Sea of Thieves looks set to be taking more than a few risks. A multiplayer pirate adventure game on the high seas isn’t exactly your conventional video game, but Rare isn’t afraid of throwing players in at the deep end.
You’ll always start out your pirate adventure from a tavern, and from here you can group up with either one or three other pirates, commandeering your ship to claim buried treasure on remote islands. There was a fair bit of confusion in the Sea of Thieves closed beta as to what players were meant to do. Rare has handed players all the tools they need to venture out on their own pirate voyage, but beyond that, it hasn't explained much to the players.
There’s a lot more to Sea of Thieves, the whimsical pirate game, than at first meets the eye. Here’s seven things you didn’t know about Sea of Thieves.
It Wasn’t Pitched in the PowerPoint Way
When you think of how games are typically pitched to publishers, the traditional powerpoint presentation will undoubtedly cross you mind. And while three years ago Rare open its big pitch to Microsoft with a small powerpoint presentation, the studio then turned the meeting entirely on its head by presenting the publisher with a prototype of the game, ready for them to play then and there.
Rare had been working in secret for six months on a prototype of Sea of Thieves. Granted, this cobbled-together prototype made quickly in Unity didn’t look great, but it was fun to play. So fun in fact, that it entirely sold Phil Spencer and the rest of the Microsoft head honchos on Sea of Thieves. Rare executive producer Joe Neate retrospectively thinks getting Microsoft to play a rough build of Sea of Thieves there and then made a huge difference in convincing the publisher to give the project the green light.
Not only was Rare working on a Sea of Thieves prototype in Unity for six months, but it was also building a vertical slice of the game using the Unreal engine. After it had presented Microsoft with the rough build of the game in Unity, it was then able to show the publisher what the final version of Sea of Thieves would look like, using the Unreal version. Both these factors ultimately came together to form an entirely different, and memorable game pitch.
There Isn’t a Character Creator
If you’ve played Sea of Thieves during the alpha or beta sessions, you know that you get dropped into the game as a random pirate. This doesn’t change hugely in the final game, and while you’ll still start your game in a random tavern, you’ll instead be presented with a number of randomly generated pirates that you can choose from.
Rare has christened this the “infinite pirate generator”. You can select any one pirate that the generator gives you, refreshing the range of pirates in front of you, over and over again, until you eventually find one pirate that “represents the stories you want to tell,” as Rare cross-play director Ted Timmins put it.
“You can literally just keep refreshing the carousel, we call it the infinite pirate generator, and we just want you to to find someone that represents you,” Timmins continued. So while there isn’t a conventional character creator in Sea of Thieves, you can pick an avatar out of an infinite number of pirates, and then customize further with earnable gear.
Skeleton Forts Function as the PvE Content
Out on the blue waters of Sea of Thieves are tiny islands dotted around the map. If an island isn’t labelled as an ‘Outpost’, it could theoretically be inhabited by anything, including skeleton warriors. Part of the challenge of Sea of Thieves is getting people to play together, and one way to bring people together is to give them a common enemy, such as a horde of skeletons in a fort, protecting a stash of treasure.
There will always be several skeleton forts on a Sea of Thieves map, and the forts are marked by giant glowing skulls in the sky, giving players an easy destination marker to group up at. Skeleton forts are by no means an easy task, and it’s entirely possible that you’ll have to form an uneasy alliance with another crew, in order to safely make your way through the horde of skeletons in the fort and claim the treasure at the end.
But, if you did arrive with another crew, what’s to stop them from stabbing you in the back? Nothing, as it turns out, as any opposing crew members can deal damage to each other at any point while raiding a skeleton fort, making for some even uneasier alliances. Once you’ve made it to the treasure, a fight can break out over who gets to take the treasure chests back to their ship. Or, both crews could go their separate ways, each benefiting from all their hard work. It’s an unpredictable scenario, and skeleton forts are ripe for player-generated stories.
The End Goal is to Become a Pirate Legend
What’s the end goal of Sea of Thieves? The end of your journey on the high seas lies in ascending to the status of a Pirate Legend. While Rare hasn’t made it explicitly clear how you’ll attain this legendary status, it has revealed the secret pirate hideout, hidden in every Sea of Thieves map, that only Legendary Pirates will be able to gain access to.
The Tavern of Legends lies within this hideout, where you’ll be able to talk to some of the very first pirates in Sea of Thieves, who were first used back in an old E3 demo for the game. Talking to the legends will reveal secrets out in the open world, as well as content that could be arriving in the future for the game, like “new Trading Companies or merchants,” according to design director Mike Chapman.
But the end goal of Sea of Thieves isn’t a simple title, as you’ll be able to gain access to ‘Legendary Voyages’ exclusively in the hideout. You can then take these Legendary Voyages, and present them to your crew to embark on, regardless of whether they’ve attained the status of a Pirate Legend. These Legendary Voyages are said to be some of the hardest, but rewarding content in Sea of Thieves, and present a meaty endgame for players.
The Brig Was Designed to Torment Trolls
The Brig is one unique feature of Sea of Thieves, where players can vote to jail an unruly crew member in a prison cell on the lower deck of their ship. While this sounds like a simple feature to torment a crew member, it was actually designed by Rare as an “interesting psychological shift” against the trolls, as Mike Chapman phrased it.
“So the idea with the brig was not only to make it feel tonally appropriate, it’s the fact that we shift the balance of power to the people that have been griefed, not to the troll,” Chapman continued. There’s no actual way to kick a player out of the game in Sea of Thieves, so if a troll has been locked in the brig, they only have two options: beg their crewmates to let them out, or outright quit the game.
The entire concept around the Brig was to grief the trolls, and although this may have been Rare's plan, it's faced with a balancing act when the trolls hold the majority vote on the ship, as we uncovered.
Pets Will be Arriving Post-Launch
Sea of Thieves is a game made to last, and to do that, Rare intends to add new aspects to the game after launch. One of these, as executive producer Joe Neate hinted, is the addition of pets, which are bound to the player who owns them, accompanying them on adventures. We don't yet know how many animal types will be available as pets, but Rare has confirmed pet monkeys.
Crewmates are able to pick up your monkey, then drop it over the side of the ship. This would probably land them in the brig, but don’t worry about your monkey being harmed, as the pet could even be fired out of a cannon at an enemy ship and it’ll still emerge unscathed.
Players Can Build a Ship Together Online
Every single player in Sea of Thieves has their own ship, which they can customize with different parts that they earn on their voyages. But what happens when multiple people play online together, operating on a single ship? It turns out that players can choose which parts of their ship to bring with them when playing online, so all the crew make up one complete ship.