Last week, Sea of Thieves' Shrouded Island update launched ahead of season 6 and added the first of a series of story-driven live events called 'Adventures', which Rare says are designed to immerse players and create an emotional connection to the characters. Sadly though, what I experienced was more like a mildly glorified fetch quest than the setup to something new and exciting.
It pains me to write this about my dear Sea of Thieves. Rare's swashbuckling adventure has kept me and my buds connected and entertained through the last couple of years, and it remains one of my favorite multiplayer games ever. And so it's with a deep-rooted fondness that I say its new Shrouded Islands event is a big letdown.
A bright horizon or a mirage in the distance?
When Sea of Thieves ditched its quarterly updates for a seasonal cadence last year, I had high hopes for how it might refresh the formula three years into its run. Although I hadn't (and haven't) tired of the core gameplay loop - that is, sailing around collecting treasure and being robbed by indiscriminate thieves - seasons sounded like a fun way to shake things up and show a more story-driven side of Sea of Thieves we hadn't experienced much before.
Don't get me wrong, Sea of Thieves' first few seasons have been a blast, with my personal highlights being the Pirates of the Caribbean update from season 3 and the underwater shrines from season 4. But with the new Adventure missions, Rare promises something I feel the game has been sorely missing: an epic and ongoing story told through big cinematic chapters that would ground each season in an overarching narrative. Even more intriguingly, the developer says Adventures will appeal to my heart - that they'll make me care about the characters, the lore, and the world. But if Shrouded Islands were the first chapter of a book, that book would be sitting unfinished in my local donation bin by now.
You've heard this ghost story before
Granted, Shrouded Islands is a free update for all Sea of Thieves players, so there's an inherent privilege in complaining about it. But for how much Rare hyped the new live events, its debut offering seriously misses the mark. The quest begins when you talk to Larinna outside a tavern, just like you would with any normal voyage. Larinna sends you to Golden Sands outpost, which is now all spooky and abandoned, you look around for clues, and then you're off to meet the enigmatic Belle, who sends you on another lengthy expedition to a different island.
The big showdown is pretty underwhelming too, especially if you've played a lot of Sea of Thieves or, really, any MMORPG. You face off against waves of pretty standard ghosts and skellies until the big, bad boss ghost skellie shows up and you kill it too. Naturally, I was set back a couple of times by griefers just looking to cause trouble, but that's part of the experience. Aside from the boss battle, which thankfully I had some help with, I slooped through the whole thing solo in under an hour.
I returned to Belle to turn in my loot and was met by another group of jerks who killed me, loosened my ship's anchor, and set it off in the wrong direction. They also took all my stuff, but apparently Belle doesn't care as long as I vanquished the big bad of Shrouded Islands.
A quick PSA for this part: when I played, Belle gave me two options when I approached her after beating the boss: "complete the quest" or "continue the quest." Curious to a fault, I picked "continue" and was placed at the beginning of the second chapter, even though I'd just finished the third and final chapter. To my great relief, I was able to quit the game and come back to Belle to complete the quest, but it makes you wonder why there's an option to continue the quest at all if all it does is rewind your progress. It's possibly a glitch, but definitely something to remember for your own playthrough.
Again, it's far too early to judge Sea of Thieves' entire Adventures and Mysteries initiative, and I'll no doubt be playing the next one, but I was surprised and disappointed to see how similar the so-called new stuff is to the old stuff. And yeah, cinematics and narrative have never been the focal point of the game, but strengthening those elements is the whole point of this update according to Rare. I still can't wait to see what else season 6 holds, but I hope the first Adventure live event is just a teaser for an otherwise thrilling new story and not an example of what's to come. They've let us dip our toes in the water, now let us dive right in.