There’s never been a better time to set sail in Sea of Thieves


After Skull and Bones failed to scratch my pirate itch, I recently returned to an old, familiar friend. Sea of Thieves

is sailing into a new year, with a new slate of content planned. Rare has experimented with how to update and enhance the pirate sandbox game since its launch in 2018. The game has also left the Microsoft ecosystem and will be available to PlayStation players in April — which, of course, means there are a lot of new pirates on the high seas for the first time. That’s why now might be the best time to get into Sea of Thieves, even if you’ve never played it before.

Over the last five years, Rare has dabbled with various kinds of updates, including narrative content, time-limited campaigns, and Fortnite-like crossovers with other pirate franchises, like Pirates of the Caribbean and The Curse of Monkey Island. But over 2024, after reducing the barrier to entry for new players, Rare wants to focus on emergent and organic encounters.

Guybrush from the Monkey Island franchise, as depicted in Sea of Thieves, next to a lavish desk. Paintings are hung on the wall behind him. Image: Rare/Xbox Game Studios

“There are a lot of people out there that, I think, are intrigued by Sea of Thieves,” says Mike Chapman, creative director on Sea of Thieves, in a call to Polygon. “They hear the stories of the gameplay from that shared world and unique occurrences, but the one thing holding them back is they don’t have a crew to sail with.”

“The more players you’ve got from different places, the more variety of stories and encounters you’re going to have,” says Joe Neate, executive producer on Sea of Thieves, adds.

Expanding the reach of the game is a good cure for the new player problem — and the recent addition of the Safer Seas mode means that the harsh learning curve is sanded down. It removes the threat of other pirates, allowing someone to pick up the ins and outs of the game without being barraged by a sudden hail of cannonballs.

There’s a delicate balancing act between making Sea of Thieves entirely safe so that players can enjoy the narrative content added to the game, while also retaining the DayZ-like feeling of seeing another player and not knowing whether they’re friend or foe. Safer Seas is a great option for new players or parents with kids who don’t want to deal with the risk of random strangers, and Rare intends to expand on that avenue of play.

“One of the things we’re doing leading up to the PlayStation 5 release is bringing in something called Solo Seas,” says Neate. Solo Seas is currently slated to launch on March 14. “It’s still online because you’re connecting to servers, but you don’t need a multiplayer subscription to experience that. It’s another avenue to experience the game, potentially fall in love with it, and then graduate to Safer Seas or the shared world.”

A pitched pirate battle takes place in Sea of Thieves. One crew stands aboard their ship, which is splintering from a cannonball assault from a nearby galleon. Image: Rare/Xbox Game Studios

While Safer and Solo Seas offer appealing options for conflict-averse players, Rare says the majority of playtime is still being spent in the shared world. Over 2024, it intends to give players more tools to interact with each other and the world. Many online games focus on expanding the game world, introducing new areas and territories to explore. For example, Rare added the Devil’s Roar, a deadly stretch of sea spotted with active volcanoes, in 2018. But otherwise, the team has been committed to overhauling the core map slowly. Outposts have fallen and been rebuilt, new dangers have emerged beneath the seas, and the world is significantly more dense with stories, objectives, and encounters.


Rare has also changed the game’s pacing, which used to require a few hours of commitment for a truly satisfying experience. I remember running around outposts and gathering up supplies, loading them on the ship, and then setting out for four to six hours with pals. There was a lot of sailing between objectives, managing the ship’s inventory, and scheduling treasure drops at outposts. While it was definitely fun, it also required careful scheduling and enough stamina to sit and stare at a screen that long.

A pirate stands on a ship with a monkey and a parrot in Sea of Thieves Image: Rare/Xbox Game Studios

Now, voyage time has been significantly cut down, going from around 45 minutes to 10 minutes. “People can come into Sea of Thieves, understand more about what they need to do to progress, but also meaningfully feel like they’ve accomplished something within 10 minutes,” says Chapman. “I mean, emergent occurrences could come their way, and they could choose to opt into that, but the fact that you’re not thinking of Sea of Thieves as this multi-hour play experience every time you play really opens up the game to new players in a way we haven’t with our previous updates.”

When I first started Sea of Thieves, I jumped right onto my ship, sailed to Snake Island, and died to snakes. Now, a new player gets some more tutorials to lead them through the first few hours. It’s a big change, and one that makes the game less difficult to recommend to friends so they can encounter the weird and wild sandbox encounters that I adore.

“This year is all about paying back to that sandbox,” says Neate. “I’d call it a classic Sea of Thieves year in terms of new tools for people that interact with all the different motivations and play styles. One of the words we’ve been using quite a lot is ‘mischief.’” Neate teased an upcoming item called the Horn of Fair Winds. What it actually does is a mystery, but since winds are so critical to chasing — or escaping — from another ship, it seems like it’ll be perfect for enabling hijinx. Rare’s constant refining and reiterations of its core content are a big part of why I keep returning to the game, and I’m excited to see how the seas change over 2024.