Over the course of its first year, Rare’s Sea of Thieves went from a fun yet empty sandbox, to a vibrant world chock full of things for players to do. Then in 2019, the team released one of the biggest free updates the game had received, turning it into an absolute must-play title. But it didn’t end there. Each month thereafter saw new activities for players to do, new mechanics added to the world, and new adventures for players to go on. All of these improvements make it an easy choice for the Shacknews Most Improved Game of 2019.
While it can be difficult to pinpoint an exact moment in its first year when Sea of Thieves went from an average experience to a must-play, there is a clear transcendental moment in 2019. This moment took place in April, when Rare released the Sea of Thieves Anniversary Update.
To set the scene, Sea of Thieves already had skeleton ship battles, cursed cannonballs, an explosive new area called the Devil’s Roar, rowboats, as well as the foundational voyages, skeleton forts, and the dynamic encounters with other players. But Anniversary Update moved the needle dramatically.
Anniversary Update added an entirely new mode called Arena. In this mode, five galleons full of players would spawn into a small section of the world. All teams would receive the same treasure maps with the goal to dig up the treasure and turn it in. After 24 minutes, the team with the most points would win.
Arena fundamentally altered the Sea of Thieves landscape, both in-game and on streaming services. Twitch streamers that would patrol adventure mode and horde treasure were now fighting in this highly competitive mode. Sea of Thieves always promised good viewing, but Arena distilled it into an intense, bite-sized experience.
Adventure mode, the game players were familiar with from launch, received a new trading company in the form of the Hunter’s Call. This company, headed up by Merrick (a character introduced shortly after the launch of Sea of Thieves), could be leveled up by selling meat. This was a purposeful move by Rare, as it allowed the new fishing mechanic to serve a greater purpose.
The world that was once rife with battling pirates saw a new type of player-on-player experience: fishing parties. It wasn’t uncommon to see a dozen pirates all fishing in the same area, hoping to catch the ultimate trophy fish.
But one of the best new additions that the Anniversary Update brought to the table was the Tall Tales. This was what players had been asking for since launch. It was a story, a 20-odd hour campaign featuring brand new mechanics. Players would read the stars, solve new puzzles, avoid traps, and set sail to a new island off the edge of the playable world.
After the release of the Anniversary Update, Rare didn’t sit back on its laurels. From April onward, Sea of Thieves continued to undergo dramatic changes with each new piece of content.
A pirate’s life
Every month saw the addition of a new type of limited-time voyage to Sea of Thieves. Known as Mercenary Voyages, these adventures had players collecting explosive barrels, hunting cursed relics, carrying around chests that marked them on the map, and more.
Then Halloween came around and one of the forts in Sea of Thieves transformed in the Fort of the Damned. This is like a fort on steroids. To start it, players had to collect colored lanterns by dying in a specific way and collect a unique skull dropped by hunting a skeleton captain. Once the fort was activated, waves of special skeletons assault the fort, culminating in a boss fight.
A new fort wasn’t the only new threat on the Sea of Thieves, fired had finally spread to the watery world. This new system teased during a live stream and was added a couple of months later. While it sounds simple on the surface, it has drastically changed combat in Sea of Thieves and how players manage and tend to their ship.
Fire can be used in combat to battle skeletons and firebombs can be cannoned at other ships to set them alight. Once alight, the fire will slowly consume everything, the masts, and the sails, popping boards and making the ship a hellish place to be.
And finally, pets were added to Sea of Thieves. This was something players had been begging for since the launch of the game. Available for real-world money, pets were one of the few new microtransactions added, with the others being emotes and game-themed ship skins.
To Rare’s credit, the inclusion of microtransactions and communicating that revenue is important was always at the forefront of the discussion about this new addition. Because of this open communication, the community’s reaction has been positive.
There has been some drastic changes to Sea of Thieves over the course of this year alone, and with Rare’s on-going support, it’s exciting to see what lies ahead. What’s more, all of these updates have been completely free, completely removing any barrier for entry. For a game that was already vastly improved since launch, Sea of Thieves continues to evolve well beyond what many gamers thought possible. If you haven’t already, get yourself an Xbox Game Pass subscription and set sail with a few mates in Sea of Thieves.
Sam Chandler posted a new article, Shacknews Most Improved Game of 2019 - Sea of Thieves
Agreed 100%. Game can be super fun with the right group, and actually has good content now.