Sea of Thieves is, I feel, an exceptional story generator – and excels in delivering the sorts of unpredictable encounters that may so steadily flip a routine play session right into a genuinely unforgettable one.
But it is at all times struggled to inform its personal tales, by no means actually permitting gamers to get to know its world. Poke round sufficient, and, sure, you may discover hints of long-gone civilisation, or the remnants of more moderen adventures in gloomy corners – however these extra intimate tales have at all times remained frustratingly out of attain, making for a setting that is usually felt lifeless away from the ocean, a gorgeous staging floor for tales not but advised.
There’ve been makes an attempt to treatment this; we have chased lacking crews within the Devil’s Roar as a part of the Forsaken Shores replace, looked for an historical menace on the behest of a crazed captain in the course of the Hungering Deep, even traced the destiny of an accursed weaponsmith-turned-bloodthirsty-undead-pirate throughout Cursed Sails. But, as enjoyable as these have been, bringing a way of place and character to the world, they have been few and much between. And, worse, their limited-time nature meant that once they have been gone, the slate was scrubbed clear.
And that is the place Tall Tales – what you would possibly name one half of Sea of Thieves’ enormously formidable Anniversary Update, the opposite being the raucously entertaining aggressive Arena Mode – is available in. It lastly introduces one thing that many have been clamouring for since launch: crafted narrative adventures to enhance the extra free-form, anything-goes type of player-generated storytelling at Sea of Thieves’ core.
But Tall Tales is not merely a one-off dollop of story content material; relatively it is the results of an prolonged growth effort to create a collection of instruments that may allow Rare to extra simply introduce bespoke tales, with extra complexity and distinctive mechanics, into Sea of Thieves. To that finish, you could possibly think about Shores of Gold (as Sea of Thieves’ preliminary nine-strong cluster of story missions is thought), the primary season in an ongoing piratical narrative, with the promise of latest adventures – each equally sized arcs and smaller tales – nonetheless to come back.
And the group’s formidable objective is to make sure that these tales, with their different story beats (at the very least a portion of Shores of Gold, as an example, is claimed to give attention to an ages-old love story), transcend mere swashbuckling motion, providing the type of emotional richness, and strongly outlined, recurring characters, that give gamers a special kind of reference to the world.
Sea of Thieves nerds like me will, for instance, probably be thrilled to listen to that one of many sport’s most memorable faces – the splendidly wry Madame Olivia, first seen in final 12 months’s E3 trailer – is about to achieve a much bigger function within the Sea of Thieves mythos as Shores of Gold unfolds, with Rare night bringing again her unique voice actor to document new traces. And, crucially, none of these items is limited-time, that means that it’s going to stay in-game for everybody to take pleasure in, irrespective of once they first set sail, establishing a base that ought to solely develop richer with time.
Rare’s inaugural story arc, although, sends fearless crews out throughout the ocean in quest of a mysterious island referred to as the Shores of Gold – a journey that begins with a hunt for a robust artefact, the fabled Shroudbreaker, rumoured to be the one technique of parting the lethal Devil’s Shroud surrounding the map. And when you’re hoping that may result in hitherto unseen climes, you could possibly be in luck; the splendidly evocative trailer created to advertise Tall Tales’ first season (proven to press throughout a latest studio go to, and as a result of launch publicly within the run-up to launch on April 30th), closely implies that we’ll be voyaging to new corners of the world.
In sensible phrases, every Tall Tales marketing campaign mission start when crew members work together with a selected in-game object – within the case of the primary chapter (the one mission proven throughout my time at Rare), that is an previous journal belonging to the acquainted, tavern-dwelling Mysterious Stranger. And from the second the search begins, it is clear that Rare goes all-in right here; there are cut-scenes, a bespoke musical rating, and – reward be – professional-grade voice appearing for its characters. I am not ashamed to confess that I had goosebumps because the music swelled and the Mysterious Stranger started his portentous story.
Once the preamble is over, all crew mates are given entry to a brand new merchandise of their quest wheel – a splendidly introduced journal that progressively expands because the story progresses. It’s a pleasant factor, the non-public account of a famed pirate’s earlier spirited tour into the unknown – and its passages are filled with clues and curious illustrations which will or could not show helpful down the road. Indeed, its steerage strikes simply the best stability, with sufficient room for interpretation (and misinterpretation) that our eventual success on the seas felt genuinely earned.
One significantly neat factor about Sea of Thieves’ new story system, by the way, is that marketing campaign missions might be energetic alongside customary quests, that means that gamers are free to meander to their vacation spot, embarking on their typical Trading Company pursuits, and even indulging in PvP incursions in the event that they so select – certainly, there do not seem like any restrictions to the actions you possibly can partake in, making certain that Sea of Thieves’ sandbox coronary heart stays pure.
Shore of Gold’s opening moments are, admittedly, comparatively low-key, as crews zig-zag from island to island in quest of their historical and highly effective prize – a journey that may solely be plotted by scouring the journal for potential locations, teased in imprecise allusions to particular landmarks or half-remembered instructions. And, as that voyage progresses, courageous adventurers will slowly accumulate new nicknacks and instruments.
One of those, the brand new Collector’s Chest, is a selected spotlight – staggeringly easy in design however enormously helpful, to the purpose that I’ve missed not having it in vanilla Sea of Thieves. It is, as its title suggests, a conveyable chest for storing private gadgets – be they skulls, trinkets, gems or the rest you would possibly discover around the globe – dramatically decreasing the necessity to return to your boat for drop-offs every time you stumble throughout new spoils in your travels. And earlier than you ask, no, you possibly can’t (presently) fill it with your individual vomit after which present it to an unsuspecting pal.
What’s significantly promising about Shores of Gold’s opening marketing campaign (and I realise I am being mild on specifics, however I am making an attempt to maintain issues spoiler-free) is its sense of tempo. Following that early bout of quiet, acquainted island-hopping, issues quickly ramp up, introducing extra bespoke parts particular to the journey. There are mysterious keys to find and historical contraptions to ponder, secret entrances behind heavy stone partitions, and even placing new enemies – all culminating in a booby-trapped finale that would depart Indiana Jones breathless.
What’s extra, with Rare suggesting that its first nine-mission story marketing campaign might take as many as 20 hours to finish (though that’ll probably fluctuate wildly relying on crew measurement, effectivity, and tendencies for distraction), and teasing the likes of boss battles, star navigation, and particular enchanted weapons in later chapters, it feels like there’s much more to stay up for.
And the techniques that drive all of it are fascinating. Although story beats stay the identical for all adventurers, there are, says Rare, procedural parts to each quest – bringing quite a few advantages. Most clearly, it signifies that missions might be performed again and again (which is actively inspired, on condition that Shores of Gold options its personal set of achievement-style Commendations), with variable riddles and locations preserving issues contemporary.
More subtly, although, by regulating participant journeys behind the scenes (and by offering totally different staging areas for key set-pieces across the map), Rare is ready to hold groups aside throughout story missions, avoiding awkward queueing eventualities and making certain that Tall Tales’ adventures at all times really feel private to a crew.
One comparatively easy mission in, I am hesitant to make any nice proclamations in regards to the affect that Tall Tales could have on the way forward for Sea of Thieves, however it undoubtedly has huge potential – and will go a good distance towards successful over those that’ve been hoping for this sort of more-traditional, crafted expertise since day one. And if Shores of Gold’s remaining eight missions can hit the identical highs as the primary, whereas providing additional selection and a genuinely partaking yarn alongside the way in which, that’ll be excellent information certainly.