Update: Sea of Thieves wasn't always going to be a pirate-themed adventure. When we spoke to design director, Mike Chapmen, at a recent Xbox One X preview event he told us that it could have revolved around vampires, zombies or even dinosaurs. Read the rest of our conversation with Mike right here.
Original article continues below...
It’s been a while since we’ve seen a game from Microsoft-owned, UK-based studio Rare that wasn’t Kinect-based. From 2009 to now, the studio has been tasked with Kinect Sports Rivals, a remake of ‘90s fighting game Killer Instinct and the Xbox avatars, but now they’re back to their old tricks with new tools, making the fantastic-looking open world MMO, Sea of Thieves.
In true Rare fashion the game features a charming art style that embraces the lighter side of the seven seas. This is not a game world that's in any sense dark and realistic, you can fire yourself out of canons to get around quickly, and you eat bananas to restore your health.
Read on for everything we know so far about Rare's pirate odyssey.
Cut to the chase
- What is it? Rare's upcoming open-world Pirate odyssey
- When's it out? Spring 2018
- What can I play it on? Xbox One and PC
Sea of Thieves trailers and screenshots
At E3 2017 we were presented with another trailer for the game which shows off what we can expect the game to look like on the upcoming Xbox One X.
The trailer highlighted the game's signature Rare visuals and showed off a team of four as they sought to retrieve a chest of treasure to bring it back to their ship. The players explore islands where dangers appear in form of the ghosts of previous player who remain able to attack you, and you'll have to be especially careful while you're busy digging up your treasure, which takes a believably long amount of time.
You can check out the game's latest trailer below.
What is Sea of Thieves?
The pirate-themed action-adventure game will group you up with friends or strangers to plunder the seas and islands together, fighting others in big ol’ pirate ships, landing on sandy beaches, discovering treasure maps and having to work with your crew to figure out where the booty’s at.
Sea of Thieves is heavily co-operative, although there are combative elements with other parties, too. You and your crew will have to figure out how to man a ship, with people taking over different jobs, which means that you'll have to communicate if you want to avoid accidentally doubling up on tasks.
At our hands on session at 2017's E3 conference we found out the dangers of this first hand. Our ship came under attack from enemy pirates, who promptly used their cannons to blow a hole in the hull of our ship. When this happens you'll need crew members to patch up the ship using timber, and others will need to use buckets to get rid of the water flooding the hull.
Fail to communicate and you'll find everyone switches to dealing with the biggest problem, which lead to our cannons being completely unmanned while everyone ran around with buckets filled with sea water.
What piratical things can you do?
You’ll be pleased to know that all the greatest hits from a life lived on the seas and beyond the law can be found in Sea of Thieves. From sailing around with your grog-soaked crew, singing shanties of wenches and booty, to getting scurvy, there’s everything you might want from a pirate’s life.
In our hands on demo at E3 we had a choice of three different quests to choose from. Two involved solving riddles to find treasure, while a third appeared to involve the much simpler task of going to the right island and finding the point marked with a red 'x' on our map.
With little faith in our riddle-solving abilities, we opted for the latter quest.
What's interesting about Sea of Thieves is how minimal the UI is. The quests were listed on a piece of parchment that our character held, and looked at, within the game's world, and when we picked a quest the game relied on us literally telling our teammates what were were doing rather than having an immersion-breaking arrow appearing in the environment.
Then, when you get to the island with the treasure on it, you'll need to read your map alongside your compass to work out where you are since the game gives you no clues as to your location on the map itself.
This meant our team had enormous difficulty finding the treasure, and eventually we were forced to leave the island empty-handed and in serious need of some rum.
However, were we to actually find the chest the rest of the team would have had to defend the person carrying it as they made their way back to the ship. Both NPCs and other players will try their best to ambush you, and your team will need to work together to survive.
Naval combat is another key element of the game, and in these instances your canons are your best friends. Your team will need to work together to get the cannonballs from beneath the deck into the canons themselves, after which point you'll be able to fire them at enemy ships to try and send them down to Davy Jones' Locker.
If you prefer a hands on approach you can board enemy ships to take on their crew using a combination of swords, muskets, and flintlock pistols. You can either swim aboard other ships, or, if you're feeling brave, you can literally fire yourself out of a canon to get there quicker.
Between searching for booty, fending off attacks from other ships, and trying to navigate through dynamic weather, it's looking like you'll have plenty to occupy your time in the world of Sea of Thieves, but you'll also be able to take a more laid back approach and explore the world for yourself if you don't want to follow the quests laid out for you.
What if I don’t want to have a crew?
Solo pirates are more than welcome - there are ships ranging from massive ones that take a whole crew to the tiny ones that take one or two pirates to manage. And you won’t be at a huge disadvantage either - if many, many tiny ships gang up on a larger one, you just may be able to take them down with the advantage of speed and maneuverability and share the booty between you. Or...not. You’re a pirate, you don’t have to share.
How can I play it?
You can actually play it already, if you’re part of the Insider Program - which is sort of like an open beta granted to some of the people who apply.
Because Sea of Thieves is being developed in close partnership with the community, to ensure that the game is what the players want, the team hold development play sessions with the “Insiders” to find out which parts they enjoy, which parts need fixing or changing, or what the community discovers along the way.
For example, the developer found that players are most happy when either all of them are using voice chat or none of them are, rather than a mix. As a result, the developer is exploring ways of pairing players together with those that have similar voice chat preferences.
The game will come out on Xbox One and Windows 10 some time later this year, and players from both platforms will be able to play freely with one another regardless of whether they're using a mouse and keyboard or a controller to play.
Who can I play as?
The character avatars are customisable, with the ability to change gender, physique, appearance, and outfits, although the game does not have skill trees or character classes. You’ll be able to further customise your character as you play with new, fancier outfits and even prosthetics. There will also be opportunities to deck out your… decks, with new cannons, sails, flags and all the other fancy ship accessories your little pirate heart could desire.
What's the world like?
The focus of the world will be on its vast oceans, which will be dotted with islands from Caribbean-style archipelagos to dense jungles. Some have NPCs, ready to dish out quests; others will be deserted; some may even have a rival pirate crew on the same mission as you.
The treasure maps that will feature heavily in the finished game are not the kind of map-marker slog you might expect. Instead, they will require actual, geographical orienteering - looking for trails, landmarks and recognisably shaped rocks. Even when you find that treasure, you’ll have to then take it back to your ship, with all the animal, human and physics-based treacherousness that that entails.
And what if you die? Well, in true pirate fashion you’ll be booted to Davy Jones’ Locker, where you can swap stories with fellow ghosts and attempt to board a ferry back to the world of the living by performing quests for the ferryman. Your sunken ship can be plundered in the meantime, so don’t take too long...
Will there be cross-play?
There will indeed! At Gamescom 2017, two members of the game's development team took to the stage and confirmed in a no bones about it way that cross-play will indeed be coming to the game.That means whether you're playing on Windows 10 PC or Xbox One, you'll be able to play together.
A brand new build of the game was available for fans to play at the show on both Xbox One and Windows 10 PC, but the team stated that before the game is eventually released in early 2018 everyone will have the chance to try playing it before they buy.