When Sea of Thieves launched in March 2018, many people believed it was an enjoyable, beautiful experience that was just lacking some direction and was perhaps a little thin in the content department. I was one of those people: I found Sea of Thieves an exhilarating experience with friends and a peaceful one alone, but I often found myself with too little meaningful content to engage with.
Developer Rare has repeatedly updated the pirate game since launch, and it is now on the cusp of introducing a significant update that injects much-needed variety into the game. On April 30 the game will be patched with the Anniversary update, which includes a new narrative-driven questline called Tall Tales: Shores of Gold and an entirely new PvP mode named The Arena, all for free.
The Arena is a competitive mode for five teams of four set in smaller, distinct areas. At the beginning of each 24-minute match, every team receives the same set of treasure maps. You must proceed to one of the X marks in order to retrieve chests, which can then be cashed in for Silver at a number of special ships.
Of course, other teams are competing for the same chests and cashing-in points, so you might find you run into some resistance on your travels. Killing other players or sinking their ships nets you a small amount of Silver, and respawns are active. Particular to The Arena is a new damage model for ships, which can now have their wheel, masts, and anchor destroyed--though these can be repaired with wood in the same way you would fix a hull.
Arena matches are frantic but fun, and Rare says they're designed to satisfy players who don't necessarily have time to dive into a whole run of classic Sea of Thieves--which is now being dubbed Adventure Mode. But more importantly, they unite players around a single, clear objective, providing more direction for those solo queuing or those lacking a microphone. This solves the issue Sea of Thieves always had where players would be pulling in different directions, shooting for different targets--even if they were part of the same team. You'd have one player wanting to complete a Merchants' Alliance quest, another wanting to ambush other teams' ship, and another simply jumping up and down and spinning on the spot. The Arena's obvious objectives and condensed map do a lot to rid the game of these issues, since any individual not paying attention and working with their team will quickly find themselves sleeping with the fishes.
The Arena also has the potential to rid Adventure Mode of griefers and people who are of a more combative persuasion. I prefer my Sea of Thieves journeys to be relaxing, which made it irritating when another player--friend or foe--decided to engage in combat. If people who prefer to fight are busy in The Arena, hopefully the rest of the game world will become a more peaceful proposition. Or maybe I'm placing too much faith in the troublemaking scallywags.
Tall Tales, meanwhile, is a new questline for people who wanted more direction in Sea of Thieves' classic Adventure Mode. It's set in the game's usual shared world--which will also gain a new island that Rare says is its biggest yet--and will see you complete a number of puzzles and riddles in the search for treasure. The mode includes new enemy types, items enchanted with new abilities, and a new faction named the Hunters' Call who'll buy fish and meat off you after you utilize new fishing and cooking mechanics. While those new mechanics are a little basic, they add a nice bit of flavor to otherwise plain sailing--unless you burn your fish, that is.
While Tall Tales: Shores of Gold is only a subtle change from the vanilla Sea of Thieves experience, the greater purpose it gives, the greater narrative strands it provides, and the more tangible targets it teases help motivate you to continue venturing out into the seas. You're not simply completing quests in order to unlock more quests of a similar nature; there are more interesting activities to complete, such as escaping a locked room filling with water, and a more defined goal on the horizon in the questline's next riddle. More important than the objectives and new mechanics, however, is the distinct feeling these new missions provide: it feels like you're actually on a guided adventure, rather than just going from point A to point B. New voice lines--spoken for the first time by actual voice actors, rather than studio staff as was the case previously--are a large reason for this new flavor.
Nine tales make up the Shores of Gold expansion, but Rare says it will continue to support Sea of Thieves with more content in a similar vein going forward, and if things carry on improving along these lines, I'll be diving back into Rare's oceans for many months to come.