Changes are afoot on the Sea of Thieves. In fairness, since the game dropped it's been in a constant state of growth and change - patches and content drops have transformed it from its original vanilla version into what it is today, and every change to my mind has been for the better. I find it almost impossible to believe that the game actually dropped nearly a year ago. This time last year, I think we were playing a beta. I'd already been voyaging in the alpha for a while before that, and here I am now, sat at a laptop writing about a game that I logged out of only an hour ago. My little sail this evening was spent introducing a good irl buddy to my favourite game, taking a colossal enjoyment in his laughs of excitement and amusement as the game mechanics were explained to him and the game started to drop into place. There aren't many games I've played almost daily for a year and that still feel as fresh and unpredictable as Sea of Thieves does.
Ah, who am I kidding? There aren't any other games that I've played like this one that still affect me like this one does.
It's been a fairly quiet couple of months though. The Shrouded Spoils update that landed at the end of November really solidified the gameplay loop for the core game - making it more exciting and even less predictable than it had been previously. Watching the influx of new players, it's had the desired effect I think. I rarely seem to end up on an empty server these days, and run into new players constantly. Since that update though, we haven't seen much in the way of new content. There's been the new Mercenary Voyage - intended to help onboard new players by giving them a single voyage offering a taste of the whole game, that brought with it rewards high enough to incentivise veteran players into voluntarily hand-holding. And then there have been the curious updates to the ship models.
All of the ships have experienced three notable changes. The first is the height of the bell on the mast, which has been dropped. It seems like a strange cosmetic change to make for no reason, leading some players to wonder whether or not the new position will allow it to act as some kind of perch for the pets that have long been on the horizon. Then there's the new cutouts in the front of the ship - where guardrails used to be, there are now noticeable gaps in the front of all of the ships. Some people are thinking these could be in place to make space for front-facing cannons, or harpoon guns. Or for fishing rods (seriously, the SoT community has a bizarre obsession with fishing). Or lobster pots. Or maybe they'll be a point that can be used for boarding if boarding axes are added to the game.
Finally, a stove has appeared below decks. Some players are using this to lend credence to their fishing theories, thinking that we'll be able to not only catch fish but also cook them. Personally, I've got limited interest in fishing unless there's some compelling reason to do it - but to each their own, I guess. In addition to all the theories and ideas kicking around, there are some more solid tidbits available - we know the "Arena" PvP mode is on the way, and the team have also alluded to offering more mercenary voyages down the line. It's possible that these will be used to expand the lore of the game, which lacks any real campaign - and which some players have been vocal in their requests for.
All of these things sound as though they'll offer fun and exciting new facets to the game - but for me there's one thing that Sea of Thieves will continue to suffer from. And it's something the game will always lack, regardless of how much content is pushed into it - and it's that the game limits your fun by limiting your friends.
The biggest ship on the Sea of Thieves is the galleon, and it carries four people. But for a long while now, four people just isn't enough. My situation probably isn't unusual, but I'll spell it out here as it offers insight into why I desperately want what I'm hoping for. I'm an admin in a Destiny clan (DoD Storm - you can find us on bungie.net, or at our clan website here, or get in touch via the Dads of Destiny). Like most Destiny clans, the number of our members actually still playing Destiny is falling. We've got people playing The Division 2 (or they will be), Anthem, Warframe, Monster Hunter World, Forza Horizon 4, and Sea of Thieves. Only being able to get four people into a game is a very real constraint for us.
It's possible to get more people in - you can sail around and approach other ships in the hope that they'll invite one of you to their crew and then leave - but doing this has two major shortcomings in that it takes a lot of time and it's very unpredictable. Finding other ships can sometimes be difficult - as the game intentionally places you at a distance from other players on spawn in. Even if you manage to find another ship though, there's no way to predict whether or not they'll co-operate with you - or even if they'll wait to hear you out before opening fire. Put simply, the amount of effort required to get more than 4 people into a server is too much, and often takes so long that even when we succeed (which isn't often) we are left with little time to actually play the game. Some players, being creative souls, have called upon Rare to add another, larger ship to the game. These guys can be found on the forums requesting a six or eight player "Man o' War" class ship, armed with a million cannons and more masts and bigger anchors. I can see why they're asking for something like that, but I also think they're missing two points.
Firstly, fitting a new, larger ship into the game would be a logistical nightmare for the developers. Aside from creating a new ship model, which I'm sure would be time-consuming and challenging in itself, there's the consideration of the world around it. The seas around many outposts are just about deep enough for the galleon - any larger ship needing to sit lower in the water would either run aground constantly or require the developers to change the sea level in many parts of the map. I'm not a developer... but that doesn't sound easy to me. Or quick. There are rocks dotted around the map that a well-piloted galleon can slip between. A larger ship wouldn't be able to. Then there are the islands that we can sail into - Smuggler's Bay and Thieves' Haven immediately spring to mind. A larger ship would have no chance. Is that a problem? I'm not sure... but it sounds to me as though a larger ship would in some ways be at a disadvantage. The second issue with a larger ship though is that it doesn't really solve the issue - it just moves the goalposts of it. Putting in a ship that can support 6 players is a lot of work that doesn't solve the problem for people who want to get 8 friends onto a server. Or 10.
So now I'm going to do something that I try to never do - and that's actually spell out something that I think could be done to improve the game. I hate it when other people do this, generally - but I'm prepared to give myself a pass on this one. I've sailed 3.6 million metres in the game - so I think on this occasion I've really earned the right to voice an idea. Buckle up, guys - here we go.
Here's what I'd like. I'd like to sign in to the game, and select a mode. Then, I'd like to be able to invite people into my lobby. Say up to 10. Or 12. Once everyone's in, the lobby closes, and the game offers us a combination of ships to suit the numbers. If we've got 12, maybe it offers up two galleons and two sloops. Or four brigantines. We split up into crews so that each ship is filled, and then we spawn. It drops us into a server, dotted around at Outposts all over the map. We need to sail and find each other to form an alliance - and with that done, we wander off and do our voyages separately, or sail as a fleet. Or we sink and troll one another. Or all of the above.
At this point, this is the single thing I want the most from the game. I want the game to allow me to have as much fun with it as I know I could have, if only it would let me. For the moment, as much fun as I'm having with the game (and let's be clear, I'm having a LOT of fun with the game still), there's a bit of me that feels like that amount of fun is being held back a bit. Every time I play the Pirate Legend shanty and hear the girl singing "We shall sail together," a part of me answers with "I wish we could." I've no idea whether Rare are listening or not, but on this I really hope they are. It's only my opinion, but I honestly think that adding something like this to the game would add more longevity than something like fishing. I just really hope we get given the chance for that thought to be proven right or wrong.