It’s been two years since Sea of Thieves first set sail on Xbox and PC. In that time it’s transformed from a middling pirate sim with a perceived lack of content to a streaming staple and an Xbox community favorite with an ever-shifting tide of content for players to dive into. Monthly updates have altered the landscape of the game before, but not even last year’s celebrated anniversary update had the potential to alter the MMO’s meta as much as this month’s Ships of Fortune content. Now, most players are enjoying the latest iteration of a pirate’s life, though we’re all still waiting to see how the waves settle over the coming weeks.
The Ships of Fortune update adds a heck of a lot, but the biggest alteration comes in the form of the new Emissary system that we have discussed at length. Buy and hoist an Emissary flag, and your rewards increase. However, Emissary ships become prey for the Reaper’s Bones, a new PvP-focused trading company. In short, those who always wanted an Adventure mode where PvP was disabled are now further away from their wish. Still, on the whole, most people view the update favorably so far.
I asked dedicated Sea of Thieves players for their feedback about Ships of Fortune and heard back from several dozen of them via the game’s subreddit, Discord, and Twitter following. Among the findings, 89% of them said their overall feelings about the new content are either “very” (45.5%) or “somewhat” positive (43.6%), while only five respondents of the dozens that I spoke to chose “very negative” or “somewhat negative.”
The reason for the early praise, it seems, is the new score multiplier for being an Emissary. Seventy-three percent said the Emissary rewards are worth the risk. Less than 10% said the opposite, while another 18% aren’t sure yet. Some have even said the rewards are too good. “Gold inflation is out of control,” said one player. That sentiment was a recurring one among players, with another saying it’s now too easy to hit the new level cap of 75 (up from 50) in standard companies and 20 (up from 10) for Athena’s Fortune. “In one day some players reached level 75 in Reaper’s Bones and 20 in Athena’s Fortune,” said a player. “It doesn’t need to be a long tedious grind, but I feel like some factions were too easy to level up.”
If the Reaper’s Bones rank grind seems too short-lived for some, it may be because the new belligerent company has been an early favorite. Of the five companies eligible for Emissary voyages, the Reaper’s Bones were tied with the Pirate Legend-exclusive Athena’s Fortune company as the most popular at 29.1%. Rare has a much greater sample size of the early days on these new shores, but I wonder if the studio is seeing a similar surge in PvP-seeking ships.
Personally, I’ve spent a lot of time in Sea of Thieves and have never fired on another ship first. (I have, however, stolen a boat or two.) I’m not yet interested in playing as the new villainous crew. Instead, I’ve found myself among those bracing for impact with this update. Would slooping around alone or with my wife in co-op be viable after Ships of Fortune? Or would smaller ships sailing an Emissary flag just be screwed?
So far, we’ve not been made obsolete, but it seems this is the issue that has most people worried and waiting for the other peg leg to drop. Ships of Fortune is changing the meta by introducing more PvP according to respondents, with 63% of players saying PvP is on the rise and another 27% saying they’re not sure yet.
“Solo sloopers seem to be screwed by this update,” one player told me. “It’s near impossible to rep Emissary while solo due to other ships high tailing it to sink you for their gain.” Another told me that playing alone is like being “closer to death now.” Another put it even more bluntly: “I feel like sailing solo is no longer a real option.”
In a way, they’re not wrong. Before the Emissary system, there was an agreement at least among fellow sloopers that they not attack each other. An unspoken kinship settled over the seas in the early weeks following launch in 2018, and for the most part it’s held. A single-sail ship is either one or two people, and unless they come itching for war, you leave them be. But now that sloops can sail as Emissaries, it plays like a contradiction to that once common maritime law.
There are two counters to this built into the game, but as of right now, players aren’t sure either will save them. One is the alliance system. Raising your alliance flag reads like a truce to approaching ships, and if they decide to join your alliance, each crew nets 50% of what the other crew takes home at no cost to the original sellers. It’s been a beneficial, if sometimes uneasy system in Sea of Thieves for over a year. Tie that to Emissaries, and you’d think those sailing for the same companies may feel a similar close connection to one another. But in the early days of the update, 43% of players said players are no more likely to join alliances, while another 40% said they’re not sure yet.
Likewise, the biggest check on the Reaper’s Bones’ authority is the fact that they get no reward for sinking players who aren’t Emissaries, but as of now 36% of players say the Reaper’s Bones Emissaries don’t seem to understand this just yet, or if they do, they maybe don’t care. After all, if you’re joining the company defined by PvP, you’re maybe the type to already have been looting and shooting before any fancy flag gave you the suggestion.
These issues make it feel as though right now solo players have to decide between skipping the Emissary system — and in turn losing out on many rewards — or taking the risk of flying a flag all alone. I don’t think it’s the intent of Rare to push solo players into bigger crews, as past updates have made the game better for them, such as PvE encounters that level better to your crew size. Still, there’s a fogginess at sea right now, and it’s not just low-lying clouds. Players are wondering what Sea of Thieves will look like when the community settles into its new normal.
While solo players are rightfully wary of what’s in store, overall, 46% of players said the Emissary system is well-balanced, compared to 25% who said it isn’t. Many players praised the added depth to missions, the level cap giving them more reasons to return or stick around, and the changes to the game’s meta. Those sailing by their lonesome are treading cautiously for now, but hopefully Rare can look at its array of player data and tweak things as needed to keep the shifting tides familiar in their mood: dangerous, but not diabolical.