Sea of Thieves isn’t like other shared world adventure games. In Destiny or The Division, if you get left behind by a group of your friends, it’s hard to catch up. Levelling is tied to gear, and gear is tied to in-game rewards from events, end-game activities and (a lot of the time) straight up luck. Unless you can sink a lot of time into the game, you’ll get left behind.
Rare prides itself on the fact that Sea of Thieves’ progression system is something a little different – relying on something the development studio likes to call ‘horizontal progression’. There is no overall level to speak of, and all customisation options are purely cosmetic. If you see a pirate decked-out in gold with a fancy rifle and rare parrot on their shoulder, that means nothing: they have all the same tools and weapons as you. They’ll likely just have a better reputation with one of Sea of Thieves’ Trading Companies.
“We wanted to build a game where the value of sharing a rich and diverse world with other players is much more meaningful than ever-increasing stats,” design director Mike Chapman tells us on a studio visit to Rare. “We wanted to create an experience where there are no barriers for players, nothing keeping them from playing with each other. Doing that would really be against the vision of our game.”
The in-game result of this design philosophy is that Sea of Thieves players can purchase voyages (read: quests) in the game from one of the three Trading Companies, and then all crew members get to cast a vote on which of their voyages they want to tackle together.
In honour of fairness, majority wins in Sea of Thieves’ voting system, so don’t ever worry about being forced to undertake a random quest. The flat way that any player can offer up a quest with any other player able to vote on it means even the most weathered pirate can opt to join in on hunts for booty with greenhorns, or will even allow a fledgeling pirate to tackle the most dangerous end-game quests too.
Completing these voyages will award gold, titles, ranks, and cosmetic items – if you can return the booty to the hub outposts. These rewards will be evenly split across the crew, something Rare is intentionally doing to combat toxicity in the title, are a part of Sea of Thieves‘ progression system.
The more voyages you complete, the more you’ll rank up the Trading Company that offered it to you. The higher the rank of the Company, the more challenging (but rewarding) the voyages will be. Complete enough of these challenges and you can hit end-game status and start chiselling away at the Pirate Legend content – and of course you can share that with your lower level friends, too.
Each Trading Company has come to the Sea of Thieves with their own motivation, their own goal in this aquatic frontier. Each style roughly reflects a different playstyle, too, so if you want to sample everything Sea of Thieves has to offer, you’re going to want to dip in and out of each Company’s quest lines.
The Gold Hoarders outlook is simple: having been founded by legendary treasure hunters, they want to amass as much wealth as possible. To this end, the Trading Company will send you out on treasure hunts, offering you riddles to complete to find the rarest treasure in the game. These riddles will usually require teamwork and tenacity (as well as a pretty good knowledge of the in-game world) to unpick and will reward you with bigger hoards of lost treasure.
You level up this Company by bringing back chests and selling them to the greedy vendors – in return, you can acquire cosmetics that usually have a pretty bombastic feel to them… think Pirate Bling, if nothing else.
THE MERCHANT ALLIANCE
The Merchant Alliance wants to control trade in the game. They’re preoccupied with the idea of controlling the world’s economy, paying pirates to scout out supplies and ferry resources such as animals and gunpowder across the sea. Fulfilling contracts, delivering on time and making sure all your cargo makes it to the required location earns you handsome rewards… but if you’re willing to take on more ‘complicated’ stock, those rewards could be even better.
Sea of Thieves has live animal wildlife in-game, and knowing where different breeds of animals live, and how best to get them from one place to another, is a fundamental part of Merchant Alliance gameplay. Want to deliver snakes? You better have one member of your crew dedicated to playing music to calm them.
Want to deliver pigs? Make sure it stays fed. Want to deliver chickens? Good luck, because they like to pop overboard…
THE ORDER OF SOULS
Finally, the Order of Souls is set on mastering the ancient and mysterious magic of the game’s lore, and is willing to use you as a vessel to achieve that. The conjurers and seers of this mysterious sect have learned how to recapture magic from the skulls of former pirates, and will reward anyone bringing them back to the Order.
This is the most combat-focused of the Companies: quests on behalf of this odd bunch will see you charged with taking down infamous skeleton pirate crews, using a variety of combat tactics to come out on top. As you progress higher into the ranks of this Company, you’ll be asked to take on Skeleton Forts – massively challenging outposts home to some very important loot.
These forts will contain more loot than any one ship can carry – so will you split the rewards with other crews, or will you make a round trip, determined to hoard the treasure for yourself?
Though the voyages guide you towards completing a certain task in order to get specific rewards, Sea of Thieves is also keen for you to explore: you can find artefacts, treasure, mysterious skulls and more out in the world, or in the possession of other players. Nabbing these more emergent style rewards can still push you along the path of your chosen Company, and can do so without impacting your freedom.
But that’s not all. Whilst Rare plans to launch with three companies, our conversations with the developers at the studio would suggest there’s still far more to come. “The Golden Age of Piracy is still yet to come” smiles Mike Chapman, when asked about what Rare has in store for us in the future.
Rare suggests there will be seasonal content coming to the game too, with specific new Trading Companies perhaps linked to certain times of year or in-game events that will offer new quest opportunities and cosmetic items.
It’s clear Rare plans on keeping this game alive for the foreseeable future, and that’s great news – because the studio has made it abundantly clear that this is only the beginning, and these Trading Companies are merely the foundation of something much, much bigger.