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Sea of Thieves is getting a battle pass and Seasons starting early next year

And the Festival of Giving arrives next week.

It's all change on the Sea of Thieves starting in January next year, as Rare's piratical multiplayer experience goes the way of countless other online games, adopting a new battle-pass-style progression system and new Seasons content release model.

Before all that, though, there's some disappointing news for fans of the PvP-based Arena mode; Rare has announced that all future Sea of Thieves updates will focus on expanding the game's more popular Adventure mode, meaning that while Arena mode will still be available, all development will cease - a sad fate for what started out as a brilliantly chaotic, rapid-fire alternative to the core game, but one that struggled to overcome myriad technical issues and, later, an unfavourably streamlined reworking robbed of the original's adventuring spirit.

That, then, firmly places the focus back on Adventure mode, and the debut of Rare's new Seasons model in January. As explained in its latest video update below, each season will last approximately three months (previously, Rare aimed for monthly content updates), and each will begin with the introduction of "a new experience or way of play".

Sea of Thieves News, December 2nd 2020.Watch on YouTube

In Season One's case, that's a new voyage type for the perennially unpopular Merchant Alliance trading company, this one casting players as detectives who must piece together clues across land and sea in order to locate a lost ship wreck and shipment.

It's a welcome addition for the neglected faction, but hardly one that sounds substantial enough to sustain player interest for a whole three months until Season Two; instead, Rare is clearly banking on its new battle pass system to incentivise return visits.

Sea of Thieves' existing trading company progression system will remain, but the new battle pass - which, incidentally, is completely free - will offer an additional set of goals designed to give players a "tangible sense of progress", even when engaging in shorter sessions.

Each season will feature 100 progress levels - with associated rewards including player cosmetics, ship cosmetics, and some exclusive to pirate legends - that can be unlocked through exploration, adventuring, and combat. Rare is also promising a series of pirate trials "that celebrate...existing content and encourage you to play in new ways".

In addition to the core battle pass, there's also a premium tier version, known as the Plunder Pass, which functions somewhat differently to those of other games. It's specifically intended to unlock discounts for existing items in the premium Pirate Emporium store (alongside "a few" exclusive items), meaning all main seasonal rewards will be free.

Alongside all of the above, each season will bring quality of life updates, new Pirate Emporium additions, and new Twitch drops. Players can also expect one featured live event - with its own goals and rewards - each month, plus regular live events such as Gold and Glory.

Admittedly, as presented, all this sounds like a whole lot of busywork and little in the way of substantial new updates; hopefully though, Rare can get the balance right and Sea of Thieves' wonderfully relaxed adventuring - one of its best and most distinctive assets - won't devolve into the kind of relentlessly stressful limited-time grind usually associated with battle passes.

We'll know more in January, but first there's the small matter of Sea of Thieves' seasonal Festival of Giving event to look forward to, which starts next Wednesday, 9th December. This includes the return of the game's Advent-Calendar-style 12 Days of Giving and Gilded Voyages, plus Twitch drops, log-in bonuses, and more.