Sea of Thieves at E3 2016

Rare was back at E3 this year with an even greater presence than last year. It didn’t seem possible after the one-two punch of Rare Replay and the Sea of Thieves reveal, but Rare’s showing of Sea of Thieves this year was the highlight of the conference for many.

 

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Sea of Thieves was shown during the Xbox Play Anywhere line-up that allows players to purchase the digital game once and have access to it from their Xbox One or Windows 10 PC. Sea of Thieves made a splash with a two-part appearance. The first appearance was the “Cinematic Trailer” which comprised of in-game assets frozen in time, creating a diorama depicting an epic pirate adventure. The trailer’s purpose, as stated by Rare themselves, is to portray some of the limitless piratical possibilities Sea of Thieves has to offer.

As the view in the trailer traversed the still diorama, plenty about what players will face in Sea of Thieves was revealed. We saw some of the items players could utilize in Sea of Thieves from guns and swords to a compass and violin. We learned about some of the wildlife that would be included in the game such as rats, cats, parrots and sharks. The players were also treated to a tease of treasure seeking mermaids and a peak at a mighty kraken! This trip around the Sea of Thieves sandbox ultimately gave a glimpse of some of the activities players can look forward to in Sea of Thieves. The world Rare is creating will allow players to fight a pirate skeleton crew, search for treasure in caves and sunken ships, and partake in magnificent ship battles. The trailer was accompanied by a very eerie song composed by Robin Beanland titled, “We Shall Sail Together”. The track set an adventurous but cautious tone for the trailer, encompassing the feeling players will have during each potential encounter in the game. This vision for Sea of Thieves was a great lead-up to what followed.

The second Sea of Thieves feature was a gameplay focused trailer. The interesting aspect of this gameplay video was the picture-in-picture format, where the audience could see and hear the players who were playing the game. These players were comprised of fans that entered a contest to be the first in the world to play Sea of Thieves, and superfans who have greatly contributed to the Rare community. This focus on the players really showed how much fun the shared sandbox in Sea of Thieves could be, whereas leaving the player’s reactions out of the trailer could have lead to the audience not grasping the cooperative foundation of the game.

The amazing part about this trailer was even though it was focused on the players, it still told a story and informed the audience about what sailing a ship with your friends would be like in Sea of Thieves. We learned that anchors would need to be lowered and sails needed to be raised just as the players in the video did. We experienced having to patch up holes in the hull with a crew trying to save their ship. At the end of the trailer every person who watched it should know exactly what goes into sailing a ship in the game. Throughout the video the players in the trailer were either smiling and laughing or focused and determined on their next objective.

With how long the lines were for the demo the next day it’s safe to say that the picture-in-picture format worked. Most of the comments surrounding the trailer were summed up to people wanting to share that gaming experience with their friends. The idea of assembling a crew for a pirate adventure is something many gamers would love to play out.

 

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The Sea of Thieves booth was by far the most impressive and immersive booth on the Xbox show floor. Rare had two huge pirate skeleton statues commissioned just for E3 that were stationed at each end of their booth. These skeletons were the most popular backdrops for photo shoots and interviews. There were fifteen stations with Sea of Thieves loaded up. Each was sitting on top of wooden planks that had been embedded into the carpet. And to complete the pirate aesthetic were lots of barrels, rope and small treasure boxes strewn around the booth. To further the pirate immersion, Rare hired a professional pirate band to play tunes from the game and other well known pirate songs to the gamers in line.

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If that wasn’t enough to get people in the pirate mood Rare had tons of shirts, pins and tattoo sleeves to give away. There were three different shirts. Each shirt had the one of the three different crews emblem and title on it. There was one for The Mermaid’s Fortune, The Mad Monkey and The Serpent’s Lie. These same crews were also shown in the gameplay trailer which is interesting to note. The Sea of Thieves pin was a skull showing off the new logo and there were two separate tattoo sleeves, one for each arm.

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Next to the game itself, the most important part of the booth was the Rare team there showing off the game. Every Rare employee I spoke with and saw was extremely welcoming and friendly. Many were doing interviews right there at the booth, answering questions from people in line and just chatting with fans. The amount of interviews with the team out there right now to read and watch is very impressive. You could really see how much passion they put into the game, and they were very humble about how well the game was being received, saying that they couldn’t wait to get back to the studio to continue working on the game.

 

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The build of Sea of Thieves was very similar to the build I played three weeks earlier at Rare. It was primarily focused on ship sailing and combat and players were able to play for about fifteen to twenty minutes. Though the ship sailing and combat is just a small slice of the game, it was great for E3 because the huge ship in the demo showcased the game’s cooperative nature. To get an in-depth summary of how the ship sailing and combat works in Sea of Thieves you can check out this article or this video.

Minus the game looking even better than I remember, they also added instruments! Adding an item to the players inventory like an instrument and a mug of grog over a weapon says a lot about the game. These two items are both great icebreakers for newly formed crews and also have the sole purpose of being entertaining. It is these kind of game ideas that make Sea of Thieves live up to the “being the pirate you want to be” mantra they have stated from the beginning. There are hundreds of ways for people to play a sandbox game like this, and players feel useful or get enjoyment out of many different activities. If you don’t know what you are doing around the ship, you can bust out your concertina and play your crew a tune while they work. Have a long voyage ahead to your next island? Time for everyone to drink up and have fun trying to stay aboard the ship. If these two items are the start of what is to come, then I am very excited to see what other pirate activities we can engage in!

Rare has stated multiple times that the story in the game will be provided by the players. Each time I played Sea of Thieves on the trip at Rare and on the show floor at E3, I had a different experience and new stories to share afterward. On the show floor I went on a different adventure with every new crew I played it with, and by the end we all felt like we could take on the world together. The ship was such a great catalyst for bonding with your crew. There was a common goal of setting sail and overtaking any ship in your way and to do so you had to work together. Once everyone became familiar with the ship and each other it was easy to get in a groove and flow as a crew over the ship. It became natural for someone on the crew to run down into the hull to check for holes and another person to be the eyes for the blinded driver at the helm. This camaraderie made sinking a ship or being sunk a fun experience. If you and your crew sunk a ship you knew it was because you all worked together to defeat the odds. If your crew failed and sunk to the depths of the ocean you knew you all tried your hardest and were quickly planning your next attempt.

The lack of defined roles or classes also furthered the bonding and sense of community. If someone was at the helm and was getting bored we could easily switch out who was driving. If the crew was getting to carried away at firing cannons someone could quickly run down into the hull and start repairing holes. You always felt like you were contributing to the crew on the ship which was very rewarding.

Rare has already nailed down the shared world adventure game, S.W.A.G., they are trying to create with this small piece of Sea of Thieves. With a ship, grog and instruments you can set the foundation for what kind of pirate you want to be. Gamers can be motivated by different things and Sea of Thieves aims to let you carry out your motivations how you like. Once all the game mechanics and items hinted at in the Cinematic Trailer have been incorporated into the game, I have a feeling many of us are going to get lost with our friends in it.

 

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If you had to describe the Sea of Thieves booth with one word it would be joyous. There were smiles all around as people played Sea of Thieves. I witnessed one person go from having a gloomy look on their face after waiting in line for three hours, to instantly smiling and yelling, “This game is way more fun than Battlefield 1” after they fired their first cannon at another ship. One crew would be laughing their heads off about playing instruments while drunk in the middle of a ship battle, while another crew would be cheering as they were successfully sinking another ship. There was constant commotion coming from the Sea of Thieves booth and most of the time it was either because they were sinking a ship or being sunk. In both cases the players seemed to be enjoying themselves.

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Something that players also seemed to appreciate was the exploration of the ship. E3 goers were not given any instructions or lead through a tutorial. The real magic came from players on the same ship discovering how the ship worked and how the crew would successfully work together. I heard several times how refreshing it was that there was no hand holding to be found. Very few games let players figure mechanics out for themselves. What is great about Sea of Thieves is most people know what being a pirate is about. A pirate has a crew, has a ship and wants to find treasure. Being placed in the world with a crew, ship and an open world players can easily set sail.

On the last day of E3 Rare had run out of room for all of the awards they had received. With each day of the expo there was more buzz around the game. It was definitely the most popular game in the Xbox show floor. At one point there was a four hour wait to play Sea of Thieves!

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It has never been a better time to be a Rare fan. The social presence for the company has never been greater and more involved in the community. Rare are constantly doing giveaways online and promoting fan art. There is now an official Sea of Thieves forums and store! The game is being talked about by lots of different gamers and not just Rare fans. Given the multiplayer and cooperative aspect of the game, Sea of Thieves will most likely have the largest audience Rare has ever made a game for. Rare fans are interested in the game of course but you have gamers who love pirate games. There are Xbox fans and there are also gamers who are excited for a new IP. Then there are the gamers who have dedicated a huge chunk of time into games like DayZ, Rust and ARK: Survival Evolved who would love to play a shared world adventure game with a pirate setting.

Sea of Thieves definitely has that Rare charm and is also doing something very unique and different, which Rare is known for doing. If you look at Rare’s history the different genres they have created games for is a lot. Racing, first person shooter, third person shooter, puzzle, adventure, platforming and the list goes on. This huge multiplayer shared world adventure game is the next genre Rare is looking to tackle and after this years E3 showing they have the foundation for a winning formula.

It is easy to see there will be something for everyone in Sea of Thieves.

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