When I first reviewed Sea of Thieves on its full release back in March of this year, I was both frustrated and annoyed by it. It launched on a galleon of hype and promises but the released product instead was mostly a bland experience with little depth and focused on repetition and grinding to unlock its true appeal. Now two months later and whilst some of that frustration is still very much a problem I have with the game, the overall experience has indeed changed thanks to some much needed common sense updates and changes to the features in the game. This week has seen the launch of the first new community event content for the game in the form of ‘The Hungering Deep’ and I have to admit…..things are looking up for Sea of Thieves.
The first thing that needs to be clarified about this new content is that this is not a big expansion for the game, but it is the first step to broadening the playing experience with Sea of Thieves. Last week’s update introduced players to the pirate in the trailer above, Merrick, a drunken soul who lost his ship, crew and his legs to a monstrous sea beast. The Hungering Deep is the quest to find this monster and slay it, but to do so pirates will first need to solve the riddles and clues to track it down whilst learning more about this mysterious Merrick.
What makes this a fresh new take on the standard “sail her, blow this up and take the treasure” style of Sea of Thieves voyages, is that in order to find the monster, crews will have to rely and team up with other crews in order to complete this task. That is a big change in the mindset needed to play this game as at its heart, Sea of Thieves is a PvP (Player vs Player) experience where the only rule to follow is ‘Don’t Trust Anybody’ should you be stabbed in the back and robbed of all your precious loot and treasure. So just the very premise that you need to work with other pirates in order to do this is a big game changer, and for me personally gave me one of the finest gaming sessions in recent years in a game that was one of the most frustrating in recent years when reviewed.
As soon as you find yourself in the bar of an outpost when you first load into the game, you will be introduced to the first new feature of the DLC, a member of the Bilge Rats simply called Duke. Talking to him will give you the information that he knows the location of someone who can explain why all the sharks have been acting strange and aggressive for the last seven days in game. He tells you to search out Merrick on Shark Bait Cove to learn more which is where the quest line begins. But Duke has another purpose in that going forward, he will be the source of discovering what new community events are in the game which begins with Hungering Deep and after its two week run, will then be replaced with a new timed challenge for players to tackle. This alone is pretty huge when you consider for the last two months all players have had to do are voyages for the guilds, Skull Fort raids and basically fighting over ships.
Finding Merrick on the beach of Shark Bait Cove will see him playing his drums but talking to him will reveal his tale of sorrow, but due to him being drunk, he is not really making too much sense but he does start to explain what happened to him. It is in these lines of drunken dialogue that the clues to solving his riddles will be as you piece together clues to find the next location to visit. But Merrick does have a gift, the Speaking Trumpet and introduces the next game changing feature for me. The Speaking Trumpet now brings in “Ship to Ship” communication, specifically designed to enable crews on different ships to talk to each other within game chat in order to forge new team ups to complete this event but also the ones to come in the future. Essentially what the trumpet does is to expand the range of the proximity chat but it also does something very helpful which is to force those who may rely on the Xbox party to chat with players or if on PC, those who have been using the Discord App to have voice communication with crewmates instead of in game chat. This alone makes players talk in game and it is remarkably effective as I will come to next, but it does show that the developers of Sea of Thieves, Rare, are actively seeking ways to bring this community of pirates together within the game and breaking down the walls that keep them separate to an extent.
I do not want to spoil the individual steps needed to complete this quest-line and trigger the new monster fight, but what I will talk about is my own experience with my regular crewmates and how this event has changed so much in just the first day of its release. I and three friends formed a galleon crew, and after picking up the brand new Hungering Deep ship designs in sails, hull paint and new flag (which shows you which way the wind is blowing to help align the sails correctly) we made our way to Shark Bait Cove. As we approached we noticed two sloops already at the location which normally would put us in PvP mode and ready to start firing our canons. But even before we spoke to Merrick and collected our speaking trumpets, we could hear the crews of the sloops using the in game chat text and emotes to say hello and to signal a truce.
We all started talking as we tried to figure out the first step. Pirates of the UK and US were for the first time in the game just….saying hello. As we found the first pages of Merrick’s Journal and got ready to depart the island, we were all trying to figure out what to do next with different theories and guesses from all around. We then noticed that a third sloop had approached, this time a solo player who was rather young but our newly found collective welcomed him in, guided him to speak to Merrick and before long and without realising it, we had formed our own fleet. As we set sail the sloops followed in line behind us like little ducks, using the speaking trumpet we were able to direct the other ships at distance to where we were heading. Four ships and at least twelve players were now all working together, peacefully, talking away and having fun within the first twenty minutes of starting this new content.
Skipping to about three hours later and having solved all the puzzles and riddles and plenty of “we are sorry we bumped into your ship” moments including one where I left our Galleon to help the young solo player sail his ship to the final location, the team work factor really kicked in as we had to work together to use the new drum instrument to summon the new monster to battle and what a battle it was. By now most people will know that the new monster to fight is a giant shark, and it is huge as it is almost the size of a sloop itself and will circle your ship. It will attack surrounding ships and each of its massive bites will make four holes in the hull of the victim ship and a single bite can kill or knock pirates off a galleon. The fight does flow like a kraken fight in that each cannonball hit will have a sound queue and doing enough damage will kill the monster but it is a very impressive visual experience to see this large creature circling and attacking. Defeating it will trigger the game to tell you to return to Merrick to tell him you have slain the beast and collect your reward.
The most remarkable thing for me however came after we won the fight. It was not the reward itself nor was it the joy at having defeated it but instead it was the next thing our little fleet did next. The young solo player I mentioned above, was sadly killed by the monster but after the monster had sunk his sloop which resulted in him spawning with his new ship far away from us which is the norm when you die and your ship has sunk. He did mange to sail back to us but literally mere moments after the fight was over making him the only one not to complete the quest. Without having to even ask if our fleet was happy to go back and repeat the fight with this kid, everyone was in their sloops ready to head back just to help this kid finish the quest. It should be pointed out that you only get a reward for killing the monster once so far, so there was no reward in repeating this but for the fact it was to help this kid have the same experience as us. We even made sure we kept him safe during the fight, with me and a good few others asking after each shark attack if he was still alive. To hear the excitement in his voice alone for finishing the fight again was completely worth it and that really sums up the impact this content had for us all.
This is not a long quest-line, we managed to complete it first time in just under four hours and did not earn any new amounts of gold or treasure during that time. My crew fought and won three times against the monster, with most of the time actually helping other players work out what to do and then the final battle. Our ship was riddled with holes but it lasted ten hours overall. I love the new features of the speaking trumpet and in game chat text that help start and form team work with other crews and the new customisation options of tattoo sets and ship flags are nice touches. But it was the fact that for one day, I saw the most positive example of this game’s community since it launched and it was glorious to see. Everyone was having fun just working with other players on different ships to accomplish the same goal with all knowing that tomorrow we would probably be firing cannons at each other. We made new friends to play the game with going forward and Sea of Thieves just came alive in a wonderful way that made us forget its shortcomings.
Going forward, we know that the next DLC which can be considered an expansion will be revealed or at least teased by Rare at Xbox’s E3 briefing. We know that these timed community events will run every two weeks and I do hope that they continue to make this teamwork based requiring crews to work together as it served as a great break from all the PvP and allowed players to find new players to possibly play the game with going forward. So much positivity came from just this new bit of content that made the wait worthwhile for me and my friends.
The Hungering Deep is not an expansion and thinking of it as such is a mistake. It is a content update and community event that also brought in some new features that combined with the features added in the last patch such as the ability to share consumables with other pirates, closed crews to prevent the odd random player from joining your crew to keep it friends only and the new accessibility visual options for colour blind players, and Sea of Thieves is on the road to reaching the potential that the hype for it was built on before launch. Two months is a long time to find its feet but this new content is a very hopeful start to reach that goal and if the next content drop can come quickly and delivers another fresh experience then Sea of Thieves becomes far more inclusive than divisive going forward. I am finding new ways to enjoy this game and making new friends to share that experience with. But this event let me smiling and far more positive going forward which I am relived about.
This game can be amazing at times just as it can be frustrating and disappointing but such steps to improve the quality of the experience is most welcome.