Rare's co-op pirate sim Sea of Thieves (opens in new tab) is slowly sailing towards release early next year, and the latest developer update video (above) shows some of the progress being made in the alpha version. The biggest change is the addition of smaller vessels: up to now you needed a full boat of buccaneers to get much done, but the new ships are designed for one or two sailors at a time.
The mechanics for the smaller ships have been simplified to make it easier to sail. The wheel turns quicker and the sail won't obscure your forward view as it will in other ships, for example. Despite less powerful weaponry they can still mix it in battle, with a tight turning circle that means they can outmaneuver the big boys.
Speaking of battles, if you're overwhelmed and about to perish then your crew can now vote to intentionally sink your own ship. Later on, you can summon a mermaid that will raise the vessel in a safer location. It's a last-ditch option, but it could save a lot of hassle.
The update also adds The Brig, which is basically a mini prison on a ship that you can banish scallywags to. If someone's gone rogue then your crew can vote to put them behind bars, and they can only come out with unanimous approval of everyone on board. I'm not sure exactly how it will work (how do you stop abuse of the system, and does the banished player just stare at the inside of a cell for hours?) but it's nice to know that you can combat bad behaviour.
Lastly, Rare has introduced text chat for anyone playing without a microphone. It's not free text chat, so you'll have to pick from a number of contextual phrases that pop up on screen, but there's a good few to choose from so it should prove useful.
To get your hands on the alpha version of the game you need to sign up to the game's 'Insider' programme (opens in new tab), which requires an Xbox Live login because this is a Microsoft Studios-published game. Those who have already set sail—what do you think of the update?