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Sea of Thieves’ Tall Tales is the star feature of the anniversary update

Yes! Yes! This is what I want!

Sea of Thieves - A skeleton lord on the Shores of Gold Rare / Microsoft Studios

When Sea of Thieves released its trailer for the anniversary event, some of the things within had been teased at or guessed by fans before. The Arena had received a full trailer, and hunting and fishing were long-time fan requests. But the Tall Tales story mode, which include in-game quests, bosses, and lore, took fans by surprise. Now that the feature is in the game, it’s clear that they’re the highlight of the update, and feel far more fleshed out and carefully crafted than the experimental, new format of the Arena.

Here’s how Tall Tales work. Usually, when you enter Sea of Thieves, you purchase a voyage from one of the trading companies (or, if you’re a Pirate Legend, an Athena’s Legend voyage which provides a lucrative sampling from all three companies). Then, you sail about and collect the booty you’re after, and the real fun and unexpected twists come from your interactions with other players. There are shake-ups to that formula, like the skull forts and skeleton fleets, or random encounters in the world, but otherwise players are granted a sandbox and choose to make their own fun.

Tall Tales provides significantly more structure. In one mission, I’m tasked with finding an ancient pirate relic called the Shroudbreaker, which can part the fog that surrounds the Sea of Thieves. As someone who’s played through the expansion campaigns, this is a juicy callback to the lore established in Forsaken Shores and the new Devil’s Roar region. However, newer players aren’t left behind; with just a little bit of exploration they can find tomes and diaries that explain things about the world.

In another mission, me and my crew go toe to toe with Captain Briggsy, a boss encounter that feels like a boss encounter, as opposed to a random event that can trigger again at any moment. There’s story building up to these moments, and they follow conventional narrative structures. That’s a sweet contrast to the previous year of Sea of Thieves, where I’d log in with friends and hope that the stars aligned to provide the wild, wonderful experiences with other players and the world that made me fall in love with the game.

Sometimes, we would find these stories, and I’d add another member to my crew. Other times, we’d drift in silence, or get attacked by a hostile crew yelling slurs. I would despair in these moments, because this wasn’t a good way to share what Sea of Thieves is to someone new at all.

Tall Tales provides that ability to share something new and exciting, and its combined with an Arena update that has, overall, made the seas less senselessly aggressive. The lore of the world, which strikes a wonderful balance between lighthearted and intriguing, remains the same. There’s still those moments of levity, and characters are still cartoon pirates. Now, they’re cartoon pirates with goals and motivations, and I have the ability to help them (or thwart them in wonderfully cinematic fashion.)

Sea of Thieves Anniversary Edition art Rare/Microsoft Studios

Not only are characters revisited, but so are the beautiful locales of Sea of Thieves. Environments like Thieves’ Haven or Smuggler’s Bay are gorgeous islands with stories just waiting to be told in them, but they often stand empty of characters and are simply locales to fight skeletons or dig up treasure in. Tall Tales offers the opportunity for places like these to have their stories told, and for the world to be more fleshed out over time. Like the Arena, it’s a system that can be iterated on and expanded. Unlike the Arena, it comes out in a much more complete and polished state to the point where I’m happy with what we already have.

As someone who’s followed the lore since day one, I’m excited to see where Rare could go next with Tall Tales — and they most certainly can and will. The Tall Tales system is inherently modular, where missions work independently of another, and so they could be added in futures individually or in chunks of content. There’s already a fantastic canvas in the base world, and I’m looking forward to seeing where Rare takes the system from here. I’m in no rush for more — there are nine missions currently, and they can take a couple of hours to complete apiece. They’re also randomized and repeatable, meaning that it’s tough to burn through and tire of the content immediately.

A pirate captain takes the helm in Sea of Thieves Rare / Microsoft Studios

Rare have also learned from its previous campaigns. The puzzles associated with The Hungering Deep expansion perplexed our crew, sending us spinning in circles and struggling where to head next. (We ended up studying a NPC’s tattoos for fifteen minutes in the vague hope it’d help. It did not.) Other campaigns, like the one for Forsaken Shores, were a little too simple, and worked primarily as a reason to check out the new environments. Tall Tales leverages this experience to dodge both of those traps and come up with the Goldilocks of puzzles.

That being said, the Tall Tales came at the perfect time. While they’re what the game needed, if they had arrive early on, Sea of Thieves would have possibly struggled with the same issues Red Dead Online is currently facing. Players can burn through story content quickly, and if they found an empty world afterwards, they tend to quickly grow bored. Red Dead Online has fantastic story missions, but they rarely draw conversation as much as the standard open-world gameplay loops around the map. Sea of Thieves has spent four expansions honing the experience of, well, being on the Sea of Thieves itself.

The first Tall Tale can be started at any outpost, by voting on the book next to the Mysterious Stranger in the tavern as you would a voyage. It takes one to two hours to complete, and cannot be carried over between sessions. I’m enjoying the new content, and looking forward to what stories come after the current Shores of Gold campaign. The update — as well as all previous Sea of Thieves expansions — is free for anyone with access to Sea of Thieves via ownership or the Xbox Game Pass.