Sea of Thieves is one of Those Games. It had boundless potential at launch, not to mention lots of charm. Though, I will say the gameplay failed to hoist me by the mainsail at launch. Years later — like No Man’s Sky and Final Fantasy XIV and a number of other live games before it — I almost couldn’t be more excited to check out what it’s doing next. Especially after getting a longer look into “A Pirate’s Life.”
Developer Rare described this new, free expansion as a “mega-season” of new content, headlined by a crossover into the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. Though the team also pointed out that Sea of Thieves doesn’t directly adopt the Disney property’s name. “A Pirate’s Life” is merely the name of a new storyline featuring characters like Captain Jack Sparrow (voiced by Jared Butler, who portrayed the character in Kingdom Hearts III) and squid-faced Davy Jones.
The rest of Sea of Thieves’s third season is packed to the gills with new seafaring foes, weapons, cosmetics, and entirely new zones.
That first part is what really excites me. At launch, PVE enemies in Sea of Thieves were pretty limited. Fanbyte Guides Writer and resident Sea of Thieves fan Collin MacGregor tells me that hasn’t changed much. There are sharks and krakens acting as environmental hazards and special bosses. In moment-to-moment combat, however, the game has mostly relied on other human players as adversaries.
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Now we’ve got Phantoms, Sirens, and Ocean Crawlers: ghosts, underwater assassins, and land-based boogeymen with various abilities. The Sirens in particular seem like a big part of “A Pirate’s Life.” According to the presentation we got from Rare, the new faction has thrown its lot in with Davy Jones, who serves as the main antagonist of five new Tall Tales. That’s Sea of Thieves talk for lengthy story missions available in the game’s world.
Sirens attack players underwater. That’s important, because one of the new locations being introduced in Season 3 is The Sunken Kingdom. In it, players will dive “deeper than they’ve ever been able to dive before,” according to Rare. That naturally necessitated some changes. Sea of Thieves will add submerged air plants that refill pirate lungs completely while underwater. That way you can focus on fighting Sirens — which incidentally have the power to heal one another and fire laser bolts from a new weapon called the Trident of Dark Tides. Luckily you can snag the staff for yourself and turn those tides back on your attackers.
Ocean Crawlers serve the Sirens and fight on land. They’re also split into three types: basic brawlers, electric eel-men that summon damaging shields, and poison-spitting were-clams that burrow underground. Phantoms finally seem to be ghost pirates. Though Rare didn’t go in-depth on their role.
As for the big bad, Davy Jones was once the central antagonist of the second and third Pirates of the Caribbean movies. He did (spoilers) die at the end of that trilogy. Apparently he returned in a post-credits sting, during the series’ fifth film. Which I don’t believe anyone actually saw (and that I’m still not 100 percent convinced happened at all).
That’s worth noting, because “A Pirate’s Life” is surprisingly story-heavy. It’s basically a side story that takes place after the movies. The titular Sea of Thieves is apparently a pocket universe, where the age of piracy never ends and nobody ever dies, overseen by the ghostly Ferryman players see while respawning. Sparrow stumbles into the dimension with a magic doohickey; Davy Jones follows.
Our favorite Cthulhu pirate doesn’t burst into sea shanties at the notion of another mystical figure with control over life and death. Instead he tries to merge the two universes to grant himself dominion over the “free” world of Sea of Thieves. That setup is told over the course of five Tall Tales — each split into checkpoints that teams of pirates, or solo sailors, can tackle at their leisure. Enemy A.I. will scale according to group size.
More story and more enemy variety is just what the ship’s doctor ordered (for me, anyway). Multiplayer shenanigans have their own appeal in Sea of Thieves. They’re intense and scary and make for extremely funny video highlights. They’re also dead-ass some of the most stressful interactions I’ve ever had online. Not to mention Sea of Thieves isn’t immune to bad actors. Open mics usually led to me getting called slurs that aren’t even relevant to me, personally.
So it’s also interesting that chunks of “A Pirate’s Life” are separated from the greater world. There are new zones, like the aforementioned Sunken Kingdom and the Sea of the Damned, that can be explored freely, even outside of the story. The new enemies and Trident of Dark Tides will organically appear in the world now, too. Some of these additions were visible in the earliest concept art for the game. They just never made the cut until now. But the story portions of this update spawns crews in separately.
Rare says this allows it to do more interesting things with the environment. Presumably that means puzzles and world-altering events that would interrupt things for other players. The Siren stronghold, for instance, can be modified by playing tunes on magic statues. Doing so raises and lowers water levels throughout the area. When some sections become flooded, they allow players to swim into previously inaccessible nooks and crannies. There’s also what looks like an absolutely wild subterranean fight against the game’s Kraken — weaving its tentacles in and out of caves while pirates beat it back from the deck of a ship being winched off the seafloor.
Scripted sections like that have pulled my attention back to Sea of Thieves. My friends who stuck with the game have described it as “a theme park ride.” You walk through dioramas of original fiction, playing out in the background while solving puzzles, and get cool cosmetics for your efforts. It makes sense that Rare is now reenacting an actual Disneyland attraction. Parts of “A Pirate’s Life” are even direct recreations of that ride. Not to mention the name itself is an oblique reference to the famous song.
Other parts just carry its spirit, only with Sea of Thieves itself at the center. The first Tall Tale also sees you battle aboard an iconic ship: the Ferry of the Damned. The NPC and boat from what’s essentially a loading screen have become their own action set piece. Then you get to explore it afterwards.
To top it all off, Sea of Thieves has no character progression. That worked against it, in my opinion, in the early days. There simply wasn’t enough to do on the open seas without something meaningful to work towards. Now the game is more full of activities than ever — and there’s no sense of lagging behind with an underleveled buccaneer. Anyone is meant to jump in at any time. “A Pirate’s Life,” specifically, is even touted as a great entry point for new players.
I’m not new to Sea of Thieves: not really. But I haven’t kept up much beyond listening to out-of-game tall tales about my friends’ adventures. With an update this big, focused on the stuff I can enjoy at my own pace, that’s almost certainly about to change. Sea of Thieves is the latest in a lineage of “those games,” but the fact of the matter is that I love to see a project get the runway to become something special. It’s gotten my attention before; it’s about to happen again.
Oh, there’s also a talking skull that reacts when you sing to it. That charm I mentioned seems fully intact as well.