Sea of Thieves will sail through uncharted waters in 2022. On Thursday, developer Rare released an overview video that explains how the next year of updates for the game will unfold and details major changes to the pirate sandbox focused on bringing the world to life and telling big stories.
Two big new storytelling features are coming to the game: Adventures and Mysteries. Alongside the existing Seasons, these three updates will define the next year for Sea of Thieves.
At the beginning of 2021, Rare introduced Seasons, a three-month update cycle that regularly introduces new mechanics to the sandbox. Seasons will stick around, as it’s been a largely successful experiment. In March, season 6 will kick off and introduce stone sea forts that have emerged from the Sea of the Damned to plague the mortal plane. These solo-friendly experiences scale to meet players, and anyone who can fight through the angry phantoms can earn some sweet loot.
Alongside season 6, the first new addition to the update cycle is Adventures. Adventures are story-driven live events that occur monthly, and they will usually last for two weeks. “It’s an idea of what experience we can build, beyond just mechanically,” said Mike Chapman, creative director at Rare, in an interview with Polygon. “The idea is that each adventure is a chapter in an episodic, epic story that is always unfolding.”
Adventures are meant to bring a sense of continual danger to the world, and ensure that even veterans can find some novelty, without being overwhelming. “Why do you want to engage with a story and these adventures? It’s not just because you’re going to get a cool cosmetic at the end of it,” said Chapman. “It’s because you want the world to feel bigger. You want it to feel like a rich place that you’ve got a part of in moving forwards.”
Slow, episodic storytelling has existed to a degree since Sea of Thieves launched in 2018; long-time players might remember the slow story of Captain Flameheart’s rise to power, or the excitement of seeing a whole server suddenly agree to cooperate and summon a massive megalodon. Adventures should, in theory, make these moments more constant and accessible. Cinematic lore trailers will punctuate the action, introducing players to new characters and allies and catching them up on the tales.
Older areas of the world will be continually revamped over time as the stories develop, and at key moments, the community will have to decide how the story ends. Player data will contribute toward the narrative; if pirates choose one side over the other, the world will adapt accordingly.
The first Adventure kicks off with Golden Sands Outpost ravaged by a spooky fog, while everyone within has vanished. Players will have to crack the case, with Pirate Legends in particular getting access to replayable challenges based around exploring haunted islands and shipwreck graveyards. Other Adventures will be based on bringing new pirate-y experiences to the game, like smuggling valuable goods past attentive antagonists.
Mysteries are sort of parallel narratives that run alongside Adventures; they’re meant to unravel slowly over the course of months. There will be hints revealed both in-game and out of game, with inspiration taken from alternate reality games. The first one will be a good ol’ fashioned murder mystery, and a beloved in-game character will be the victim.
Mysteries are much more malleable than adventures; Rare says it will be paying attention to determine when players are solving puzzles, advancing, and getting lost along the way.
“The advantage of using out-of-game elements is that it makes the world feel like it doesn’t have the boundaries of just the game,” said Chapman. “It feels like the world exists off the screen. So tonally, what you’re doing outside of game, how that feeds back to the theme of the mystery needs to be complementary. We’re not gonna throw in a mechanic that wouldn’t even make sense in [the Sea of Thieves] world.”
Together, the goal is for these three pillars of content to make Sea of Thieves feel less like a playground and more like a living world, even if it’s an over-the-top and dramatic one.
“There’s a future ahead that’s unknown,” said Chapman. “But you are part of that timeline moving forward. It’s not just a static world; [the players are] going to be part of that unfolding history.”