After complaints that Sea of Thieves' co-op sailing framework was fun, but 'lacked content,' Rare has spent the past year adding new enemies and missions and cosmetics, as well as a new, volcanic map section. They've all been good updates, and if you haven't played Sea of Thieves since launch, there's a ton more to do. I thought it was a fun game when it first released, and I think it's more fun now. But what I really want are more fish.
For me, the biggest joy in Sea of Thieves is the sailing. It's setting a course, yacking back and forth with my navigator, mucking with the sail angles, enjoying the unparalleled wave rendering, and playing tunes on my accordion.
I understand why Rare would focus its updates on Sea of Thieves' central loop (fight things, get treasure, sell treasure, buy cosmetics), but its design is inescapably about travel. In order to find treasure, you have to sail to it. To sell it, you have to sail to an outpost. My hope is that Rare will take a break from adding new destinations, and work on the getting there part for a while, because the routine has gotten stale.
Once you get pretty good at sailing, and have cycled through all the available songs to play on your instruments, travel becomes a lot of hopping around on the deck just to do something as you search for conversation topics. That's why I think adding signal flags was a great idea. Every time I get a new ship, choosing the flag my crew wants becomes a part of the setup routine along with loading the cannons. It's something to converse about and a task to check off—it's a minor task, for sure, but anything that adds considerations besides the direction of the wind is a good addition in my view.
So, maybe a player has to swab the deck now and then to keep it from getting slippery. Or barnacles need to be knocked off the hull. Or new types of damage and repairs are introduced, or a way to build shoddy additions to your ship as you go. I'd welcome anything that adds drama, complexity, and playfulness to simply sailing around.
I want more fish, too. In my review, I said that while the surface of Sea of Thieves' ocean was beautiful, it felt sterile, and it still feels that way. There are a few small schools of fish swimming under the surface near islands, but otherwise, the ocean is bare. I want to see big tangles of seaweed, jellyfish, whales breaching, dolphins leaping off the side of my ship, otters being cute.
New sea life could bring new mysteries. Maybe dolphins lead players to unmarked shipwrecks and help fend off sharks. Maybe one experimental player discovers a way to swim into a whale's mouth and meet a discontented NPC named James Bartley.
I know: All this is easier said than done. Anyone can brainstorm as a backseat designer (and open ended games like Sea of Thieves tend to bring out the backseat designer in all of us). But even if my specific suggestions wouldn't actually work, my point is that there are few things in Sea of Thieves right now that don't want to kill you, and combat is often so drawn out that my crew and I bail part way through. It's cool that the difficulty of taking down Skeleton Ships, as an example, encourages teaming up with other crews, but I'm not always in the mood for that. I'd love to see more non-hostile surprises. That's what I think would get me back in the water every weekend.
Minigames are good, actually
Or, and this has been suggested a million times, we get a dang fishing minigame already. (I asked Rare about it a while back, and they've heard the suggestion, and are probably very tired of hearing the suggestion. Sorry, Rare.)
Minigames are unfairly besmirched just because some minigames are bad, but lots of them are great. I want to pass long journeys by fishing, whale watching, fixing up the ship, and dangerously playing darts with my usual co-captain while bobbing around in the middle of a storm.
Speaking of Captain Livingston, the most fun we had together was in the Sea of Thieves beta when we decided to sail off the map. The sea turned red and tried to kill us, leading to hilarious panicked repairs as we slowly turned around and returned to the map. It's one of the few unrepeatable moments I've experienced in Sea of Thieves. To create more of those moments, Rare ought to take a cue from Fortnite: just add stuff. Add stuff that doesn't make sense. Add stuff that is unbalanced or wonky. Add stuff that's going to be fodder for more of the stories Chris writes, like when he followed a Skyrim NPC around to see what she did. And don't necessarily tell anyone about it.
I get why that hasn't been the approach so far. Executive producer Joe Neate has done a Ben Brode-quality job keeping players informed with videos, and of course Rare wants to highlight big additions such as the Kraken. Players said that Sea of Thieves needed 'more content,' and what I'm asking for hardly makes for a riveting bullet point. "There are now eels in the water. They just swim around and look cool, because Tyler said there should be more fish."
But if I were to log into Sea of Thieves some Saturday evening, jump in the water, and discover it bursting with life and more potential secrets (the Mermaid Statues on the sea bed have been another good addition), I think I'd be more delighted than if I were attacked by yet another tentacle monster.
Next year's Arena update may be a boon to Sea of Thieves, because right now players who primarily love PvP ship combat can't quickly get into a fight. I'd love it to be paired with a person-to-person combat overhaul, because the guns just aren't especially fun at the moment. But I hope Rare has taken notice of how much we enjoyed the rowboats—Chris and I jumped in after they were added just to race them—and the signal flags and the megaphone and all the little things we can experiment with instead of kill. There are lots of combat events in Sea of Thieves now, and it's a good time to play, but what I hope to see in the future is a livelier, not deadlier, sea.