What ‘Sea of Thieves’ Can Learn From Other Pirate Games

Dom Peppiatt
Games Xbox
Games Xbox PC Gaming

Sea of Thieves aims to deliver on something that games haven’t really done: it wants to give you the best pirate fantasy you could possibly imagine. Considering video game genres move in tropes, it’s surprising we haven’t had this kind of game before – we’ve had endless military shooter fantasies, we’ve ventured into unknown fantasy lands uncountable times, we’ve been at the final frontier in space for as long as games have been a thing.

But we rarely take to the seas, raise our anchor and live out our virtual lives as pirates. The times we have set sail with other scurvy dogs, it’s been themed slightly differently – Assassin’s Creed took us to the Caribbean under the guide of a historical simulation, Monkey Island cast us as an unlikely goofball fumbling through a mystery… games have never really delivered on what being a pirate is, what being a pirate means.

Until Sea of Thieves.

“Think about anything you know about pirate culture,” says Joe Neate, executive producer on Sea of Thieves at Rare, “Think about everything you know about pirates that you’ve seen from TV to books to films. Sea of Thieves is about giving you access to these tropes.

You can look like the pirate you want to look like, battle against other ships who are out on the open waters with their own goals. We want you to explore, to find treasure, to live a pirate fantasy – all with a fantastical element.”

Extending the voyage

Sea of Thieves island
Sea Of Thieves has already captured the imagination of pirate-loving gamers.

At launch, Sea of Thieves allows you to generate a pirate that will become your avatar: through this, you can act out your fantastic pirate dreams. Whether that’s treasure hunting on deserted islands, or taking down skeleton forts with your customised ship, Sea of Thieves has you covered. You can dive into the ocean to seek out the remains of (in)famous pirates, you can pilfer animals from exotic farms to raise (or befriend) yourself. The game lets you be your best pirate self.

But Sea of Thieves promises to have a long tail. It’s not the kind of game you play once and stow away in your library. No, Sea of Thieves is a growing beast, an evolving service that will likely end up being grouped in with Destiny, The Division, Rainbow Six: Siege, Warframe. To that end, Rare needs to keep updating the game, keep making it attractive to players – new and old – as it matures to find its niche in the industry.

For inspiration, Rare can look to other pirate games that have come before. Granted, there haven’t been a great many, but there have certainly been attempts made on the genre before, and maybe in looking to the past can Rare more steadily monitor its future.

Throwing a (s)curve ball

Timed events featuring disease and survival elements like those found in Days could add a welcome layer of tension to this cheery pirate game.

No pirate tale would be complete without tales of scurvy and disease. It’s integral to every pirate story ever written – even Treasure Island noted that ill-health of its seafaring characters pretty early on.

Survival games (H1Z1, DayZ and more besides) already use heat, hydration and nutrition levels when they factor in a player’s overall health, and Sea of Thieves could do the same.

If you know you’re going on a long voyage, perhaps Rare will make players adequately resupply their food reserves – you eat bananas to replenish health, anyway, so perhaps tacking on a Scurvy Meter is the next logical step… you could even wage psychological warfare on enemy ships by denying them food, sneaking aboard and rinsing their pantry, and then hounding them on the open waters, not letting them dock, forcing them into submission through a nutrition-based siege. Just a thought.

Scoundrel Simulator

The Monkey Island series offered games a hilarious take on the pirating genre.

Pirates are also known for their wit, with cutting tongues almost as sharp as their cutlasses. The Secret of Monkey Island introduced us to a unique form of combat where players traded insults in order to come out on top in melee encounters. Sea of Thieves already has its own dedicated combat, but what if Rare added in some sort of (family-friendly) insult generator that let you trade jokes with your crew in taverns or on your boat?

Perhaps each of the game’s Trading Companies would bestow different lines or different quips when you reach a certain level with the faction? That way, if you pull into port with a group of pirates who have been helping out the Merchant Alliance – whilst you’ve been off fulfilling orders for The Order of Souls – you’d have different things to say to each other, you could verbally wrestle as you smash back your ale.

This would encourage more interaction – a friendlier, less-aggressive interaction – and could even be a good excuse for Rare to get some classic video game references into the game, too.

Sailing to new shores

Assassin's Creed Rogue took pirating out of the Caribbean. We'd love to see RARE do the same.

Assassin’s Creed: Rogue was built on the back of the success of the only other pirate simulator to have hit consoles in the last few years, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Rogue wasn’t a pirate game itself, but the naval systems in it made it a spiritual successor to Black Flag, making it a worthy successor in our eyes.

The game took players to much icier climbs than they’re used to when it comes to seafaring titles: the inland Appalachian regions of North America and on the high seas off the American coast.

Sea of Thieves could learn a thing or two from this – though we know the Golden Age of Piracy mostly came about through disruption of trading routes in the Caribbean, piracy was still rife elsewhere. Maybe for the big Year One expansion most games as a service drop, we could see Rare head away from the Caribbean and into somewhere a little… different. The art direction of the game is gorgeous, after all, and it’d be fascinating to see what the studio would do with that in less temperate climbs.

Embracing Pirating History

Adding real world pirating figures and locations would be a great way to keep the game feeling fun and fresh.

Finally, it’d be interesting to see if Rare would show us its own take on real pirate history. Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag and Sid Meier’s Pirates! featured real-life, honest to God pirates in them. Maybe Rare could apply its famously satirical lens to the likes of Henry Morgan, Blackbeard, Stede Bonnet, Captain Kidd, Jean Lafitte, Roc Brasiliano, Black Bart Roberts or Jack ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham.

Rare could fold these characters into the game as special vendor characters, who only appear as certain events in the world begin to unfold. We know there will be special events and timed quests in the game, maybe these historical figures will be pirates of legend that turn up, offer you a special hunt, or request a certain amount of your worthy booty.

Once completed, they may offer you special cosmetic items based on their history, or maybe they’ll show you the way to their stronghold – a real feat that gets kids and adults alike interested in the bizarre history of real piracy.

Rare could be onto a winner with Sea of Thieves – it’s certainly a unique game, and one that we’re keen to see evolve and change as time goes on. Whether or not Rare will take elements of previous titles and throw them into the mix remains to be seen, but we’re eager to see exactly what the studio has up its sleeve, and how it intends to keep Sea of Thieves alive, standing shoulder to shoulder with Halo, Forza and Gears of War.

Dom Peppiatt
After cutting his teeth on magazines at games™, Dom has written for everyone from Xbox Achievements to The Daily Star. Terrible puns. Obsessed with dogs. Somewhere between Squall and Ignis.