We're a week out from the launch of Rare's Sea of Thieves for Xbox One and Windows 10. The reviews have come in a bit rough and choppy, landing an aggregate score of 67 on OpenCritic and 70 on Metacritic. The user scores are about the same, sitting at an average of 3.5 out of 5 stars on the Xbox Store.
The calls from the community have been clear: many like the core game loop of Sea of Thieves, but they feel the game is a bit undercooked in terms of content. They want more customization, more islands, more voyages to go on. A recently-planned change by Rare, a gold tax on player deaths, was actually vetoed by the community causing the studio to backtrack on the idea. Instead, in a Developer Update today, Rare is working on fixing server issues and progression delays currently plaguing the game.
"A lot's happened in the last week. We've learned a lot. Our focus is 'Let make sure we can scale the game and get everyone playing the game.' Demand has been off the charts. We've seen record numbers, much higher than in our beta, which is awesome in some ways but also exposes some scale issues," said Rare Studio Head Craig Duncan in the Developer Update video.
Once Rare finishes smoothing out the online experience, what exactly could they do for the game next? What new stuff is the community looking for?
Shanties and Instruments
If Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag has taught me anything, it's that players love collecting pirate songs. In Sea of Thieves, players can take up their instruments to play a series of shanties together. The problem is, there are only two types of instruments in the game at the moment and only four sea shanties in total.
Rare has already released concept art of a fiddle as a potential instrument in the future, but there's much more than could be added. Bagpipes would offer a bit of Scottish flavor to the game. A quick search pointed to a seafaring instrument called a hautboy, which is a woodwind instrument in the style of the oboe. And I think fans would love to see a drum of some sort, though the current musical system would have to change to accommodate it.
When it comes to the shanties themselves, four just isn't cutting it. Black Flag had 35 sea shanties in total and Assassin's Creed Rogue upped that number to 49. There's plenty of room for additions here. Players have suggested that you could learn further sea shanties by finding them as messages in bottles out in the world, giving the collectors something to strive for.
Right now in Sea of Thieves, character creation is about choosing between the six avatars the game randomly generates for you, or rerolling those six until you find something that suits your fancy. Rare has already improved the Pirate Generator by adding a save feature, I'd prefer an actual pirate creator with choices and sliders.
Really, Sea of Thieves should offer more after you've chosen your pirate. Currently, you can purchase new beards, but there needs to be a barber of some sort to give players a wide variety of hair styles and colors. In addition, clothing purchased in the game is currently a single color; you might like that coat, but it's always going to be blue. Rare needs to add clothing dyes to the game, either as a built-in option or special items players can find on their travels.
The most mystifying omission at launch is the lack of tattoos. They feel like one of the signature parts of pirates in pop culture, but they're completely missing in the current game. The ability to either directly buy tattoos for your sailor or unlock them via achievement seems like a no brainer. Luckily, Rare thinks the same as well.
"Like hair color we're working on the design of how we get tattoos to players. We love the idea of unlocking a tattoo after an in game event. Our [Infinite Pirate Generator] tech means we can do this, we think it's super cool and we'll look at it post launch," said game designer Ted Timmins on a Reddit Ask Me Anything.
Like player customization, ship customization leaves a bit to be desired. Once again, your only option here is to purchase a number of different sails, ship figureheads, or paint jobs. The problem here is that they're largely set and don't allow for much in the way of player expression.
I know this is probably not a simple change to make—development is expensive and time-consuming—but Rare has a resource that can help in this regard. Turn 10 Studios (Forza Motorsport) and Playground Games (Forza Horizon) have extensive car customization systems, allowing players to paint their cars and design complex livery for them. The ability to paint your ship and at least have a limited sail designer would be a grand addition to Sea of Thieves.
Sea of Thieves is a game based around communication and player interaction and part of that is the look of your pirate and your ship. Currently, the options available to players are just okay, though they could be great with some options and further tweaking.
Given the focus on player interaction and player-vs-player combat, a number of Sea of Thieves fans have asked for some type of Bounty system. One way that certain crews cause grief is by camping outposts and waiting for another crew to return with their spoils. Then they kill them and turn in the treasure chest on their own.
Players want a system where a bounty is put on a crew with a significant kill/sink count. This bounty would mark the crew as wanted players and killing a crew with a bounty on it would offer additional rewards to the crew that brought them to justice.
Not only does a bounty system potentially lessen low-level griefing, it also allows for PVP-centric players to gain a certain amount of notoriety in the game. If you're being hunted, then you should get reputation with a new faction or better rewards the longer you can keep your bounty running. It's about rewarding potentially interesting play.
Right now, the tavern is a place you go to meet a total of two non-player characters. There's no reason to congregate in a tavern and have a bit of fun. Rare could offer some bar games. A card game of some sort—a look on the internet points to the 18th century card game Marias as one option—or games of chance like Craps. Hell, a way to gamble would be a cool way to pass the time and make outposts feel a bit more lively. Imagine being able to play Rare's version of Blackjack or Roulette while your crew cheers you on!
There's additional gameplay here, because adding a reason to stay around an outpost gives you more chances to meet other players. Or to follow certain well-to-do pirates back to their ships for some privateering.
That's just a few of the things that Sea of Thieves is currently missing in the near-term. That's not tackling other interesting additions like pets (which Rare has already confirmed are coming), being able to rebury treasure chests as an alternate storage measure, or further weapons like the planned Boarding Axe. There's so much room in the world of Sea of Thieves to add more color and life to the overall experience outside of what the players themselves bring to the table. We don't know the shape of Rare's content roadmap right now, but hopefully there's more magic on the way.