Sea of Thieves hasn't, it's fair to say, been the most welcoming of experiences for fledgling pirates, what with the online-only game's proliferation of bloodthirsty player ships, marauding AI monstrosities, and an almost complete lack of initial instruction. It's taken nearly two years, but finally, as part of its new Christmas-themed update, Rare has given its nautical multiplayer sandbox a proper tutorial - and, quite unexpectedly, it's an absolute delight.
In fact, I'd say it's the highlight of Sea of Thieves' latest update, known as the Festival of Giving, which focusses the remainder of its seasonal activities around a series of (somewhat uninspired) voyages to find presents and cart them to a tree in the middle of the map. There's a bit of a neat twist in that players can forfeit their presents in the spirit of giving for additional rewards, but it's certainly nowhere near as exciting as November's fire/new Tall Tale double whammy.
Luckily, Sea of Thieves' new tutorial makes up for it, essentially taking the form of another brand-new Tall Tale, which means that it features all the bells and whistles of the game's other story-based episodes. There's a fully animated and voiced NPC, dynamic music (and one track in particular, a Monkey-Island-esque refrain of the main theme, is a delight), alongside various optional diversions, challenges, secrets, and unlockables.
Maiden Voyage, as the tutorial is known, kicks off just outside the Sea of Thieves, with the infamously impenetrable Devil's Shroud coiling ominously on the horizon. Once players have roused themselves and taken in their beautiful tropical island surroundings, they're walked through the basics of combat, treasure hunting, and more, all in a neat little mini-quest. What really makes the experience though is the island itself, rife with optional secrets for curious explorers, including a bunch of hidden diaries introducing bits of Sea of Thieves' lore.
I spent a happy hour working my way through the tutorial's associated Commendations last night, and even unearthed a juicy hoard of coins and doubloons. Plus the whole thing concludes with one of the most gorgeously orchestrated interactive set-pieces that Rare has so-far constructed for Sea of Thieves, and it's well worth a bit of a gander - even for seasoned players, who can access the Maiden Voyage episode from the main menu. Honestly, I wasn't expecting to be anywhere near as impressed by a tutorial.
Hopefully this bit of gentle, and much-needed, onboarding will make for a less harrowing start for new Sea of Thieves players, and will help reduce the endless clamour for nerfs. Either way, high-fives to the Tall Tales team, particularly given that the Maiden Voyage episode follows so closely to last month's gloriously presented Seabound Soul, which, while brisk, offered up Sea of Thieves' juiciest bit of in-game narrative yet. Seriously, goose bumps.
Elsewhere in Sea of Thieves' Festival of Giving update, there are ultra-tough Skeleton Lords to conquer for substantial rewards in the new Ashen Skeleton Forts (just look for the red skull clouds), plus sword improvements designed to increase the fluidity of melee combat.
There are also new Christmas-y premium cosmetics in the Pirate Emporium (and a free stealthy emote), plus new riffs on existing cosmetics in the Black Market for those with in-game currency to burn. Additionally, tomorrow, 13th December, sees the launch of Sea of Thieves' Calendar of Giving, bringing 12 daily in-game events - and special rewards - for the holiday season.
And as for the future, Sea of Thieves' executive producer Joe Neate has revealed that the long-requested cross-platform opt-out for Adventure Mode will likely go live in January/February.
Full information on the new Festival of Giving update can be found in Rare's patch notes.