It’s been a couple years since I’ve heard anything about Rare, the famed studio responsible for bringing us such classics as Banjo Kazooie, Donkey Kong Country, and GoldenEye 007. I’m happy to report that they’re apparently still active, and have actually been working on a pretty exciting new project due to come out some time this year.
That project is the sailing simulator “Sea of Thieves”. There’s not too terribly much known about it right now, as it’s currently in a semi-closed alpha program and Rare is is keeping most details pretty close to the chest. What we do know, however, is pretty compelling: Sea of Thieves is claimed to be an open world collaborative multiplayer game set during the golden age of piracy, apparently in a bid to finish off everybody’s “Perfect Game Bingo” cards. Joking aside, the game allegedly takes you to an island-dotted oceanic world and places you on a pirate ship along with your teammates (who will either be your friends or be supplied via a matchmaking system). It then becomes your team’s job to band together as a proper crew to operate your ship and set off for exploration, adventure, and looting.
There seems to be a heavy (and welcome) emphasis on cooperative play. Just like a real world sailing vessel, the ships are complex with a lot of moving parts that need to be operated in conjunction with each other. One player will need to man the wheel while another trims the sails, and yet another raises the anchor, etc. Crews will need to be in constant communication with each other and work well together as a team, or else they’ll soon meet with disaster.
Not all of the action takes place on your ship, however. Early gameplay footage reveals that you do (as least occasionally) make port and go ashore for some land-faring adventures. What exactly these adventures will entail remains a mystery but there is footage of a pirate crew sitting in a tavern drinking rather impressive amounts of ale. To me this implies there might be some RPG-style trading or merchant mechanics in the game, but who knows? The studio has also gone on record saying that there will be treasure hunting, crafting, and other classic gameplay mechanics.
And yes, of course there’s going to be ship-to-ship combat (how could there not be?) Released footage shows a rather exciting fight between a player vessel and another ship (it wasn’t clear if this hostile ship was another human crew or if it was computer controlled). One thing I noticed during the exchange was a surprising lack of a hit bar or other artificial health indicator. Now, it’s entirely possible that Rare simply hasn’t gotten around to inserting those elements yet, but they have stated that they’re striving for realistic physics simulation. In my mind this opens up a really thrilling possibility (and it’s important to note that this is pure, wild speculation on my part): It’s entirely possible that in this game combat isn’t governed by artificial stats like armor or hit points. It’s possible that if you want to sink an enemy it will mean ACTUALLY GETTING TO SINK AN ENEMY. While that’s just my own personal guess later footage seems to hint I might be on to something: the clip shows the player’s ship listing hard to the side with water coming up over the bow, and GENUINE PANIC in the player’s voices as they frantically debate what to do.
Unfortunately that’s really all we know at this point. If you’re eager to take a peak you can try applying to the “Sea of Thieves Insider Program” (I’m trying to get in myself), which will reportedly grant you access to the studio’s alpha sessions. If you’re not one of those lucky few in the program then it looks like you’ll be left in the dark until much closer to release. Rare will probably (hopefully) release more gameplay footage in the coming months, so maybe soon we’ll know more details. In the meantime though I’m incredibly excited. I love ships, and it’s no secret that I love open world exploratory games. A “run your own ship with your friends” open world game like this is exactly the type of thing I’ve been dreaming of since MMO’s first started making big waves a couple decades ago. Part of me wants to temper my excitement and remember that what’s promised isn’t always what’s delivered (looking at you, No Man’s Sky), but with Rare at the helm it’s hard not to have confidence in the game’s success.