Sea of Thieves has proven to be polarizing.
Critics and fans alike were divided when the game launched last year. Sea of Thieves has little structured narrative, save for that you make yourself. There’s no vertical power progression grind to keep users hooked, with rewards focusing entirely on cosmetics. Sea of Thieves is a sandbox game with a flat progression system, where players are encouraged to make their own fun, interacting with others and using the game’s array of wacky pirate tools. As such, it struggled to appeal to vast swaths of gamers who had hoped for a more structured title.
Most of Sea of Thieves’ biggest critics agreed on one thing, however, and that is the game’s potential. Here’s how Rare’s upcoming content drop, dubbed the “Anniversary Update,” might be the one that helps convert bystanders into active players
We went hands-on with the first mission in Rare’s “Tall Tales” feature, which is the studio’s ambitious attempt to bring cinematic story experiences into Sea of Thieves’ multiplayer world.
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If Indiana Jones was a pirate
Tall Tales is Sea of Thieves’ first real shot at structured story-telling, complete with professional voice-overs, content-specific musical cues, and set-piece events. What makes Tall Tales unique, however, is that all of that story structure still exists within the framework of the Sea of Thieves world. If players attack you mid-quest, that simply becomes part of your story.
Tall Tales’ first story arc (more will be added in future updates) is comprised of nine separate missions, kickstarted by the Mysterious Stranger, who hangs around in Sea of Thieves’ various taverns. Right from the start, Tall Tales represents a step-up in production quality from Rare, with a fully-voiced introduction and suitably ominous music to match. The Mysterious Stranger tells players about an artifact that will allow them to access new lands, known as the Shroudbreaker, granting players a weathered journal full of clues to decipher.
Tall Tales will turn hungry treasure seekers into archaeologists, with an array of procedurally-generated puzzles and quests. Like in-game maps, players can hold up journal pages for others to read, which contain all sorts of whimsical riddles and diagrams. The journals introduce further complexity when it comes to finding your next heading, adding an air of romantic mystery to proceedings.
The journals pointed me towards a shipwreck, and I backtracked through the ship’s logs for a clue at the Shroudbreaker’s location. Rare noted that the journals will try to send crews to different locations to reduce chances of plot device overlap, but everything you’ll experience still takes place within Sea of Thieves’ dynamic world. In closed server conditions, we didn’t encounter any enemy ships, but when the update drops at the end of April, there’s no reason we couldn’t have. Many of Tall Tales’ quest items and keys are physical objects, too, meaning they can be stolen or lost to the ocean depths, which creates a sense of desperate attachment to the ancient relics you’ll gather along the way.
The game now has openable chests, complete with spots for storing items. The unfortunate pirates had abandoned their quest for the Shroudbreaker, and inside their chest we found more clues and a small statue that appeared to be a key of some sort.
After more riddle solving, a tense encounter with a Kraken and a skeleton ship, we made our way to a hidden shrine ensconced behind a waterfall. Simply entering the shrine felt ominous, flanked by spooky music unique to the encounter.
Aztec-inspired reliefs stood carved into the wall, overshadowing a small altar in a waterlogged alcove. Once the entire crew was inside, the door behind us slammed shut, and water started pouring in from above. At the imminent risk of drowning, we then had to rapidly solve a puzzle using obscure, smudged notes from the journals and weathered hieroglyphs on the walls. Failed puzzle attempts increased the speed at which the water was pouring in, making the four-player panic all the more palpable. My crewmates managed to solve the puzzle, and we were rewarded with a treasure room and pointers to the next part of the journey, while getting ambushed by a new breed of skeletal enemies.
Just this small hint at a wider Sea of Thieves world was incredibly exciting, with Rare teasing various other tomb types, traps, new enemies, and access to new islands, including the largest landmass the game has ever seen thus far.
Cooking, fishing, grappling hooking
Alongside Tall Tales, Rare is also injecting a range of new features to elevate the overall experience. The result is a greater sense of depth, in addition to more things to do for solo players or while waiting for friends to come online.
After a fairly sizeable and consistent feedback cry, Rare finally added fishing mechanics, and they work extremely well. If you’ve tried fishing in Far Cry 5 or Red Dead Redemption 2, you’ll find Rare’s offering relatively similar. Bait is a physical object in Sea of Thieves, and there are various types: Leeches, worms, grubs, and more, and fish prefer different kinds in different scenarios. Of course, you can also chow down on the bait, in typical Sea of Thieves style. It might make you sick, though…
There are currently 50 types of fish to catch in-game, ranging from small fries to relatively big beasties, and a new trading company headed by Merrick is eager and willing to purchase all of your fish meat. In fact, he’s eager to purchase any and all meat, since now all of Sea of Thieves’ animals drop fleshy morsels behind when they die. And you can cook them, too. Using a stove on board your ship or out in the wild, you can drop items onto the pan and fry them up. Merrick will pay a premium for properly cooked meat, so pay attention to that browning chicken drumstick. Alternatively, you can eat cooked food to gain a small pool of additional health. Beyond fish and animal meat, there is also a pile of new fruit to accompany those pesky bananas.