A mere two months after Sea of Thieves went positively volcanic with the introduction of its deadly new Devil's Roar region, the multiplayer pirate adventure's next major free content update, Shrouded Spoils, is here.
Shrouded Spoils is a bit of an interesting one, all told, and it's exact nature has been tricky to pin down prior to its release, thanks to Rare's uncharacteristic secrecy regarding its contents. As it turns out though, it's a pretty meaty update - although the focus this time around is very firmly on fleshing out the existing experience rather than piling on flagship new features.
If anything could be considered the headline act though, it's the addition of fog banks, which billow around the world as a new environmental hazard, restricting visibility - and bolstering the ocean's general spookiness - at the most inopportune of times.
That's certainly a welcome new feature, but it's Shrouded Spoils' other tweaks and changes that are likely to prove more meaningful in the long-term. For instance, Sea of Thieves' existing AI hazards - the Kraken and the Megalodon - have both received an overhaul, in order to make encounters with them out on the water much more interesting.
The Megalodon, for instance, now emerges in a far wider number of varieties, each visually distinct and with their own personalities. These, variants, says Rare, include the Crested Queen, Shadowmaw, Ancient Terror, and the extremely rare Shrouded Ghost.
The Kraken, meanwhile, can now be encountered more often, and has been balanced to accomodate all ship types. That means that sloops, once safe from its tentacular clutches, can no longer sail the waters unimpeded. The Kraken's attacks have also been updated, with a new Kraken Slap move added to mix things up a little. Sadly, it doesn't sound like fans will be getting the head they've been clamouring for just yet though.
Importantly, pirates that manage to defeat either of these random encounters will now receive untold riches once the creatures' lifeless corpses sink beneath the waves. That means they're no longer merely bothersome hazards, and players now have a reason to engage them in combat.
In fact, Shrouded Sails makes the seas a substantially more hazardous place. Alongside the fog, Kraken, and Megalodon, the skeleton ships that were introduced in July's Cursed Sails update are also now random encounters. Sail long enough and you might meet a roving Skeleton Galleon out in the world. Spawns can be either passive (until fired upon) or bloodthirsty - and woe betide those that stumble into the latter ships unprepared.
Notably, the new random skeleton ship encounters don't replace the previous wave-based ship events - these can still be enjoyed (with added Skeleton Sloop) by heading toward a ship cloud when it appears in the sky. And for those that prefer fighting it out at Skeleton Forts, there's even better news: Shrouded Sails has activated the remaining six Skeleton Forts on the map - some of which feature particularly unusual layouts - meaning that a total of nine are now in play.
Elsewhere, Shrouded Sails adds new commendations and cosmetics exclusively for Pirate Legends, and it expands the customisation options available for all ship types. Now, it's possible to customise the wheel, capstan, and cannons, alongside sails, hull, and masthead. These new elements are available for purchase at shipwrights throughout the world, with different options available in different biomes. They're not cheap though, so you'll need to get earning that in-game gold.
Thankfully, there are a few more ways to do that as of the new update, with Skeleton Forts now also containing Ancient Bone Dusts crates and powerful Stronghold Gunpowder Kegs that can be sold to the Merchant Alliance. What's more, Mermaid Statues - originally introduced back in July - now reward sellable gem stones when smashed to smithereens.
As is the norm for Sea of Thieves' larger-scale updates, Shrouded Spoils brings a whole heap of new Commendation challenges, all themed around the game's latest features. Completing these will earn Doubloons (up to a total of 355 this time around), which can be spend on a selection of limited-time cosmetics - namely the rather striking Wailing Barnacle sails, hull, figurehead, flag, cannons, wheel, and capstan.
Alongside the headline features, there are plenty of other tweaks and additions to be found in Shrouded Spoils. Some are big, such as a difficulty rebalance for the beautiful, but occasionally exhausting, Devil's Roar biome, and some are small - players can now, for instance, raise their grog mugs skyward when equipped. As such, it's well worth reading the full patch notes.
Shrouded Spoils will likely be Sea of Thieves' last major update for 2018, but Rare is launching into the new year with a bang. As announced at Microsoft's recent X018 event, a new, entirely separate game mode for PvP players, known as The Arena, is coming early in 2019. Rare has also suggested that a quest-and-story-heavy update is due later in the year.