Sea of thieves
behind the scenes on rare’s pirate adventure New gameplay details explored See inside Rare HQ We talk to the team about future plans
Regale yer tales of treasure ye plunder, while weathering storms surrounded by thunder. Among friends is how you’ll sail the highseas. Arrr, that’s the pirate’s life in
Sea Of Thieves. This March, after almost a year and half of a thorough shakedown cruise with its gaming community, Sea Of Thieves will begin its maiden voyage on a journey that looks set to last for many years.
Just in case you’ve been stranded on a remote island somewhere, Sea Of Thieves is the latest title from veteran studio Rare—creator of games like Banjo Kazooie, Viva Piñata, and Perfect Dark. It’s a game about fulfilling your piratical fantasies, from every swashbuckling story you’ve ever read, to every mutineering movie you’ve ever watched. The promise is huge, and with the help of the community, the team at Rare is confident they can pull it off. This month, we headed over to Rare’s studio in Twycross to take a closer look at how it’s creating this piratical playground, and chat to the team about future plans.
So where do you start in this wonderful watery world? Well, firstly you’ll need to create your very own roving reprobate. The customization options for your character will be vast right from the get-go but you’ll gain more cosmetic
items throughout the game by either purchasing them from merchants or gaining them through rewards from Voyages ( Sea Of Thieves’ name for quests) to further develop your individuality, from peg-legs and eyepatches, to flintlock pistols, compasses, and even musical instruments.
Unfurl the sails
These Voyages will predominantly be dished out by three factions, or Trading Companies, within the game: The Gold Hoarders, The Merchant Alliance, and The Order of Souls. You’ll gain reputation with each of these enigmatic entrepreneurs by completing the activities and Voyages they offer, and get promoted within their ranks to earn not just gold but unique items and titles that you can use to show off your progress to your buccaneering buddies. As you increase your reputation you’ll gain access to richer and more rewarding Voyages which will challenge you and your crew of riotous rapscalions.
“When we first approached progression, our goal was to reward players for the time they spent on adventures,” explains design director Mike Chapman. “At the same time, we put a lot of focus into removing barriers and ensuring that whatever decisions we made never jeopardized the freedom we gave players around how they play and who they could play with.”
Sea Of Thieves also consists of three beautifully distinct areas: The Shores of Plenty is the more stereotypical pirate location, with its golden beaches, lush palm trees, and Caribbean aesthetic, The Ancient Isles will scratch the adventurer’s itch in you with its dark caves and traces of ancient civilization, and then there is The Wilds, which will be darker and more oppressive, filled with death and decay. Each of these locations will provide a wide range of activities, and are thematically fitting with each of the Trading Companies. Battling with other players, sailing, drinking, and singing sea shanties is all well and good, but it means nothing if the sea of inspiration runs dry after a few hours of cycling through the same tasks. So it’s a good thing then that Sea Of Thieves is filled with ridiculous emergent stories that you can share with your friends. Like the time we found a cursed chest during the closed beta that made whoever was holding it severely drunk. What followed was a series of hilariously challenging maneuvers to not only get the chest on board without falling backwards off the ladder but to walk along the pier to hand in the chest before veering off into the water. In the end it took us longer to hand in the chest and claim our reward than it did to locate it in the first place. During the same play session, we ran out of planks of wood to plug the various holes we sustained after a relentless bombardment of cannonfire from a rival pirate crew. We all scrambled ashore and made a desperate dash, avoiding the hordes
“In the end it took us longer to hand in the chest and claim the reward than it did to locate it in the first place”
of skeletons hot on our heels, to find some wood and save our ship. Working as a team, we remained afloat. It’s these moments that make SOT so special.
“At the heart of it, we want to take players on an epic journey of starting as a newcomer in a treacherous pirate world, allowing them the freedom to explore and engage in different activities, so they’ll build a reputation and set out on the path to becoming a Pirate Legend,” says Chapman (although he remained tightlipped about what being a Pirate Legend will mean).
Jumping into a persistent online world can be a little off-putting for some, especially when many of the players have already been exploring the game before you. But Rare has got your back—the idea here is that you are part of your crew, and every crew member can contribute no matter how long you’ve been playing. “The Voyages themselves are physical objects that other players can see, and reflect the playstyle and that specific player’s progress in the game,” says Chapman. “For example, I could play with a crew and bring my high-level treasure Voyage to the table, which would look like a fancy gilded scroll, and place it on the Captain’s table for all the crew to see. Everyone in the crew could then vote, using physical daggers stuck next to the scroll. Once the crew agrees, everyone gets to share in the reputation and gold once they overcome the challenge and complete it.”
And that’s not all. Rare has gone to great lengths to make sure that everyone can get involved regardless of how far someone might have progressed. “Although the complexity of the Voyages and the threats players will face in the world will increase as they progress in the game, we wanted to ensure that we didn’t do anything that would potentially separate a first-time player from another who may have played for countless hours,” explains Chapman. He’s keen to stress, though, that this won’t mean activities and threats will be easy for more experienced swashbucklers. “I believe this is sometimes a common misconception of games that don’t have power progression. A lot of games that do feature that kind of power progression are really just pulling a clever psychological trick and as a player’s stats increase, so do the stats of the threats that you need to overcome to continue progressing. In Sea Of Thieves you’ll face stronger and more numerous challenges
as you progress. But by not scaling your stats, you’ll not only have to learn different tactics as you play, you’ll never need to be separated from other players because you have an unfair stats advantage.” Rare has designed the game so that there is no such thing as a character level (“there is not a one-dimensional number that you see above players’ heads”) and the weapons players have at the start of the game never become more powerful. You’ll acquire other weapons as you play, to create different strategic options in each scenario, but crucially you won’t stumble across a pirate who can kill you with a single swing of their epic level 78 cutlass. Other games expect new players to ‘catch up’ in order to participate in the same activities that your more experienced friends can. Not Sea Of Thieves.
Charting a course
In order to complete these Voyages, though, you’ll have to get yourself a ship—either a Galleon with three other crew members or on a sloop to play solo or with another player. Although the game is designed to be explored with others, these options allow you to play the game exactly how you want to. With the full-sized Galleons, you’ll have to work as a team to navigate the treacherous seas. One of you will steer the ship, but your line of sight is blocked by the sails, so you’ll rely on a crew member to jump into the crow’s nest to keep an eye out for enemies and any obstacles in your way. Someone will also need to change the direction of the sails, raise and lower the capstan, and plot a course for the ship using the map.
The whole ship is designed so that it is only possible to control with a crew of either three or four. The smaller ships don’t have these limitations, allowing you to pilot them solo, although bringing another crew member will make your pirate life easier. It’s in these subtle ways that Rare will encourage you to play with others, making the transition to larger ships over time. You’ll also only have two cannons on the smaller ships, which means they lack firepower, though they make up for it with extra maneuverability.
While the romance of setting sail on your own is quite an attractive one, and a completely viable option for those who wish to, it seems that Rare hopes it’ll be used as a stepping stone to play a bigger part in a larger world. “[You] do have the ability to take out ships on your own,” explains executive producer Joe Neate. “However, this takes place in a shared world, so you will be encountering other players out there on their own adventures and it can be a challenging experience. We’d encourage everyone to try crewing up with other players. It is a social game like no other, and my most memorable experiences have been playing with strangers I’ve met in the world we’ve created.”
Sea Of Thieves is an incredibly social game, with all the tools and mechanics centered around creating positive social experiences. Because of this, the team at Rare focused on building a community around the game long before launch. Selected from the Sea Of Thieves Insider Program, this community has been integral throughout the development
“It’s an incredibly social game, with all the mechanics centered around creating positive social experiences”
above This chaos reminds us of the time we first set sail and crashed our ship.
below It’s not just in the game that Rare has gone full pirate.