Still sailing the Sea of Thieves.
It's been a while since I've mentioned it on here, what with Elden Ring consuming my single player gaming time and Halo Infinite still regularly pulling me in for multiplayer murder shenanigans, but I'm still sailing. Sea of Thieves remains a game I jump into regularly - and the only game that I'll fire up during a working day, sail to an island and just enjoy the sounds of the game without actually playing it. There's some serious ASMR going on in the game's sound design - parked up at an island, you'll hear gently lapping waves, gulls and various birds and eventually rain and distant thunder... with the odd bit of cannon fire thrown in for good measure. As soundscapes go, it's truly wonderful.
Rare's concept of the game as an ever-evolving sandbox continues to serve it well, with more and more bits and pieces being added to the game every couple of months via its new seasonal model. Well, I say 'new' - we're up to the last weeks of Season Six at this point, but I can't help but carrying on thinking of it as being a 'new thing' given the sheer amount of time I spent playing the game before it appeared. The latest big ticket added feature is that of Adventures. There have been a couple so far, with a third reportedly on the horizon. They're fun, I guess... but they don't really add anything to the game that we've not seen before.
To a degree, my slightly muted response to these new additions feels like the game being a victim of its own success. The addition of the exceptional "A Pirate's Life" expansion set the bar for new narrative content in Sea of Thieves very high indeed - and while it's maybe not fair to compare the more recent additions to the game to an expansion of that size, it's something that's inevitably going to happen. These new adventures, then, are intended to tell an ongoing episodic story with each of them fitting in to a larger, overarching narrative. Thus far, they're intentionally much shorter experiences that can be finished off from start to finish in a couple of hours - the first (Shrouded Islands) had us investigating the wreckage of a newly abandoned Golden Sands outpost, while the second one (Forts of the Forgotten) had us exploring some newly appeared sea forts that have popped up in various locations around the map. Once docked, fighting and pilfering would be the order of the day - as usual - with the added task of freeing the prisoners.
These prisoners turned out to be the various NPC's from Golden Sands - and it was nice to see them all again. The shock of seeing Golden Sands in ruins ranked up there with the death of Cayde-6 in Destiny 2 for some of us (me!), and it was a genuine relief to discover them alive and well locked in the prison cells on the various forts. Since being rescued, they've disappeared again - insofar as they haven't yet made it back to Golden Sands. I'm hopeful though that that will be the big reward at the end of the last adventure in this little saga.
The new forts are all well and good - they look different depending on which area of the world you're in, but the layout remains the same across all of them. Rare have attempted to mix this up a bit - in particular by hiding a key for a loot filled store room in a random location, and by positioning hatches in the floor slightly differently - but broadly speaking once you've run around and become familiar with the layout of one of them, you've seen them all. While it's easy to understand the technical reason for this as well as their stated intention of being something a player could hop into the game and complete in about 30 minutes, it still feels like a bit of a missed trick to me. One of the best things about Sea of Thieves is how distinct each island feels. Like a lot of long time players, I can tell which Outpost I've spawned at within moments of my pirate's eyes opening. Spawning at an island after a sink, I can usually guess exactly which island I'm at before I've even reached my ship. These new forts are, for all intents and purposes, identical - and that makes them stand out against everything else in the game.
One unexpected area of fun the forts offer though is the impact they can have on PvP - I've been beaten by crews unexpectedly turning a fort against me, and I've also done it to someone else. The latter was by far the most fun - being pursued by a galleon, we abandoned our brigantine to a single player with the instruction to "just sail around the fort, and we'll sort the galleon out." The sheer amount of firepower you can put down from a fort is... staggering. It's not that you can fire the static cannons faster, as you can't. What you can do though is aim more reliably than anyone on a ship's gun deck. You can also move from one cannon emplacement to the next, to the next, and to the next as a ship sails around it. The result was a galleon crew who seemed to take a moment or two to figure out what was going on - in which time they'd received multiple holes to the hull, lost a mast, and been set on fire.
The conflict ended a couple of minutes later, with a sunken galleon and a murdered crew and an exchange of 'gg' messages across the game's chat feature - another victory of the 'tools not rules' philosophy that continues to drive the game's development. It's fair to say that even if the most recent adventure felt a bit lacking, the decision to leave the forts in the world was an excellent one.
So, yeah. I'm still playing Sea of Thieves, and I'm still enjoying it - and I'm not sure I can imagine my Xbox without it, at this point.