At first glance, Forsaken Shores is the most dramatic expansion to the world of Sea of Thieves yet. It expands the map, taking us to the new region of Devil’s Roar, a place full of volcanoes, ash and magma. It’s a very new look for Sea of Thieves, but the game has quietly been evolving and building on itself with the previous expansions, The Hungering Deep and Cursed Sails, along with the more regular Bilge Rat Adventures.
Just over six months after Sea of Thieves’ release, the game has reinvented itself and fleshed out a world that many players found too limited at launch. Forsaken Shores marks a new era of Sea of Thieves, and it’s exciting the impact the expansion will have on the existing game... as well as what it means for the future of this wild pirate sandbox title.
What’s new in Forsaken Shores?
Let’s start with the obvious question: What is it, exactly, that Forsaken Shores brings to the table? The new region of Devil’s Roar is huge, of course, and there will once again be a story campaign based around the region.
“It brings an intense, different feel into the world when you’re venturing out into those shores, with volcanic eruptions,” Sea of Thieves executive producer Joe Neate told Polygon in an interview.
Not only will you be dealing with volcanoes, but threats from the regular map will also be active. The Kraken and Megalodon can spawn, which is a terrifying prospect in a region where you need to navigate brimstone raining from the sky. There will be no skeleton forts, but skeleton ships will be added to the region in a future update.
Adding to the stakes of the new region is the new Merchant Alliance mission type: cargo runs. Previously, Merchant Alliance quests had you hunting down animals and delivering them. Now, there’ll be the option to deliver cargo to clients while you avoid damaging the goods. Merchant Alliance quests were, according to Neate, the least popular of the factions; this should add a fun new gameplay loop.
There’s a very useful new tool to navigate such dangerous waters: the rowboat.
“The rowboat adds to the pirate fantasy so much. We were just playing around in it, watching rocks rain down as we sailed around,” Neate said with a laugh. While the rowboat’s primary purpose is getting from your ship to an island (especially important in the perilous new region), the dev team expects players to do some silly things with the new tool. He shares a story of a pirate loading his rowboat full of paying customers to take them on a Devil’s Roar tour. You can also launch rowboats full of explosive barrels, or fill them with deadly, hissing snakes. Some Sea of Thieves testers have even set up a rowboat race circuit.
Keeping the Sea of Thieves spirit
The core of the game in Sea of Thieves has always been solid. Chasing down (or fleeing from) other players, managing loot and bringing in big hauls, and playing shanties with your friends on the dock of a galleon as you enjoy the setting sun and lapping waves is a genuine blast. The big complaint with Sea of Thieves has always been content. While the DLC has been a welcome answer to that, significantly fleshing out the world and providing new goals and gameplay loops, the game has stuck to the honest, organic gameplay that made it so great. The content adds to the game, making for a genuinely fun and unique sandbox experience.
While the campaigns and cosmetics have been fantastic, the real heavy lifting of new content comes from the new tools. Rare has shied away from building on systems like the brig; it’s still difficult to legitimately harass or camp other players, and nearly impossible to do so with a crewmate. Instead, the new tools and additions to the game all create ways for players to communicate, cooperate... and betray each other, if the timing’s right.
The speaking horn opens communication across longer distances. Pirate alliances give players a chance to form a fleet and split loot. And the skeleton ships (and deadly cursed cannonballs) give players another global objective to cooperate on, as well as the tools to make ship-to-ship combat a little more complex. All of these are done without crowding the game with heavy UI elements, or requiring reputation grinds, or asking players to raise their gear level. It’s a simple, efficient and refreshing way to play an online game.
Rowboats are likely the most complex tool yet, and we’ll likely see players use them for both combat and antics as Forsaken Shores settles onto servers.
“We have a saying,” Neate said, “Give people tools, and take away as many rules as possible, and you’re going to get interesting stories and encounters.”
At its best, Sea of Thieves creates amazing player stories like Eve Online or DayZ, without the downsides of dealing with players blowing up your ship and escape pod or typing your avatar up and forcing them to drink toxic chemicals. The new content, as well as achievements and goals introduced via Bilge Rat Adventures, is enticing and I look forward to trying it out. But the real excitement is going to be seeing other sails out there in Devil’s Roar and trying to determine what your next move is.
The game is also building infrastructure for more ambitious plans. Future content, including Bilge Rat Adventures and expansions, is already in the works. The inventory system has been changed to allow for more cannonballs, and eventually more food items and more systems for players to use. (Potions are a long-awaited feature based off player speculation and hints in-game.) Bilge Rat Adventures are also a massive improvement to the game, giving players an incentive to log on. Even better, the time-locked achievements are removed, which means players will slowly have access to more goals and accomplishments in game which grant dubloons. Rare is also working on a new player experience to ensure content isn’t locked behind a mastery wall and there’s always room for new pirates on the ocean.
There’s no game quite like Sea of Thieves out there. The initial hype died down, and some people were left disappointed with what the base game had to offer, but the game has — in true pirate fashion — boarded up the holes and forged forward to bigger and better things.