Sea of Thieves' latest update is here and it shakes things up a bit with a new limited-time event, encouraging slightly different ways to mess around in its sandbox after what's been a particularly dry spell.
The bulk of the new stuff comes in the form of some new limited-time Mercenary Voyages - special voyage types that currently appear to be standing in for the more elaborate Bilge Rat Adventures of yore, first trialed over Christmas then formalised in February's update.
That first official Mercenary Voyage wasn't especially thrilling for long-time players, given that it was explicitly designed to offer newcomers a small sample of Sea of Thieves' trading companies. Today's Mercenary Voyage, however, aims to bring a bit of a twist to the core experience, encouraging crews to embark on set quests while flying their Reaper's Mark flag - meaning their position is revealed on the map and there's nowhere to hide from attackers.
The new Mercenary Voyage, known as the Reaper's Run of the Wanderer's Refuge, can be purchased from Duke at any outpost tavern for five in-game doubloons - but if your supply of shiny blue coins has already been depleted for some reason, it's still possible to earn the limited-time rewards if a crew mate purchases the voyage and slaps it on the table.
The basic version of the voyage, which has no special requirements, funnels all crews toward Wanderer's Refuge in the Shores of Plenty - potentially leading to at least a couple of PvP kerfuffles - and rewards a nice dollop of fresh doubloons.
There's also a tougher variant, which asks crews to slap on their Reaper's Mark before heading out for adventure, leading to even greater opportunities for peril. Complete the voyage five times with the flag equipped and you'll get even more doubloons, and unlock access to the new limited-time Wandering Reaper ship cosmetics set.
Those looking for a slightly more sedate challenge might prefer to earn some doubloons by embarking on the Mercenary Voyages of the Wilds & Ancient Isles, and all related Commendations are listed in the the Bilge Rat Adventures sub-menu in-game.
In total, 90 doubloons are up for grabs, which might prove useful if, like me, you're currently grinding the last few levels to Pirate Legend. Rare has said it will be giving a number of rewards to all players that reach Pirate Legend status prior to Sea of Thieves' first birthday on March 20th - the same day it will be detailing and revealing the release date of its imminent mega-update, which introduces the new PvP-focussed Arena mode, and a lot more.
Today's patch also brings a few notable adjustments to the core game. Payouts for the ever-divisive Merchant Alliance's animal and Cargo Run voyages, for instance, have been "significantly" increased. Additionally, the latter have been made easier, with reduced delivery distances and more robust cargo. Cargo Runs weren't playing particularly nicely with the massive increase in roving threats introduced in last year's excellent Shrouded Spoils update.
Slightly less dramatically, today's update also adds a couple of new food barrels to your ship, moving them closer to the mysterious stove that recently appeared below deck - both almost certainly related to the mega update's much-teased, if not quite officially confirmed, fishing and cooking features. A full list of bug fixes and quality of life improvements, including, mercifully, an increase in the time it takes for floating treasure to sink, can be found in today's patch notes.
Lastly, as outlined in Sea of Thieves' latest developer update video above, Rare will soon be giving all players the chance to opt-in to its Pioneers programme. This enables participants to preview and test new features ahead of release, as well as provide feedback. Rare says its new opt-in version of the programme, expected to go live on March 12th, will offer rewards for use in the main game - including gold, doubloons, and exclusive cosmetics - to those that sign-up and take part. The developer stresses, however, that all Pioneers content is under NDA.