Setting Sail with Sea of Thieves, a Play It First Impression at Rare HQ – Exclusive
The day had begun much like any other in Twycross, England; the sun stretched across acres of farmland, locals greeted each other as they swung into routine, and a nondescript bus hoarding the largest gathering of Rare fans in history rumbled through the countryside.
Right - something was quite different about this particular morning...
As we made our way through cobblestone streets and onto the A444, the excited fervor had taken on an air of nervous realisation; in a matter of minutes we would arrive at Rare - and shortly after, we would be playing Sea of Thieves together.
It was a lot to process, and it just didn't feel real - I kept thinking that at some point during the trip I would bolt up in bed and find myself back in Canada, but as we got closer to the studio it was clear that while groggy from jetlag, we were all very much awake.
I exchanged anxious glances with DK Vine founders Chad and Hyle whom I met at E3, along with Daniel and Amir of Killer Instinct Central and RareFanDaBase fame. From Rare&Friends, Jephren and his wife, Mandie sat nearest to the front; while shipmates Mike and Sebastian of Pirate Port Radio and Sea of Thieves Central brought up the quarter deck.
While I had only just met the "Play It First" contest winners days prior, we all quickly became friends over our mutual love of Rare, good food, and slightly confusing UK customs.
Joining Sebastian from my home and native land, Jackie and Olivier were both fantastic artists with an affinity for Kameo: Elements of Power and screaming "WOO" respectively. And lastly, known for their animated action in filmmaking and dance, Rodrigo and Alex made our Rare union complete.
For all of us, this had been a lifelong dream that we shared together.
Turning onto Watery Lane, we reached our final destination as the front gates came into view. The bus was filled with cheers as we made our way inside, snaking through the trees that kept the studio from prying eyes.
Catching a glimpse of Rare through a clearing was one of the most fortunate moments I've ever experienced; we shouted, roared and even wept before entering the trees once more.
Our excitement only grew with intensity as we edged closer to the front of the building, and then time seemed to stop as we left the bus to take in the whole of Rare up close.
We stood in awe, our minds were drinking in every last detail; collectively we had seen this place thousands of times online, in images, in video - but the first time we actually stood in front of Rare was something that none of us could ever prepare ourselves for.
With one last deep breath, we made our way through to the reception area where we were greeted with a thunderous applause from the staff who had gathered inside - the memory is still as fresh as ever, and the feelings of overwhelming happiness still linger.
The lobby was filled with a mixture of programmers, musicians, artists, designers and more; some of them we had known for years, others we were just getting to know for the first time, but we were equally excited to meet each and every person for even precious seconds.
The rest of the morning was a mixture of elated nostalgia for familiar locations and faces, along with stirring sentiment for new developments, especially for Sea of Thieves. We took selfies with staff clad in Piñata costumes, toured the grounds and immersed ourselves in Rare history, present and future.
In the end, we were lead up through to the demo area where we would collectively experience Sea of Thieves for the first time - at this point, nobody outside of Rare had ever had this opportunity, we were beside ourselves with excitement.
After we were divided into teams, we were lead into separate sound-proof booths with an impressive brig-like exterior. On the inside, each booth had been fitted with a flat-screen television showing off the latest version of Sea of Thieves, a sleek headset to communicate to the rest of our crew, and a forward-facing camera intended to capture our reactions in real-time.
At the top of the booth was a picture of the pirate we'd be playing as, along with a signal light that would turn green when we could begin our adventure. Gripping the controller and prepared to see through the eyes of 'CannonballChris', I took in what little area of the game world I could see:
I was inside a building - a tavern I soon deduced, after taking in the low hanging chandelier made from a disused ship wheel and the worn countertop that served as the bar. I could make out the nearest window across the room, flora was being whipped about by a gentle breeze in its frame.
My crewmates were also in the tavern; we discussed what we could make out while we waited for our lights to turn green.
We were given no instruction by any of Rare's staff on how to play through Sea of Thieves, the only bit of guidance we had was a scrap of paper underneath our screens that showed us the basic controller map. We could use this to learn how to walk, how to sprint and how to jump - anything more complicated would have to be found out by the seat of our own wits.
Without any real-world sailing experience, much of us didn't have much seat to go on regardless...
As we bantered back and forth, one of us realised that the light had switched on, and without a moments hesitation we went forth into the wide world!
The first thing I chose to do was see what CannonballChris had carried with him into the tavern, which turned out to be a large tankard of grog and a thin plank of wood.
Swinging the plank like a make-shift weapon had no effect, so I tried to drink some of the grog instead and was greeted with a long slurp. I celebrated this small success with another drink. And then another. And then another.
It wasn't long before CannonballChris had drained his tankard entirely and began to wobble on the spot - I was pleased to see that Rare had taken the time to accurately recreate the drunken sway that many of us might be familiar with.
In a bid to follow my crew out of the tavern in diagonal strides, I soon found them heading towards a large ship that had been docked nearby.
I hoped that I wouldn't fall off of the ship when we were sailing due to my state, but in an ironic twist of fate, I fell off the dock just trying to clamor aboard.
I suppose this is what you do with a drunken sailor early in the morning.
Thankfully I managed to sober up somewhat as we gathered aboard the deck, and my crew began to work out the dynamics of sailing.
We tried splitting off so that we were each responsible for our own task, but as we waited on the pirate slowly spinning the capstan (the wheel that raises and lowers the anchor), a moment of enlightenment came over us as all when we realised we could pitch in together and get the job done faster!
Sure enough, the cranking of the chain increased as we surrounded the capstan until the anchor had been taken aboard, and without anything holding us back we soon found ourselves floating free.
We split up once more as we took to the helm, and in a matter of moments we soon discovered that the sails could be manipulated via the pulleys to catch the wind.
Together, we worked through the rigging and had our masts in full form and seconds later we had begun sailing out into open water under our own direction!
A direction which was done so without any instruction or tips from the Sea of Thieves team - it was just us on the water with the whim of adventure taking us away.
We grinned ear to ear as we began drifting further from our familiar tavern and towards an island off in the distance. We began roaming around the deck in preparation of things to come; we fired off a few cannonballs into the air in celebration, we toured the lower decks for further plotting. I foolishly decided that I could get a better vantage point by approaching the bow of the ship, only to fall off completely when I couldn't hold my balance!
Breaking the surface, I plunged into the waters and shouted for my crew to swing the ship around. Luckily my crew wasn't entirely heartless, and the anchor was dropped in response - though this took a few seconds to orchestrate, so it did look as if the ship might have been sailing off into the horizon.
It was entirely possible for my crew to abandon me in those equally unforgiving waters if they saw fit; there's a sense of panic as you're left in the middle of endless ocean, the rolling waves crashing around as the feeling of abandon sinks in.
As I began to clamour aboard, the rest of my crew prepared to sail off once again; they rushed off to the capstan and began to bring in the anchor, our appointed captain set a course for continued adventure and we were off!
It was only a few moments later that we realized the sun had been setting behind our ship - everything had been bathed in a warm orange glow, and fractured light sparkled across the water as far as any of us could see. We abandoned our posts to take in the sight, just staring in awe across endless horizon. The visuals within Sea of Thieves had impressed us before, but taking in our first shared sunset gave a glimpse of how immersive and awe-inspiring everything could be.
Afrer sailing through an expanse of ocean, our new motivation was to explore one of the nearby islands that came into view. We decided to venture towards a tall island that seemed to harbor a large spire in its center - we would come to refer to this as 'Spiral Mountain', given its similarity to the hub world from Banjo-Kazooie.
Suddenly, we managed to catch sight of another ships mast over the horizon!
The crew was set into frenzy as we set a new course - our ship turned swiftly, away from the beckoning shores of Spiral Mountain and into dangerous waters.
While others might have been a little more diplomatic, our sense of due piracy took us to our cannons as we prepared for our chance meeting.
The next few minutes in Sea of Thieves were a blur of intense action, overwhelming victory and gut-wrenching panic.
When we were close enough to spot the crew of the opposing ship, we turned sharply to align ourselves with their cannons and began to fire! Some of our cannonballs soared over their sails, while others were directed into the depths surrounding the ship. We were only just learning how to fire properly when one of their cannons met the side of our ship!
There was a brilliant splintering of the deck as their cannonball exploded on impact, we had taken the first hit! Our crew was dauntless as we carried on through a second and third impact - we sent a volley of cannonballs in response, and luckily most managed to collide with their ship!
One of my shots was successful enough to punch through their lower deck, and I was immediately rewarded with a orchestrated sting!
Each time we managed to land a successive hit, the brief bit of music would rise in pitch, and it wasn't long before our shouts of triumph were coupled with a stirring conquest anthem.
We dealt and received damage at an equal rate, and after a particularly aggressive shot brought with it a splintering eruption in our lower quarters followed by a rushing of water, we knew that one of us would have to inspect the damage below.
It wasn't good, as you might expect - our trading of blows had left the hull of ship resembling Swiss cheese, and with each hole came with it a torrent of rushing water.
Approaching the spot of impact, we soon discovered that the previously 'useless' planks of wood could be used to cover the holes which prevented any further flooding.
We toured the lower decks in an effort to find all of the holes and patch them up, and it was to our horror that we discovered much of the brig was underwater. To add further insult to injury, there were new cannonballs tearing through the upper decks which made for serious multi-tasking.
Luckily our crew maintaining the cannons above had become especially adept at firing the cannons at the lowest decks of our rival ship, and after a few moments of fast-paced conflict obscured by heavy cannon smoke, we had managed to punch several lethal holes into their hull.
The rival crew had soon become overwhelmed with the damage we had dealt to their ship, and it soon began to sink as it invited the seas aboard. We watched them struggle to find the highest point of their ship, we watched as they tried to sail off to Spiral Mountain, all while spattering their damaged ship with cannonballs. After an intense battle on the Sea of Thieves, it was finally over; their ship had taken on too much water and it began to disappear from view. Ours was hardly sea-worthy either, but it managed to stay afloat at least. We had won, and after celebrating our victory with shouts of praise, congratulations and laughter, we sailed our ship boldly to new horizons together.
As we left the Sea of Thieves booths it was obvious that Rare had created something very special - we set out for a mammoth task with very little instruction and nothing offered from any of the developers. Despite the factors that were against us, we managed to work together and figure out the mechanics of sailing, combat, repairing and even grog swilling!
The experience was one that is still as vivid as they day we set out as pirates, and I can't wait to rejoin my crew, or perhaps even turn against them when Sea of Thieves reaches our shores. Everyone at Rare should be incredibly proud of what has been accomplished, and continues to be accomplished every day with Sea of Thieves - a golden era has returned and this truly is their most ambitious undertaking, and it shows through the tiniest detail.
To Alex, Amir, Chad, Daniel, Hyle, Jackie, Jephren, Mandie, Mike, Olivier, Rodrigo and Sebastian, the days spent with you sticks out as some of the best memories I've ever had - we laughed together, cried together and sailed together. You're all just a few clicks away on social media, but I still miss you all!
To everyone at Rare, I can't thank you enough for this invitation, it has been the absolute highlight of my life and meeting you all was an utter dream come true. You've made all of this possible and you should take great pride in lighting the fires in the hearts of your fans across the world. Thank you so much.
To those who haven't played Sea of Thieves before, I hope this experience provided even the faintest glimpse into a world dominated by enthusiastic highs, smooth sailing, dangerous depths and an unparalleled era of pirate adventure!