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

XBox: The Official Magazine (US) - - FRONT PAGE - Adam Bryant

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).

Mak­ing waves

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.

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