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Sea of Thieves’ Captaincy update is the dolly dress-up I’ve craved

I run The Bewwowing Hewwo, a fearsome sloop

Sea of Thieves - A player’s pirate cabin, decorated to meet their tastes with various trinkets Image: Rare/Microsoft
Cass Marshall is a news writer focusing on gaming and culture coverage, taking a particular interest in the human stories of the wild world of online games.

Sea of Thieves has continually been updated since its launch, bringing in everything from spectral phantoms and coral beasts to Jack Sparrow and Spanish fleets. But the most recent Captaincy update, which launched at the start of August along with season 7, may be one of the most impactful updates yet. Captaincy allows players to name and decorate their own ship, sell to a special vendor, and otherwise flex their status on the high seas. It’s the first update to really shine the spotlight on other players, and it makes the Sea feel so much more alive.

When Sea of Thieves first launched, threats were thin on the ground. Developer Rare has since expanded the map into the fiery, frightful Devil’s Roar and added a whole host of dungeons and quests to explore. But all of these updates have been external, changing the world. Pirates themselves have received new tattoos or dresses, but rarely have they been granted new ways to meaningfully progress their own story.

Now, on the high waves, peering down a spyglass at a Captained ship plays a little tune, and you get to see their ship’s name, which is also emblazoned above their quarters. For instance, if you were to encounter me on the seas, you’d see that I run The Bewwowing Hewwo, a fearsome sloop. I greet others with a heartfelt “Hewwo.” I’m the captain of this ship, and you can’t do anything about it — although many try, often with cannons and fire. Peering at others’ ships, with names like the parrot-cosmetic-adorned Chicken Club or the black and gold Booty Hunter, and flipping through their log books, make them feel like similarly established characters.

“[Captaincy] always felt like a core part of the pirate fantasy,” says creative director Mike Chapman in a call with Polygon. Chapman says the team has discussed adding this feature on and off since launch. “I think we’ve kind of reached a point now with the sandbox facilities that have evolved so much, and there’s such a breadth of different experiences and play styles, that it was time to allow players to become Captains.”

In Sea of Thieves, players can progress through the Tall Tales quest lines, earn reputation with factions, show up for Adventures, and battle through world events. But there wasn’t much in the way of meaningful personal progression. A few rare pirates have earned Easter eggs in the world through community contributions, but there are no Boots of Better Sailing to acquire or Pirate Points to spend in talent trees. Your pirate could gussy themselves up in new cosmetics, like tattoos or a cool sword, but each session still started with a fresh, unadorned sloop.

Sea of Thieves - Pirates aboard a ship fight off coral beasts from the seas. Image: Rare/Microsoft

Now, players can assemble their own fleets, purchasing new ships and locking specific customization slots — like a treasured capstan or cool cannon — to automatically load on a sloop, brigantine, or galleon. As Captains go about their adventures, they’ll accumulate Milestones, which unlock new trinkets and treasures. And if your ship gets jostled about, you can straighten up paintings and realign your little statues so your ship is neat. If your ship is kraken’d or firebombed, that damage will show up unless you pay a small sum to remove it.

“When we thought about deep levels of customization, we thought that players want to express how they play and who they are as a captain,” says Shelley Preston, lead designer on Sea of Thieves. “If you love the Devil’s Roar stuff, you’ll have Milestones that correlate with globe-y, volcanic rock looking decorations — and you can progress that way and become that reflection of that play style.”

Some of the trinkets are trophies from dramatic adventures, and some of them are just nice little ferns or a humble hook on which to hang one’s hat. “It was about ensuring that we’ve got enough variety and kind of role-playability to actually make the cabin and the quarters feel like it’s theirs,” says Preston.

Sea of Thieves - a fleet of galleons outside an outpost, each adorned with the cosmetics from a different faction. Image: Rare/Microsoft

Chapman says that it was a process to make sure that Captains had fun options without cluttering up their ships too much. “What you don’t want to do is push it so far that you can adversely affect the core gameplay, that you’re impacting the free flow of walking around the ship and accessing damage holes when you’re under stress and your ship is sinking. So it’s trying to tread that line of not affecting the core gameplay, but really giving that ability to express yourself and the things that you’ve done.”

While Rare has given Sea of Thieves a multitude of updates since its launch over four years ago, the Captaincy update is one I’ve enjoyed the most so far. A new voyage or glowing landmark on the map to investigate is always fun, but the dolly dress-up element of fastidiously arranging little trinkets on my sloop is delightful.

It’s also great to sink another ship and read their logbook. When my buddies and I were aboard a brig, being chased down by a Reaper ship called The Audacity, we feared for our precious cargo. But we managed to stay afloat and win a brutal war of attrition, and then we seized their logbook and marveled at their achievements. All of the other Captaincy features, like the ability to sell your loot en masse to a convenient vendor at outposts, is just the icing on the cake.

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