Sea of Thieves: A Pirate's Life wants to ask you a question: remember what it was like to be a Pirates of the Caribbean fan? Rare certainly does. Just listen to the way executive producer Joe Neate giddily looks back on the moment Disney accepted the studio's creative pitch for the project.
"I think we waited till we were around the corner," he says. "But then we were literally arms over each other's shoulders, we knew that we're going to do something special here, and that this was going to be amazing."
Sea of Thieves: A Pirate's Life, the third season of Xbox's multiplayer seafaring simulator, hopes to give you the same sense of awe and excitement for Pirates of the Caribbean that Rare had while working with the property for this special crossover adventure.
That's a tough challenge to rise to, but after seeing just how much genuine love and attention Rare has poured into the project, the studio has already reminded me of what was so charming and attractive about Disney's decades-old property in the first place. You can only imagine what the full experience will do for our nostalgia when it launches as a free update to Sea of Thieves next week.
Winds of change
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"Thinking about the story that we want to tell with Sea of Thieves in A Pirate's Life, it was key that we told something that felt authentic," explains creative director (and mega Disney fan) Mike Chapman. "So we spent a long time thinking about how we bring these two worlds together in a way that not only would please Pirates of Caribbean fans, but also complements and enhances the existing Sea of Thieves lore, since it's its own world with its own stories. It needed to be something that wasn't a set of side quests that didn't impact our world, but interwoven with the core lore of our universe."
A Pirate's Life is thus the most narrative-focused Sea of Thieves adventure yet, offering five Tall Tales centered around a single idea: what would happen if Jack Sparrow found the titular Sea of Thieves itself, a place free from Davy Jones' jurisdiction as captain of the pirate afterlife? More intriguing still, what happens if Jones pursues Jack into that world, threatening our own playable pirates' very way of life?
Those two inciting incidents will take you to all new locations, from Sailor's Grave (one giant ode to the Pirates of the Caribbean Disneyland ride, complete with original audio taken from the attraction itself), to the Sunken Kingdom, an underwater abyss guarded by deadly Sirens – one of the many new enemy types arrived with the update.
As for Jack himself? He'll be joining you on the adventure as an AI companion, voiced by Jared Butler, the same actor who previously proved his worth as a pitch-perfect Johnny Depp impersonator in Kingdom Hearts 3, and someone whom Chapman describes as a "fountain of knowledge for Pirates of the Caribbean."
"The greatest challenge is that these characters are so beloved, but we are telling our own story with it in Sea of Thieves," he adds. "So, as you can imagine, we agonized about getting these characters right in terms of representing their look in our art style, making it feel quintessentially Jack Sparrow while saying original lines because he's reacting to the situation he finds himself in Sea of Thieves. So from the script process itself, to having one of the movie's stunt doubles, Simon Newton, come to the studio, and film a lot of animation references with him. He came in full costume and makeup; he didn't need the makeup, but it helped him get into character!"
That kind of attention to detail has allowed Rare to create a living, breathing companion in Jack who will aid you in battle, and waltz around your ship during voyages, commenting on anything from the silly names of the islands to your choice of shanty as you sail to the next adventure. "That moment when you have your first encounter with Jack, and you first see him in the world and fitting in… It's like nothing else," adds Neate. "Seeing it for the first time during development really kind of made me sit back and be like 'Wow, okay, yeah, this is something special.'"
For those who have been paying attention to the last handful of Pirates films, Sea of Thieves: A Pirate's Life is set after the events of all five, while Chapman promises that Jack and Davy Jones won't be the only franchise characters you'll interact with throughout the events of the story.
"We're drawn inspiration from all elements of the five movies, in addition to the original, beloved iconic Disney attraction. We pick up with Jack where he was left at the end of the fifth movie, and he goes on this journey in Sea of Thieves of discovering why this pirate world is so special, and why he needs to play his part in saving the pirate's life. But this is very much our original take on these beloved characters and telling an original story in our world."
In addition to the Tall Tales, A Pirate's Life enriches the wider Sea of Thieves sandbox with a treasure trove of new features and activities. There's the ultra-powerful Trident of Dark Tides weapon, and plenty of enemies to practice it against, such as the Ocean Crawlers, crustacean-like soldiers with a much more aggressive combat stance than the skeletons we've grown used to fighting across Sea of Thieves' shores. All of these new additions – including the barrels of Pirates of the Caribbean themed cosmetic content – will be accessible outside of A Pirate's Life Tall Tales, too, and Neate confirms that Rare plans to keep it all in the game "for as long as people are playing".
Indeed, given how fruitful this partnership has been, it's impossible not to wonder whether more Disney-themed crossovers could be coming to Sea of Thieves in the future. A Muppets Treasure Island mash-up is at the top of my list, but while Chapman stops short of revealing any concrete plans, he does acknowledge the kindred spirits that Rare has found within the halls of the House of Mouse.
"I think almost everyone has a connection to Disney, whether that's through a favorite movie that you had when you were growing up, a movie you rediscovered through young family, or through an experience of watching one of their recent movies, Disney elicits such an emotional response in people and it really sticks with you. And I've always believed that the kind of the values of Disney and how they want to give people lasting memories and create this real impact. There's a parallel with what we're trying to do at Rare, trying to give them these meaningful experiences that will stick with them."
And make no mistake: A Pirate's Life is meaningful. Far from a quick cash-in, this crossover is a dream come true for Rare, who often cited Pirates of the Caribbean from the very early stages of Sea of Thieves' development. The days of Captain Jack Sparrow's big-screen adventures may be behind him, then, but his future across the Sea of Thieves is as bright and vast as the horizon itself.