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Blakey

Sea of Thieves

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Sea of Thieves' kraken and endgame explained, and Rare's post-launch plans

 

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After Sea of Thieves' closed beta, I was left impressed by the emergent potential of its world but also wondering what I'd be doing in the game after a couple of weeks. Last Monday I visited Rare, and the developer explained its vision of how it will all come together at launch. With a clear endgame, difficult skeleton fort raids and the ever-present threat of a kraken that can attack multiple ships at once, I'm convinced that I'll be playing it for at least a couple of months. 

 

Pirate legend status is your overarching goal in Sea of Thieves. Rare has alluded to this before in one of the game's countless community videos—it's unlocked by building your reputation with the game's three trading companies, as well as by proving yourself to other NPCs who will populate the game's world at launch. 

The reward, besides the status itself, is a secret pirate hideout that only legends can access—and I'm seeing it for the first time. "When you become a pirate legend, you discover a secret and get access to a key, shall we say, that gives you access to this location," explains design director Mike Chapman. "It's seamlessly hidden in the world. It's not loading off a menu. It was already in our closed beta, but no one could become pirate legend and unlock it—but it was there." This cove, which reminds me of The Goonies, contains a ship that's been retrofitted into a pub—the Tavern of Legends, along with another, seemingly functional ship beside it. Pirate legends, who appear as ghosts, live in the tavern. They include the pirates from the game's E3 2016 trailer. It's nice to see promotional characters go to a good home. 

 

Legendary pirate ghosts. 

 

SKELETON FORTS

Everything in Sea of Thieves is built not just to enhance the experience for one player, but for everyone, whether they sail with you or not. Skeleton forts are a good example of this—they're difficult, horde mode-like islands full of skeleton enemies to take out, by any means you can. The goal then is to take out the captain and grab a heap of treasure.  

 

Everyone on your server will be able to see a skeleton fort marker, as above, so competition might be fierce. And there's so much desirable treasure that no one crew can carry it all by themselves. Do you form fragile alliances and divide it up? Or do you fight a tiring war of attrition until it gets so late that one crew logs off and goes to bed? 

 

These NPCs will hint at future content coming to Sea of Thieves, which is enticing, but achieving legend status may not be easy. I ask Chapman how long it'll take to reach this point in the game. "Highly variable," he says. "You could be a day one player, you sneak aboard a ship and it's full of captain's chests—the most rewarding chests in the game. You steal them all and take them back to an outpost. And you're going to earn loads of gold and reputation." That's an efficient way of getting further on that path. Then again, diversions might slow your journey to becoming a legend. Everyone's progression there will be different. 

 

"The time it takes to get there is highly variable—and that's going to be fascinating, because players who are truly incredible at this game are going to get there much faster, by playing like pirates. Taking down skeleton forts and being really good at it. They're going to get there before anyone else. I'm sure a couple of weeks after launch, that super invested player is going to get there. And they're going to become a celebrity in our community—they're the first pirate to find the pirate hideout. Our first pirate legend. Then our second pirate legend, third, fourth..."

 

Chapman shows me more of the Tavern of Legends. "Up here you see the pirate lord, who will give you legendary voyages, which are the most challenging and rewarding. They offer unique rewards in the game, that you can only access when you're a pirate legend. Because of that mechanic, you can choose to share your legendary voyages with others." Being a legend doesn't cut you off from other players—you can embark on legendary quests even if you're not a legend yourself, and a legendary pirate can take up to three pals down to the hideout. 

 

"They can't get access to a legendary voyage unless they're with you, but that idea of, I want to make friends and play with pirate legends because it means something special, because I can get this level of reward I can't get with anyone else. And what's in those ancient chests, what's in these chests reserved for pirate legends, is a special set of clothing, weapons and ship cosmetics that are a step beyond. These are the things built out of kraken bones. You can dress like skeletons. This is the elite level of cosmetics that you can only get by completing those voyages. But the cool thing is that, they're physical just like everything else." Every item is cosmetic in Sea of Thieves—the meaning comes in what an item might represent, in terms of the voyages you've finished. 

 

I wonder if it really will take two weeks for someone to reach the hideout, given how nothing seems to stay secret for more than about ten seconds in games these days. It's not just an achievement for the players who put the hours in, though—it'll change the way other players see you in the world. "You see a pirate legend in the world. You sneak aboard their ship, and they've got the ancient chest that you can't get access to and you steal it. What an amazing story that is. Or you sink a pirate legend ship. So that endgame is there for launch: this hidden pirate hideout, and the allure that comes with it." 

 

What's kraken? 

 

Stories about Sea of Thieves' kraken have been doing the rounds since we first caught a glimpse of it in a 2016 trailer (see above). During my trip, Rare revealed more about what it is (if the datamine didn't already give some bits away)—they don't think of the kraken as a boss, but more of a force of nature, like the storms in the game. "It's something that can strike mercilessly at any time," Chapman says. "Players will have a limited amount of warning. There's an inky mass in the water, which is your clue that there is a kraken there, but when it strikes, what it does and how it prioritises is different each time. You could have three ships attacked simultaneously by those eight tentacles. It can wrap the ship, it can rock the ship and put damage in it. You could slash a tentacle and get ink in your face—you're stumbling around the deck with this ink in your face."

 

"The tentacle can pick you up and throw you, it can dunk you into the water and drown you. It can slam you against the water's surface with these tentacles that can wrap multiple ships at the same time. What it does is a reflection of what type of ship it is, how many ships are around at that time. This thing is designed to be replayable. You could be the one that saves a bunch of ships from the kraken by getting it to flee, or you could be the one who comes along afterwards, and pick up the chests from the wreckage after it's sunk two ships. Point is, it's going to play differently each time."

 

Rare only teased the kraken with some dramatic footage instead of letting us fight it, so I have no idea if battling it will actually be fun or not. I hope it is. The spectacle of an encounter like this is extremely appealing, and I can definitely see these different opportunistic scenarios playing out in its wake. 

 

Post-launch piracy 

 

ANIMAL KINGDOM

The Merchant Alliance, one of the game's three trading companies, will reward you for finding rare breeds of animal across the world. At launch, expect pigs, snakes and chickens. Pigs need feeding to stay alive, snakes can poison you (but can be charmed with music) and chickens will make loud noises, which might alert other crews to their presence. It'd also be a hell of a battle cry, having a chicken go off before you start firing the cannons against an enemy ship. 

 

The animals can also drown, get hit by lightning and be blown up with gunpowder, so it could be a heartbreaking line of work. Rare mentions that snakes can be used as makeshift traps for boarding crews, too, so they'll give you another thing to consider on your journey. This addresses our wish for more stuff to do while you're sailing, in Sea of Thieves—I just wish I could name the chickens to maximise my emotional investment. I'd call one Clive.

 

Executive producer Joe Neate tells me what he sees as the step beyond pirate legend status post-launch, building on the idea of the hideout and bespoke voyages. "The first update we want to deliver to pirate legends, the most engaged of our player base, is the ability to be able to captain ships. Become a pirate legend, and you'll get the ability to captain and own ships from that hideout. So when you're out in the world, people will see you and know that you are a pirate legend. Players will start becoming the Blackbeards and Black Pearls of our pirate world. We always want to have new things our pirate legends can aspire to, but also new things for everyone to have and do." Instead of beginning the game in taverns, legends will start the game in the hideout, and take charge of the legendary ship there.

 

"You sail out through the waterfall, and you explode out into the world like Davy Jones or how Batman leaves the Batcave," explains Chapman. "And when people see your legendary ship, they know that's the ship of a pirate legend, and they know what that means. You've got that whole grey area of, should I take down the pirate legend? What an amazing story it would be: we took down a pirate legend ship. We stole an ancient chest from a pirate legend, what a great story. So [we'll have] new ways to progress for pirate legends [for post-launch], but new ways to enrich the journey for people who aren't yet legends."

 

There's a lot of talk of limited time events, too. Rare might just tweak the rules of the world and change the direction of the wind, or send all voyages to the same location for the day or change the numbers behind the water. Rare has prototyped alliances, too, and it's already happening organically in the game—they might just officially support it as well. 

 

The types of quest will change as trading companies come and go. You've got three at launch, which lean towards finding chests, combat challenges and delivering animals from across the world, but Chapman also alludes to a fourth. Whether that journey to becoming a pirate legend is compelling enough depends on if each set of voyages can continue to amuse players—it can't feel like a grind, or players won't carry on. I'm convinced by Rare's vision, though, and it sounds like plans are afoot to add major features on a quarterly basis. I'd love to see this colourful world evolve, and for it to keep presenting new reasons for me and my friends to come back. 

Deciding what counted as enough content for a full launch, then, was tough for Rare. "That's been a real challenge, because everything is additive," Chapman says.

 

"Everything complements each other. You want enough directed goals, but also enough emergent potential. You want enough things like skeleton forts, messages in bottles and lost artefacts in caves that take you off the beaten track. So narrowing it down to, what will make people fall in love with it at launch, what's going to make people understand the core vision—that's tough. But beyond that? There's loads of potential to keep going."

 

 

 

 

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Earlier this month a Sea of Thieves datamine unearthed word of a premium shop. As you'd expect, the revelation sparked a number of questions.

 

If there's a premium shop it may sell loot boxes, some worried. And if Rare's shared-world pirate adventure game had loot boxes, then its progression system may be diminished somewhat.

 

During a recent visit to Rare, I asked the developers about the premium shop. Yes, it's real, I was told, but it does not include loot boxes. There are no loot boxes in Sea of Thieves.

 

The premium shop won't be live at the game's March launch, either, a decision that makes sense in the context of the ongoing controversy around loot boxes. 2017 saw a number of high-profile video games come under fire for their loot boxes - chief among them Star Wars: Battlefront 2. Microsoft and Rare will no doubt be sensitive to any potential backlash to Sea of Thieves' microtransactions, and will hope to avoid an outcry like the one that marred the launch of Star Wars: Battlefront 2.

 

"Launch is about launching a great game," Rare studio head Craig Duncan told Eurogamer.

 

"The only conversation I really want people having about Sea of Thieves is what adventures they had, what stories they went on, and why that's cool."

 

"For launch, it's about delivering the best gameplay experience possible, being there, reacting, listening, taking feedback and everything else," executive producer Joe Neate stressed.

 

"But as we move into our service and we start growing and updating the game, at that point we'll turn on the option for players to optionally spend in there."

Rare insisted the premium shop will sell nothing that affects player power or progression. Also, you'll always know what you're buying, hence no loot boxes.

"No loot boxes. No loot crates," Neate confirmed.

"It's things that add to the fun, social nature of Sea of thieves."

 

To that end, the first addition to the Sea of Thieves premium shop will be virtual pets, which you can buy directly (individually). These pets work like other items in the game: they're physical objects that can be held not just by the owner, but by other players.

 

"It's entirely optional, but if you had a monkey, for example, you'll be able to hold it like you can other things in the game, but then I'll also be able to hold it, then drop it overboard, because that's funny," Neate explained.

 

"It'll come back. It'll be fine! I desperately want us to be able to fire other stuff out of cannons, including monkeys and other animals, just because it's fun, right?

"So even if you were the only person who had bought a pet, but you had it on board, your crew would be able to enjoy the benefits of a monkey. It's about adding to the fun and social nature. It's just the right spirit for what Sea of Thieves is. Again, it's completely optional. You will know what you're getting. It doesn't affect power and it doesn't affect progression."

 

For Rare as a business, as home to some 200 staff who are all charged with making Sea of Thieves a successful, multi-year "game as a service", a popular premium shop is crucial. The money made from the sale of virtual items such as pets will go towards funding ongoing development of the game. Rare has an ambitious post-launch update plan, which involves new legendary voyages, new trading companies and more.

 

"We obviously want to keep growing the game as a service," Duncan said. "Part of that is, we'll look at things that make sense for Sea of Thieves in terms of the long-term digital business. As a new IP, it's really important to us that players know the value of the game. That goes for our digital business. 100 per cent, if you want to progress in Sea of Thieves, you play the game. That's a hard and fast principal to us."

 

"We've thought long and hard about this and had lots of discussions about this internally," Neate said.

 

"For people who are really invested in Sea of Thieves to go, I'm loving playing this game, I would happily spend some more money on my hobby, which is the same as us going to a football match. It just feels like the right thing for us to do to help us as we have a team working on updating and growing Sea of Thieves, which costs money, right?"

 

 

 

 

 

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Thank god for the ability to spend extra money on pets. I was worried that they wouldn't have put extraordinary amounts of time and effort on making parrots you could buy for real world money.

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That was sort of my point, @mr lakitu. There's nothing where they don't try to do this in big games. Imagine if all those pets they're talking about were just in game as unlockables so you had to play to get them. But nope, we live in an age where shit has to be made to sell as bolt ons. Pretty fucking sick of it, especially as they're announcing this like it's something to be proud of.

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No Season Pass, no Collector's Editions, no egregious gameplay alterating MTX, just a few pets you can pay money for if you choose which add no benefit other than being cool.

 

And you can get it day 1 for £8 with Game Pass.

 

You can also get pets naturally in game, you can catch a snake for example and have it guard your treasure chests on your ship whilst you're sailing to an Outpost.

 

All sounds good to me.

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Sort of missing the point. They're announcing the store even before the game is out. They're not even bothering hiding it anymore it's just become so normal for that feature to be there. A sad day indeed.

 

The craziest thing is people are totally fine with it. It's like charging you extra for the vinegar at the chippy or extra for more sauce at McDonalds. In reality it's costing them fuck all to give you everything you want. This is the norm now, they're spinning it as they're doing you a favour like how EA did with SWBFII. Of course it's not on the scale of that particular game, but it's still a shit thing to do. But sure, accept it because it's "only cosmetic".

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I'm with @Sly Reflex the acceptance with which people talk about this is a bit of a (very low level) tragedy.

 

I miss the days of unlockables, but I think trophies are just as much to blame for them disappearing 

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But then if they didn’t announce the store post launch people would accuse them of hiding information or MTX until folks have spent money on it, they’re being honest about it. You may not like it but they’re being honest about it.

 

You spent £40 to buy Destiny 2 day 1 @Sly Reflex  because you wanted to play the game with friends, you accepted the bullshittery that might be involved and took it on the chin because it’s a series you love and enjoy.

 

MTX are needed to sustain GaaS games, particularly when said games are available for a very low entry fee on Game Pass, can’t have your cake and eat it too. 

 

It’s hilarious how no one came out with the crusadery nonsense until Sterling started making his videos. No one had many issues with dlc, MTX and LBs for years then suddenly everyone’s up in arms because they watched a bloke on the internet.

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It's an interesting subject. Like I mentioned in the podcast I'm fully on board with @Sly Reflex and @DANGERMAN here but I also allow some flexibility. It depends in the game and how's it's used aswell. 

 

Fuck me I keep writing a wall of text. Basically I think it depends on the developer whether you trust them when it comes to implementation of these things when referencing future content. Additional content has to be paid for whether it's DLC packs, loot boxes or Mx. But when you hear them talking about it before release and getting ahead of the anger by proclaiming it's only cosmetic, you don't get a good feeling. It's natural.

 

Regardless of whether it's the best model for us consumers, we all know Mx and loot boxes make them a fuckton of extra cash. That's why it's there. I would love it if a dev just came out an said it one day.

 

'We're doing this because you get additional content, and we get to rinse you plebs for a dirty ton of extra money'.

 

 

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Yeah, it’s not a black and white issue. Real money purchases for cosmetic stuff I think is generally fine.

Of all things to rail against, this is not that.

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Yeah, think I sit on the @Hendo side of the fence on this one... It sounds cosmetic and doesn't alter gameplay one bit, if people wanna spend their hard earned that way fine. It's when things become play to win or offer unfair advantages that shit gets sketchy.

 

This is where the industry is nowadays, how much has costs risen to produce games nowadays? and to be fair we're probably paying less for them (well, some of us are)...

 

I will say that this has nothing to do with the game being in the Game Pass program though.

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@Blakey Not true, I wasn't happy about the Gears 3 gun skins way back when that came out. In fact I can't recall a time where I was totally OK with it.

 

It sort of does alter gameplay though, since it says you can do loads of silly stuff, giving you can shoot the monkey out of the cannon if you want. When you're going from A to B and there's literally fuck all to do but stand on deck watching the sea churn silly diversions like that will make those times less monotonous. I watched the beta stuff and it seemed like there's a lot of downtime like that.

 

Also people bang on about they need these to run from a games as a service thing. Activision made 2b USD alone from their games. you can double that to 4b USD if you account for the mobile games. That's more than they made from anything else, that 4b USD made up over 50% of their profits. So tell me, what exactly are we seeing in Overwatch, CoD and Destiny 2 that that money will be spent on. It'd surprise me if they get even a percentage of a point across the whole business. The rest will be going out to share holders. They nickel and dime to cry the poor tale, but these companies are rich as fuck, they don't need anything more than the cash it costs up front. They're not making one or two bespoke games, they'are flipping out millions of copies on an industrial scale. The cost is well covered in the initial RRP, especially as over time people fall off games and the server time is used by fewer people.

 

It's not just Acti that are raking it in, go look at any of the big publishers/developers on the stock market and look at the increase in value they've had since 2009ish, when all this fucking nonsense started.

 

Microtransactions are gaming snake oil that people have just rolled over and taken . If you're told a lie repeatedly eventually people will begin to believe it. It seems we're past that tipping point now.

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@Blakey as Sly's said, people have been talking about this for a decade or more. I remember when dlc started replacing free expansions (or paid large expansions) and the infamous horse armour.

I'm not going to pretend there's no examples of me being a hypocrite, but I think I've been fairly consistent over the years 

 

Selling cosmetics in a full price game is entirely about milking more money, none of us are going to argue against that I wouldn't have thought? What is a issue is what we've lost because of that and where this will end. There's little justification for it other than greed, Overwatch for example should be f2p and would have been 10 years ago, now you've got people getting upset because they can't buy the limited edition colours 😄

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