship. We take in turns to decide on a mission type. I’ll steer and navigate, my son mans the anchor and cannons, my daughter mans the sails and flags and keeps an eye on the horizon from the crow’s nest. Last night we took out the skeleton ships together for the first time – my son detonating gunpowder barrels in their holds after boarding, and my daughter keeping us afloat. It was stressful chaos, full of close moments that forced us to rely on each other. We laughed and fought, and had the time of our lives. It’s bringing us all closer together, and I think they’re learning a bit about teamwork and communication too. It’s the first game we’ve played together that we all enjoy equally because there’s no sense of competing with one another – we win or sink together, and there’s no first place or last place.
So, yeah. Sea of Thieves continues to be my favourite game of 2018. If you haven’t played it, please give it a chance. If you need a crewmate, you can find me on XBL. Honestly, you’re missing out on a treat. Rare's future plans are due to be announced tonight at the XO18 event, and this sailor's going to be paying close attention. We know that fog is coming - here's hoping that one of the unannounced changes is allowing multiple ships in a party onto a single server! Finger crossed...