How big is the world? Is it procedurally generated?
Let’s take the second question first - no. Chapman makes clear that the world will be entirely handcrafted, designed so players can visit places, have adventures, join a new crew, and bring expertise with them, helping navigate the world by landmarks alone and pointing out useful details (for instance, one island, Thieves’ Haven, includes a ship-sized sea cave that can be used to escape out of sight of marauding players). As for how precisely big it is, Rare aren’t saying just yet - likely because it doesn’t technically exist at this point - but Chapman does say sailing around the whole world could take 6-8 hours (although that might include stop-offs at ports, fights, etc.). What we do know is that it will be entirely seamless (no Destiny planet-hopping here), and it won’t be an endless blue-ocean-and-palm trees landscape: “There are different regions,” Chapman explains, “regions that have different feels, like classic Caribbean, lush wilderness with ancient civilisations, or ones that feel more barren. Regions that convey different emotions and you feel like you’ve been on that seamless journey, that you’ve travelled a long distance.”
What is there to do off of ships?
Chapman doesn’t get into the specifics of this all too much, but makes mention of NPC-manned ports with ship merchants and quest givers, as well as islands peppered with buried treasure and stalked by skeletons or the like. He also mentions “safe zone outposts” - presumably those ports will make up some or all of these - where players will be able to wield swords and show off their in-game wealth, but seemingly not be able to go full PvP on strangers’ booties or booty (I promise this is the only time I’ll make that joke).
Is there a story?
Well, there’s an interesting one. While I’m sure the world will feature a wider backstory, Rare’s focus seems to be very much on creating miniature stories inside of it. Chapman refers to “legends” in the world - say “The Legend of the Cursed Mermaid Treasure” - each with their own beginning, middle and end. Those legends might involve a single objective, or many - as Chapman puts it: “We want goals you can complete within a session and goals that can exist across several sessions.” It seems to be about building a world full of stories to investigate, rather than one big, epochal story to simply complete and be done with.
How do quests work?
On the whole, it seems those legend-type quests will be activated in the normal way; you visit an NPC in a pre-defined location (for example, a port), and they send you off on the first step of your chosen journey. It’s not at all clear how the giant shared world feeds into those set quests - we don’t know if rival crews can arrive to scupper your fun and steal your profit. But Chapman’s keen to point out other opportunities. too. He mentions “procedural layers” over the core game, which lead to the kind of ambient quests we’re becoming used to from more conventional open world game. Examples include generated shipwrecks, which crews can dive into looking for sunken treasure, or spotting a glinting bottle washed up on a beach through your telescope, which could contain a map to some fa-flung new location. That tallies with a separate part of the conversation where he talks about digging up buried treasure as your crew fights off marauding skeletons - odds are that buried treasure and its associated hazards are generated when you find the map.
How does treasure work?
Chapman doesn’t approach this head-on, but it feels as though treasure will be a single currency, used to upgrade yourself and your ship. But there’s a key difference between cash here and in something like The Division - treasure is a physical object, and it only belongs to the person physically holding it at the time.
Treasure chests or valuable artifacts have to be carried onto your ship, then stored in holds, before presumably being traded in at port for your chosen rewards. It leads to some brilliant-sounding thinking - enemy ship boarders will presumably head straight to the main cargo hold to steal what you’ve got, so some players might choose to hide their chests somewhere else (the captain’s cabin for example) as a misdirect, forcing raiders to spend that little bit longer searching for it, or even give up entirely. And what if those artifacts look really, really cool? A richer captain might choose to just keep it as an ornament/rainy day fund.
What happens when you die?
There are two key parts to death in Sea of Thieves, your ship and your character - both are beguilingly weird. Rare doesn’t want death to feel like too much of an impediment, so a sunken ship is always salvageable. In this case, you visit a magical mermaid who makes it rise out of the depths. While you’re dead, however, any treasure on that ship is fair gain. Don’t get back quick enough and fellow pirates will likely do their pirate thing, diving in and grabbing anything not well-hidden enough.
So, why wouldn’t you have gotten back quickly? “If players die,” explains Chapman, “a ghost rises up from their body, and they go to the Ferry of the Damned, a ghost ship.” He compares the Ferry to the waiting room in Beetlejuice, a place where all the dead players on a server will congregate and be able to discuss how they died. Heading up the ship is a ghost captain, an NPC you’ll need to complete (as-yet unspecified) tasks for before you’re allowed back to the world of the living. Do so, and you’ll be allowed to walk the plank, dropping your soul from the phantom plane back into your body. Oddly, it reminds me of how death was treated in Haunting: Starring Polterguy, except hopefully not crap.
Is there customisation?
Oh, yes. In the course of the presentation, Chapman mentions (ahem):
Different classes of ship
Character clothing made out of vanquished enemies (for instance, a Kraken tooth hat)
Character augmentations (e.g. hooks for hands, a peg leg made of an old blunderbuss)
Ship upgrades (cannon types, reinforced hulls or upgraded paddles)
Captain’s cabin designs
Ship colour (Black Pearl ahooooy)
Are there enemies to fight? What are they?
Aside from other players, all of whom can ruin your day on a whim if they want to, the world will feature AI-controlled creatures with a fairly singular view about how you should be dead. Chapman’s examples are “Krakens and pirate skeletons, skeletal lords, sea serpents [and] pirate ghosts.” [...]
Are there NPC ships?
That seems to be a firm no. Chapman constantly makes mention of how every ship you see will be another player, somewhere in the world, so presumably AI characters will be entirely locked to the land.
Can you play alone?
That seems to depend on your definition of alone. If you mean “offline”, then that seems to be a straight no. However, players are able to man a single-crew boat, equipped with one sail, a small capstan (the wheel that drops the anchor), and (I’m extrapolating here) a single cannon. Quests don’t necessarily require more than one person, although Chapman mentions the obvious benefits of having someone guard you while you’re carrying treasure, for example.
[...]“Two small ships, because they’ve got something in common - they’re on their own - could form an alliance together. It’s almost like when you see a wildlife documentary and you see packs of wolves taking down this huge bison. You see these small ships attacking this large ship, this big prize.”
Are there classes/RPG skills?
No - Rare wants this to be a game, first and foremost, about player skill, particularly skill at working together. “We decided really early on that we didn’t want defined character roles”, explains Chapman. “I guess it’s quite a common thing in other games. ‘I’m the cannon guy and I’m going to invest all my points into cannons so I’m better at cannons.’ That’s runs against what Sea of Thieves is, as that would threaten the emergence. You’d just play in a set way every single time, and you’d just be locked into that mode of play.”
Any other cool touches?
Right, let me tell you about the painting canvas. This is Rare’s take on screenshotting - using this item sees your character render whatever’s onscreen as a gold-framed painting, which exists as an object in everyone’s game, and can be hung up in your ship. “The next time someone crews up on your ship,” Chapman enthuses, “they’re not only saying ‘where did you get that cool sail from?’ they’re also saying ‘when did that happen?’ and you can say ‘that happened 50 voyages ago.’ So the ships and the players start having that sense of history behind them.” It sounds like a fantastically cool way to get players sharing socially in a medium that’s often anything other than social.
Read further at the link.