Sea of Thieves’ Shrouded Islands update is an underwhelming start to a promising new era •

Sea of Thieves' Shrouded Islands update is an underwhelming start to a promising new era •

Since its launch in 2018, Sea of ​​Thieves has followed a dazzling upward trajectory, expanding and evolving with endless inventions and reinventions. However, one of its most fascinating evolutions came in the way it sought to marry the innate free-form chaos of its emergent sandbox with more structured narrative experiences – experiences that reached spectacular heights with last summer’s Pirate of the Caribbean crossover, A Pirate’s Life, which set a jaw-dropping new standard for the cinematic potential of stories in Sea of ​​Thieves.

Shrouded Islands, the now available first installment of Sea of ​​Thieves’ new monthly limited-time story episode schedule, doesn’t have the scope, ambition or polish of A Pirate’s Life – but it does. Nor was he likely to receive the strict monthly cadence Rare committed to. Unfortunately, however, this opener also suffers compared to Rare’s previous smaller-scale Tall Tales. While these brought new ways to play or new twists on existing mechanics within the enjoyable framework of a focused and compelling story, Shrouded Islands is a looser, lighter and less interesting experience, which, like the The opening bet of a bold new era of ongoing storytelling, half-heartedly gropes into the limelight when it should be a bellowing statement of things to come.

If you’ve only ever been to Sea of ​​Thieves for the occasional bit of hacking, you might not be aware of the surprisingly rich lore that exists behind the scenes – quite understandable being that. given that it’s traditionally only been told in spurts, with a bit of a change of scenery on the map here and the occasional Tall Tale to propel a plot point there. For a game with such narrative potential, the story has always lingered awkwardly in the back, and that’s where episodic monthly adventures come in, part of a multi-pronged plan – sitting alongside of major seasonal gameplay additions and more behind-the-scenes mysteries – Rare Hopefuls will make an attractive and ongoing proposition that brings a much richer sense of life to the world of Sea of ​​Thieves and also helps to maintain momentum through the seasons.

Shrouded Islands: A Sea of ​​Thieves Adventure – Cinematic Trailer.

It’s a fantastic idea, both in principle and in practice – we’ve seen Rare successfully pull something similar once before, in the story of a lowly NPC, Wanda, turned into a scourge of the seas, which unfolded in real time across several weeks in 2018. And things got off to a promising start last week as, as Shrouded Islands approached, a seismic shift suddenly gripped the world of Sea of ​​Thieves; one of its bustling outposts was found deserted, smothered in a sickly green mist, with the signs of a bitter battle fought and lost. It was a significant change for a beloved location, successfully teasing a grand adventure and mystery to come.

And Sea of ​​Thieves’ new fog-grasped landmasses are truly another wonderful ambient environmental work for the game – shattered, smoking buildings engulfed in swirling fog, starkly illuminated by beams of light that cut through the darkness, all underlined by a disturbing soundscape that oscillates between an ominous moan and a chilling siren song.

Unfortunately, Rare may have played its best hand too early for this first adventure; for a week, players had the opportunity to explore the sublime desolation of Golden Sands Outpost and its neighbors, ultimately robbing Shrouded Islands of its greatest “wow” moment. And without the surprise of those wonderful atmospheres, there really isn’t much left to shine, with the adventure unfortunately proving to be a rather limp narrative decorator married to undercooked action. Your initial task of investigating Golden Sands and uncovering clues to its whereabouts sounds very exciting at first, but the reality is far less enthralling when it turns out that after a lot of navigating to get there, all you you’re supposed to do is pick a compass off a table. Meanwhile, the high-profile in-game debut of an important lore character (discovered after your second task: climb a hill) falls rather flat as Rare struggles to convey the meaning of the moment through a rather clunky limited voice and text work.

Shrouded Islands: A Sea of ​​Thieves Adventure – Gameplay Trailer.

In many ways, this all feels like a throwback to Rare’s early Tall Tales, which generally suffered from the same feeling of being late to the pirate party, with each story plunging players into the aftermath of far more exciting events instead. than putting them right in the middle of the action – a later failing that Tall Tales remedied brilliantly. Admittedly, things pick up in the meatiest sequence of Shrouded Islands when, after another long map-navigation, players are given more substantial exploration on a third island shrouded in mist. It begins as a gloriously sinister setting, sending crews crawling through the swirling fog and searching for spectral shapes that point the way forward, before a sudden lurch into chaos with a frantic attempt to locate a series of lanterns among the darkness. , hostile ghosts are constantly popping up from all sides. But once the battle is over, the adventure soon reaches an abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion.

Not that getting to this point has been that easy in my game; inevitably, just moments after the big twist of Shrouded Islands, the usual shared-world frustrations resurfaced, born of Rare’s continued insistence on bringing players together for story content rather than excluding it. of the PvP game. I get the theory behind it, really – bring people together and who knows what exciting interactions will happen! – but while there are plenty of occasions where player encounters can provide a welcome change of pace, it’s an absolute disaster as far as the story goes. Nothing kills narrative momentum faster than bumping into other crews in Sea of ​​Thieves when it’s all but guaranteed to end in a miserable war of attrition.

It’s the in-game equivalent of having someone constantly throw popcorn at your head while you’re trying to watch a movie – you’ll inevitably reach a point where you’re so fed up that you lose everything. interest in what’s happening on screen and just want to go home. Unfortunately, until Rare properly encourages positive cooperative play to balance the balance between potential friendly and aggressive player interactions, it’s never going to be a bad way to tell a story.

The big concern, however, is that if not for the prolonged interruption to PvP across multiple attempts, my completion time for Shrouded Islands would have barely registered a hit on the clock. Sea of ​​Thieves’ previous attempts at regular events – usually consisting of a fairly repetitive shopping list of tasks to complete to amuse players between big content drops – may not have been particularly exciting, but they at least had meat, fit right into the regular gameplay flow, and shake up the action with a new focus to focus on for about a week. By contrast, Shrouded Islands is an incredibly light thing, arriving in well under an hour from start to finish. So it’s a little disconcerting that this first adventure avoids one of Rare’s neatest additions to the similarly-styled Tall Tales, which encouraged repeats with minor optional objectives – do this, find that thing. Hard work, most certainly, but still pleasantly entertaining goals to achieve until the next big thing.

Shrouded Islands is just the beginning, of course, and Sea of ​​Thieves is the absolutely perfect vessel for the kind of ongoing storytelling treatment Rare is attempting here – its world is a beautifully rich canvas with headroom. almost infinite growth. So it’s a little disappointing that this first adventure seems marred by so many familiar issues – from passive participation in the plot to a lack of substantial interaction – that Rare’s brilliant later forays into storytelling have long since resolved. Granted, it arrives without the wave of excitement surrounding a new season of content, and I’m sure its air of inconsistency would be less noticeable when bolstered by a whole new box of toys to play with. But while Shrouded Islands is indicative of Rare’s big bet to maintain momentum throughout each new season, it seems there’s still work to be done.

Shrouded Islands will remain available until March 3, with the next chapter of the story arriving alongside Season 6 of Sea of ​​Thieves on March 10.

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