We turned the Hourglass of Fate, hoisting the banner for the Servants of the Flame in the battle for the Sea of Thieves. With the final vote cast, our galleon dove down beneath the water. We steeled ourselves for the fight ahead as we navigated between the coral reefs, the silhouette of a megaladon in the distance. Suddenly we began our ascent, crashing above the waves with another galleon dead ahead. We dropped sail, speeding towards our opponents, as they turned, and aligned their cannons for a broadside on our bow. The battle was upon us.
When Rare released Sea of Thieves in 2018 the general consensus was that it was a lot of fun to play, but a bit light on specific objectives for pirates to engage with. Several years and dozens of updates later, those pirates who saw the true potential of the Sea of Thieves have been rewarded many times over. Most recently Sea of Thieves Season 8 arrived. It’s a PVP focused game-changer, and the best video game update of 2022.
Our attempt to cut across the front of their ship failed when they raised sails and used the tighter turn radius to keep us focused on their guns. Our ship was hurt badly, and we could scarcely return fire with the number of repairs needed to keep us afloat. Worse, our supplies were dwindling. If things didn’t change quickly, we would be dead in the water.
The optional PVP element of Sea of Thieves creates an ever present danger that any voyage can end in another crew swooping in and stealing your loot as they send your ship to a watery grave. This tension feeds into the feeling of victory after a successful voyage, and the bombastic shipboard battles are some of the most thrilling experiences in gaming.
Opting into PVP hasn’t always been easy. Sometimes there are no ships on the horizon, or crew you do find, opt to flee or scuttle, rather than engage in battle. The previous attempt at PVP-on-demand was the Arena, but participation was spotty, and the focus on points took focus away from the thrill of pure combat. When the Arena was finally shut down, pirates looking for a pure PVP experience were left prowling the seas, relying on luck to find ships willing to trade cannon balls and cutlasses.
Season 8 bought with it the Hourglass of Fate. With a turn, you can join one of two in-game factions, and show the world that you are ready to cross swords. Members of rival factions can see each other on the map, giving buccaneers with itchy trigger fingers a clear destination for combat. Even better, you can opt into matchmaking. Once a match is found, your ship dives beneath the Sea, and emerges lined up with the bow of your opponent in a confined area upon the sea.
The effect of the update has been immediately evident to anyone playing Sea of Thieves. Pirates craving battle can quickly find willing opponents. Sailors who prefer a more peaceful experience are finding seas with a much lower saturation of would-be ruffians. Progressing in the factions unlocks new areas, cosmetics, and customizations. It’s changed an already great game for the better, and injected new life into the Sea of Thieves.
We split our crew, a risky maneuver, but one we had to take. I fired myself from a cannon, and grabbed the ladder on the side of their ship. In the chaos they didn’t hear the tell-tale splashing sound of me hanging from their boat. Our helmsman, meanwhile, was steering into a grouping of floating barrels in hopes of harpooning supplies aboard, but we were taking on water fast. As foes pursued, it looked like all hope was lost. Suddenly, the vessel lurched into the air in a blinding flash of light and fire.
Unbeknownst to either crew, the pile of barrels concealed a powder keg, and it detonated when the ship collided with it. I took advantage of the confusion, and cut down two of the four pirates with my cutlass before they realized what was happening. Water and fire filled the ship as I blocked and dodged the riposte from the remaining members of this crew. They were on the verge of sinking, and the day may yet be ours. Just as the rushing water finished filling the middle deck of the ship, however, the low horn-like sound blared, announcing that our own ship had succumbed to her wounds, and sunk beneath the sea. The day was lost, and the screen faded to black…
We awoke upon a deserted island some time later, boarded our freshly spawned ship, and spun the Hourglass of fate once again.