Rare has announced that, following player feedback and lengthy internal discussion, it will be making Sea of Thieves' currently mandatory Xbox One and PC cross-play optional in a future update.
The ability for PC and Xbox One players to seamlessly interact with each other was one of the multiplayer pirate game's most trumpeted features prior to launch last March. In a new developer video, however, Sea of Thieves executive producer Joe Neate said that cross-play will become optional prior to the arrival of the game's PvP-focussed Arena mode later this year.
The decision, Neate explained, is a response to continued player feedback. As anyone with an eye on the Sea of Thieves community will know, a day rarely passes without someone calling the current system (which pits controller users and mouse-and keyboard players against each other on servers) "unfair". Given that Sea of Thieves' PvP play is currently in the spotlight, thanks to Arena mode and the recent upswing in high-profile, PvP-focussed streamers on Twitch, it's not hugely surprising that Rare has opted to address cross-play sooner rather than later.
According to Neate, the team has already begun work implementing an optional cross-play toggle, enabling Xbox One players using a controller to remain in a console-only pool if they so choose. Everyone else - including Xbox One players that use mouse-and-keyboard when the feature is introduced later this year - will be placed into a cross-play pool.
"We strongly believe our approach is the right one for all our players across the board", Neate explained. Inevitably, however, community sentiment following the news is mixed.
Some players are ambivalent about the announcement, while others are disappointed that the communal cross-play hug underpinning the game since launch will soon be no more. Those most thrilled, unsurprisingly, are the console players who've frequently expressed dissatisfaction with the current controller-versus-mouse-and-keyboard system, while yet more are sharing concerns that the move may lead to a dramatically decreased player pool on PC, potentially threatening Sea of Thieves' vital, if delicate, PvPvE balance on the platform.
Presumably though, Rare is sufficiently confident that this won't be a problem, particularly given the upcoming Arena mode's potential to split the player base still further.
Personally, I'm just a little perturbed that PC players like myself, who play exclusively with a controller, don't have the option to jump into the Xbox One pool. I'm not exactly relishing the potential future of endless PvP pummelling that will likely result from being locked into servers with predominantly mouse-and-keyboard players.
Elsewhere in Rare's latest developer update, PvP matters remain the order of the day. Neate also shared some insight into Sea of Thieves' previously promised combat improvements (which will include changes to the current double-gun exploit), due to arrive on February 6th.
Although specifics were scarce, Neate did explain that Rare's ultimate goal with these multi-stage improvements is to ensure that combat becomes more fluid and less clunky, and that weapons have more clearly defined roles. The basic idea is that, as ships close in on combatants, some weapons should decrease in effectiveness while others increase. Cannons, for instance, should be most effective from afar, while swords take precedence in close-quarters combat. Currently, that's out of balance, and Rare is keen to see sword play come into its own.
Full details on Sea of Thieves' February 6th update, which will apparently include a few other little treats alongside initial combat changes, are due to be shared during Inside Xbox on February 5th. Neate also reminded players that this update will require a full re-install. As previously announced, the new client will occupy significantly less hard-drive space than its predecessor, and also allows for much smaller update downloads in the future.