With content updates such as The Hungering Deep, Shrouded Spoils, and Cursed Sails, Rare has continued to expand the depths of its pirate fantasy playground, Sea of Thieves, in exciting ways since launch. However, no addition thus far has promised to be as substantial as the forthcoming Anniversary Update. Launching on April 30th, the Anniversary Update introduces long requested features such as an arena PvP mode, fishing, and shared story-based quests. With the next chapter looming just on the horizon we met up with the team at Rare to take an inside look.
We were split into crews of four at Rare and our captain for the day was the game's executive producer, Joe "Three Sheets" Neate. He first guided us through the opening segment of Shores of Gold, a series of Tall Tales launching as part of the Anniversary Update. Our journey started after overhearing the mumbling of a mysterious stranger in the tavern and we were soon off to find the location of a lost artefact. After examining pages of a book the stranger gave us and solving a series of riddles, we unearthed a totem and were instructed to place it in an underground vault. Upon doing so the vault began to fill with water and we had fleeting seconds to align several stone blocks around us to match them to pictures in our book. This provided a real sense of urgency and pushed us to communicate effectively as we shuffled through the pages and yelled out commands at our crew.
These types of cooperative traps we felt worked really well within Sea of Thieves and its great that they have introduced another deviation from the core selection of fetch quests. The team at Rare informed us too that these stories are highly repayable as the locations you are required to visit are remixed each time and there's always opportunity to earn treasure. A trailer shown to us after teased characters from the Sea of Thieves comic book series and included items such as an enchanted telescope used to read constellations in the night's sky.
Things got heated during the latter half of the day as each team battled it out in the all-new Arena mode. In this new mode, your goal is to be the ultimate pirate and gather as much silver as possible before the timer runs out. Silver is earnt by discovering chests, attacking opposing ships, and handing in treasure to merchants. You can also lose a substantial chunk of silver for sinking your ship (something that we found out the hard way). Each match takes 24 minutes to complete (a full day and night cycle) and can be joined easily from the main menu.
As each team was handed the same treasure map, it got awfully intense as each crew headed within the same general direction. Ship battles broke out all around us and we had to decide whether to try to outpace our competitors or tactically avoid conflict altogether. As a hefty 1,000 silver is lost when your ship sinks, there was a constant sense of danger and it felt as though the tables could turn at any moment. Our team was heartbroken as we lead the way for the entire match only to be sunk in the last 10 seconds. Our captain, Joe Neate, threw off his headset and stormed out of the room as our ship's mast disappeared under the waves.
We felt the arena mode helped to distil the chaotic sea battles that we dearly cherished from the main game and we would love to see how this is expanded upon in future. It provides a great way to jump in and play as we found our sessions taking in excess of two hours at a time. The team at Rare have told us that this will be an expanding platform just like the Tall Tales story segments, so we're sure that this is just the beginning for this new PvP mode. One thing that we would like to see is longer matches and perhaps mode-specific rules such as increasing the reward given for landing cannonball hits.
Along with other pastimes such as chugging grog and playing the hurdy-gurdy, players can now engage in a spot of fishing during long voyages. You can now catch dozens of fish which are available in different weather conditions (such as during a storm, in the midst of a battle, and at night). These fish come in different colours and sizes and there are different types of bait that you can find and cast on your line to increase your chances. There's even a trophy case of sorts where you can view which fish you've caught and this has introduced a new element of collectability and is something that players can engage with when playing solo. Throw in new fruits and the option to do some cooking, and you've got a range of new activities to experiment with as part of the update.
Combat is getting a refresh too, and the harpoon cannon also makes its debut as part of the Anniversary Update. We found this to be a handy companion for ship battles and during general navigation. You can use the cannon to tether other ships for boarding and it can also be used for making sharp turns by latching onto rocks. The team also told us that it can be used to comically snatch up treasure chests out of the hands of pirates and can also be used to pin down the flailing tentacles of the Kraken. This is perhaps the most substantial addition Rare has added to ships (different cannonball types being another) and we can't wait to see how these shake up future encounters, especially seeing as how the new update will let us target specific parts of enemy ships. It makes each encounter more tactical when you can do things like force an opponent's anchor to drop mid-battle with a well-aimed shot.
With the Anniversary Update, Sea of Thieves appears to be on course to sail away from many of its former criticisms. The Arena PvP mode and Tall Tales provide exciting new ways for players to band together and share adventures within its world and these are said to be expandable platforms within the future. We can't wait to see how Sea of Thieves continues to flourish and grow as April's big update seems to be the start of a strong second year for Rare's piratical sandbox adventure.