The ship­ping fore­cast

Sea Of Thieves set sail with a light cargo of con­tent, but its de­vel­op­ers have much more planned in the com­ing months

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We love be­ing vir­tual buc­ca­neers as much as any­one. More than most, ac­tu­ally, if you were to mea­sure that love in the num­ber of ‘Aaaaaar!’s emit­ted per minute while play­ing Sea Of Thieves. But as we men­tioned in our re­view last month, it’s an un­avoid­able truth that Rare’s freeform pi­rat­i­cal sand­box isn’t laden with things to do at present.

Rather than write such a po­ten­tial­filled game off though, we’ve been lis­ten­ing to the whis­pers of the ocean waves (and trawl­ing Red­dit) find­ing out what Rare has planned in fu­ture for it. Ex­act timescales have yet to be pinned down, of course, but the de­vel­op­ers are mak­ing lots of en­cour­ag­ing noises re­gard­ing quests, cus­tomi­sa­tion, di­ver­sions, and more.

One such planned ad­di­tion is that of four-player sloops. This is big news for sea­far­ing gamers be­cause, with­out wish­ing to be crude, size re­ally does mat­ter. Your en­tire ex­pe­ri­ence is rad­i­cally shifted when you elect to go solo on a sloop rather than a galleon – it’s cheaper, lone­lier, and re­moves the crew com­mu­ni­ca­tion that proves such a lynch­pin of the wider game in favour of lone wolf-ing it through ev­ery chal­lenge and com­bat en­counter. Soon it may not sim­ply be a de­ci­sion of go­ing it alone on a sloop or in a crew of four on a galleon, though: “We’re look­ing to add the abil­ity to play pub­licly or pri­vately on any ship you choose af­ter launch,” says de­sign direc­tor Mike Chap­man. “Sup­port­ing a four-player crew on the sloop is some­thing we’re look­ing at.” There’s even talk of im­ple­ment­ing row­boats for mov­ing be­tween galleons (or in­deed sloops) and dry land. The team pro­to­typed it and en­joyed the re­sults in­ter­nally, and have pub­licly stated their in­ter­est in adding the fea­ture at a later date. Oddly though, phys­i­cal an­chors are out of the ques­tion. Cur­rently you can drop an­chor, but noth­ing ac­tu­ally falls off the boat and down onto the ocean floor. Ap­par­ently the devs de­cided the re­sources re­quired to make this hap­pen just weren’t worth it.

Throw of a dice

Granted, news of the new­found abil­ity to hud­dle to­gether in a smaller boat might not be suf­fi­cient to lure play­ers back who might have tried the game at launch and found it lack­ing ex­cit­ing gub­bins. For those in­di­vid­u­als, the loom­ing pos­si­bil­ity of mini-games might scratch the itch. Ac­tiv­i­ties such as dice and card games were briefly teased dur­ing the game’s pre-re­lease ap­pear­ances but have yet to get past the pro­to­typ­ing stage. The devs are open to their fu­ture in­clu­sion though: “If we put dice in the game we’d love to see what play­ers do with them,” says ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Joe Neate. “For ex­am­ple, us­ing them to di­rect your ad­ven­ture. Roll six to head West!” Such an ad­di­tion would sit in line with

“There’s some dis­agree­ment as to whether fish­ing’s a pi­rat­i­cal ac­tiv­ity”

the over­ar­ch­ing de­sign phi­los­o­phy of

Sea Of Thieves, which is never to draw the player out of the game world. Af­ter tak­ing such great ef­forts to have you fight, com­mu­ni­cate, steer a ship, and play the hurdy-gurdy with­out hav­ing to delve into static menus, it’d be im­mer­sion-break­ing to have to do so in or­der to roll some dice. How­ever, with the game’s re­lent­less fetch quest struc­ture at risk of wear­ing a bit thin by rep­e­ti­tion at present, kick­ing back for a game of cards with some AI chums, or in­deed your own crew­mates, sounds like an ideal, im­mer­sion-friendly palate cleanser. There’s a mu­si­cal up­date planned soon too: drums. Ev­ery pi­rate band needs a rock-solid rhythm sec­tion, af­ter all, and the rather ba­sic skins planned for in­clu­sion are cer­tainly lore-friendly.

Per­haps it’s the im­mer­sion fac­tor that has Rare um­ming and aahing about the pos­si­ble in­clu­sion of a fish­ing me­chanic, too. There’s some dis­agree­ment at the Twycross stu­dio as to whether fish­ing’s a par­tic­u­larly pi­rat­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, although they have ex­pressed at least an in­ter­est in its fu­ture in­clu­sion. We’d ar­gue that a diet of crack­ers and grog alone is dan­ger­ously mal­nour­ish­ing, and that a tuna steak here and there does no end of good for crew morale – but what do we know? We don’t even have a par­rot on our shoul­der.

Oh, speak­ing of: changes are afoot (or a-peg, to use the pi­rate-friendly ver­nac­u­lar) for pets, too. Ini­tially an­nounced as the game’s first post- launch mi­cro­trans­ac­tions, Neate later clar­i­fied that “we’re con­sid­er­ing all op­tions and they’re part of our on­go­ing ser­vice. We don’t have plans for them to be bought with gold but we’re look­ing at po­ten­tial ways play­ers could earn them.” It’ll be pos­si­ble to own sev­eral dif­fer­ent pets, but sadly – nay, trag­i­cally – you’ll only be able to take one of them out with you on a voy­age at a time. No recre­at­ing Bib­li­cal arks quite yet, then.

New looks

For the fash­ion-for­ward pi­rate, there’s more good news. Rare’s work­ing on new cus­tomi­sa­tion op­tions that will al­low play­ers to change their hair colour via the Van­ity Chest, and also a tat­too cus­tomi­sa­tion sys­tem that looks to re­ward play­ers for their ac­com­plish­ments – un­lock­ing a kraken tat­too af­ter de­feat­ing one on the high seas, say. They say tat­toos tell a per­son’s story, and in ev­ery­day life that story is usu­ally ‘I wanted to

look like a re­al­ity TV star/got drunk near a tat­too par­lour’ so the idea of more mean­ing­ful scrib­bles is one to wel­come with open arms.

Fur­ther­more on the cus­tomi­sa­tion front, it ap­pears that the Leg­endary Ships un­locked by be­com­ing a Pi­rate Leg­end (see ‘Videogame Piracy’) aren’t as pro­foundly dif­fer­ent in their fea­tures as some in the com­mu­nity were ex­pect­ing. In other words: they’re al­most cer­tainly just cos­metic changes. “When we bring in ship captaincy the leg­endary cos­met­ics that you ac­quire will ap­ply to both sloop and galleon,” said Chap­man on the mat­ter. No men­tion of ex­tra crew slots or spe­cial fea­tures that some had rather spec­u­la­tively ex­pected would com­prise the Leg­endary Ship pack­age. And re­ally, that’s prob­a­bly for the best – the game’s de­signed as a level play­ing field for ev­ery­one re­gard­less of their hours loot­ing and plun­der­ing. The cut­lass, blun­der­buss and rifle you’re armed with are the same for ev­ery pi­rate in the land, so why should the ships be any dif­fer­ent?

Mak­ing it hap­pen

We’ll leave you with this from Chap­man, who re­cently teased the first of sev­eral planned spe­cial in- game events (think Over­watch) via a rhyming rid­dle: “New vis­i­tors soon there may be, trav­el­ling far across the sea, depth of night with eyes aglow, crawl­ing the earth cast in shadow.” It’s not Ted Hughes, but it gets the info across. You can ex­pect a spooky night-time event that likely in­tro­duces a new skele­ton type, the Shadow skele­ton. These lugubri­ous fel­lows are much more dan­ger­ous than your ev­ery­day bag-o’-bones, but they’re also vul­ner­a­ble to sun­light or even your lantern. Hence the name, we guess. Rare clearly plans to ex­pand Sea

Of Thieves, and in­deed the stu­dio’s hard at work on mi­nor up­dates to im­prove performance and sta­bil­ity at the mo­ment. But with­out a firm time scale on any of those afore­men­tioned ad­di­tions we’re still not con­fi­dent that it’ll have enough to stay afloat for long af­ter re­lease. The fun­da­men­tals are all in place, but we need to see more sub­stan­tial con­tent drops like the event teased above in or­der to keep us in­ter­ested in the world – and to keep us grind­ing away at its sys­tems.

Above Soon it won’t just be galleons you can crew with mates, but sloops too.

right What will cheer up these list­less faces? Rare has a few neat ideas.

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