UPDATE: While I was writing all that below, Rare sneakily released full details on next week's The Hungering Deep content expansion, due on May 29th - so much of the speculation down there is now confirmed.
According to Rare, its "medium-sized" Hungering Deep update (compared to those due later this year) consists of two distinct parts: there's the quest-like limited-time campaign event, and a bunch of new items and features which will remain in the game permanently.
The permanent stuff comes in the form of the new drum instrument, the new Speaking Trumpet (enabling crews to be heard at a distance and to "find other crews on the same voyage"), plus customisable flags for the top of your ship, so that you might signal your intentions from afar. Additionally, there are new personal customisation options in the form of tattoos and scars, plus, of course, the new (probably megalodon-like) AI threat.
The time-limited campaign, meanwhile, "leads from the outpost taverns to lonely, forgotten isles, piecing together the tale of Merrick the bard and his brush with hungering horror. Those who can find him and untangle his groggy recollection of events can join the hunt for his nemesis - and reap the rewards!". This element of the update includes a number of goodies which can only be earned as part of the limited-time event: the Hungering Tattoo Set, special scars, a unique figurehead, sails and hull, and a unique drum and Speaking Trumpet variant.
More information on The Hungering Deep can be found on Rare's website, and Sea of Thieves' larger-scale Cursed Sails and Forsaken Shores updates - which include a new ship type and a new part of the world to explore - are detailed elsewhere.
ORIGINAL STORY: Sea of Thieves' weekly update is now live, adding a range of new features and quality of life improvements. However, its most exciting inclusions aren't in the latest patch notes, but take the form of some teasing and stage-setting in advance of next week's Hungering Deep content expansion.
The Hungering Deep is the first of six major content expansions planned for Sea of Thieves this year, and is described as a "medium-sized" update in comparison to those coming later. It introduces, among other things, new items, new rewards, and a significant new AI threat - almost certainly some kind of behemoth shark at this point. The Hungering Deep will, according to Rare, be followed by the game's long-awaited schedule of weekly live events.
In preparation for The Hungering Deep's arrival, today's 1.0.8 update has unleashed a new NPC on the world in the form of Merrick - the grizzled shark hunter that narrated last week's nifty Hungering Deep teaser trailer. Eagle-eyed Sea of Thieves players immediately pegged his location as Shark Bait Cove when the video aired, and that's where you'll find him now, at the camp on the island's southern shore.
At present, the old sea dog is utterly sloshed, and largely insensible, so you won't get much out of him just yet. However, in this week's developer video (below), Sea of Thieves executive producer Joe Neate explained that Merrick will be the jumping off point for a new story quest line that introduces The Hungering Deep's new elements in a more immersive fashion. This limited-time campaign will include special rewards and cosmetics, then, once the introductory event is over, all related new features and items will remain in the world.
As to the precise nature of The Hungering Deep's new features, Rare is still remaining a little coy. However, last week's teaser trailer briefly showed a drum and trumpet-liked device, leading fans to speculate that they may be part of the expansion's new toys.
That seems almost certain now, given that Rare has updated Sea of Thieves' title screen to display both a drum (which should nicely complement the existing hurdy-gurdy and concertina instruments) and, yes, a trumpet-like device. The latter is expected to be the Speaking Trumpet that Rare discussed prior to launch - a device that enables different crews to communicate at long distances. Rare has previously said that the Hungering Deep's new AI threat will require inter-crew co-operation to best.
Sea of Thieve's new 1.0.8 update also reintroduces the ability to hand crew mates bananas, cannon balls, and planks (this was removed last week after it was found to cause server crashes while in the water), alongside a range of quality of life improvements. There are new aim sensitivity sliders, for instance, and voyages can now be quickly cancelled from within their relevant menu. Additionally, the game now includes Rare's first wave of accessibility updates for colour-blind players, meaning that treasure maps should be easier to read.
Elsewhere, pirates can now find more lore books randomly strewn across islands on their travels, the Legendary Hideout has received a bit of a presentational overhaul, and - thankfully - the incessant squawk of captured chickens has now been pared back from a maddening ruckus to something more tolerable. You can see the full patch notes on Rare's website.
The last piece of notable Sea of Thieves news right now comes, once again, from the latest developer video. Here, Neate reveals that Rare is currently in the throes of reviving a variant of its pre-launch Pioneers Programme. This will enable select players to, essentially, gain access to Sea of Thieves' test servers, in order to offer feedback on content before it launches. This should hopefully reduce the number of bugs introduced with each patch, and help avoid a repeat of the lengthy downtime experienced last week.
Rare also notes that it will be sharing more about its future event and content expansion plans later this week, in anticipation of The Hungering Deep's launch on Tuesday, May 29th.