Perhaps my favourite new IP revealed at this year’s E3 actually came during Microsoft’s press conference, that being Sea of Thieves from the seemingly resurrected Rare Studios. On my E3 Wish List, I even predicted/hoped that we’d see an open world pirate game announced. Although I thought it would be Ubisoft who’d give me what I wanted, it was actually Rare – a prospect that has me very excited indeed.
At the moment, however, I remain sceptical: this isn’t the same Rare that made all those adored classics, and Sea of Thieves will see them embark upon completely new waters. That said, if the elements discussed below make it into the game, I will gladly travel with them through still and storm.
IN-DEPTH SHIP-TO-SHIP COMBAT
The only open-world pirate game of any quality we have on current-gen consoles right now is Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, a game I absolutely loved. Surprisingly, what made it such an enjoyable affair wasn’t the tedious Assassin’s Creed stuff, but rather when all those dated mechanics and systems were abandoned for the open waters. You were set free to ravage the seas and loot and plunder any poor souls that happened to cross your path. That would never have worked if the ship-to-ship combat wasn’t in-depth, diverse and, most of all, fun.
I’m not claiming Black Flag ‘s ship combat to be massively complex and intricate, but it is varied enough for you to be able to take down different ships in different ways, and every way was satisfying. Sea of Thieves seems to be, thankfully, moving in the same direction. In the trailer we see two ships exchange cannon fire, before one ship rams the other – if Rare allow us to defeat an enemy vessel in a variety of ways, I’ll no doubt spend hours hunting down prey. Well, as long as we then get a load of booty for our troubles.
If we can then trade said booty with other players in the world, for either coin or other materials in order to develop our ship from a cute rowboat to a menacing Man o’ War, then yay! Being a prominently single player kind of guy, the fact that Sea of Thieves appears to be a completely online world does worry me a little, but if we’re able to trade all that we’ve plundered with other humble sea bandits, then it would definitely become more appealing to me.
A MASSIVE NETWORK OF ISLANDS TO EXPLORE
One of the true joys of Black Flag for me was simply exploring the vast waters of the Caribbean. I remember sailing from the port in Havana to Kingston, and it taking me hours, as I’d continuously get distracted by new uncharted territories, full of possibilities. I may have found a peaceful encampment populated by merry people dancing around a fire, or I may have stumbled across a long abandoned jungle, inhabited eons ago by a civilisation only survived by once-glorious temples now reclaimed by nature. I enjoyed that enough as it is, but the fact that Rare could do similar without the restriction of trying to make a life-like blockbuster hints at some breathe taking sights.
Potentially, the wild life that could reside in the world Rare are creating wouldn’t need to abide by the laws of our reality. In the brief reveal trailer we saw a tease of the Kraken, painted on the wall as if to warn those who dare tread its waters, the Kraken. Of course, we’ll still get your standard sharks and birds and fish and no doubt lots of them, but I want the creators and artists at Rare to go all out and populate the world with the most imaginative and mystical creatures they can come up with. I do hope other pirate myths and maritime monsters such as mermaids, Calypso, selkies, sea sprites and of course, Davy Jones, all appear, but I also want them to create legends of their own.
While I want a vast, open-world packed with uncharted, lost, and even newly-colonised Islands to discover and explore, I also want there to be civilisation. You know that feeling when you’ve been at sea for months, and you’ve made a member of your crew walk the plank because he stole some of your treasure, which resulted in a mutiny right before you were attacked and robbed by another band of rotten scallywags and, oh look, you’ve got a black spot on your hand now? Well, in that situation you just want to return to dry land and warm your feet in a toasty, rustic tavern and talk to some pals over rum. Let there be several settlements across the world where players can go to trade, conjugate with others and do whatever else Rare decide to stick in the game.
If the sea combat has to be interesting and fun for the game to survive, the toe-to-toe fighting must be able to stand proudly beside it. We don’t need anything special or revolutionary, it has to be at least thrilling when you undoubtedly board an enemy ship or get into a squabble with another pirate over the hidden treasure you’ve just found. My worry for this is that, from the trailer at least, the game appears to be in first person, and first person melee combat always seems harder to pull off than third person.
AN ACTUAL STORY
My primary concern for Sea of Thieves being a variation on the MMO formula, apart from exactly how it will work, is that there may not be an actual story; we might simply be left to our own devices to do we they please. Freedom is grand, but that would be a squandered opportunity. There’s so much scope in pirate mythos to make some truly incredible and intriguing narratives. Black Flag told a story (if you ignore the Assassin’s Creed bits) about friendship and loss, which resulted in one of the few games that actually made me cry. Black Sails, which combines fact and fiction, is one of the best programmes on TV right now, packed with mystery, political intrigue and unpredictable twists. And, of course, who could forget the classic Treasure Island? There’s so much potential for a story campaign in a game like Sea of Thieves, and I’d love to see Rare produce a belter.