I could almost smell the gloomy caverns of Sea of Thieves this week. Moments before meeting Captain Jack Sparrow in a surprise Disney crossover, I felt like I was sailing along in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. “Dead men tell no tales,” warns the spooky and familiar voice, just as you navigate caverns full of skeletons and water. I could feel the thunder from the Disney ride, spot the same seagulls dotted around, and experience phantom smells that reminded me of the damp and dark environment that’s a key part of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom attraction.
As Captain Jack Sparrow graces the shores of Sea of Thieves: A Pirate’s Life this week, developer Rare has created a crossover with Disney that brings Pirates of the Caribbean characters to life in the perfect environment. It’s the result of a year of work during a challenging pandemic and what feels like a significant and free expansion to Sea of Thieves.
Rare has teamed up with Disney to make this a reality, and instead of opting for simple skins or a basic character appearance, there’s a whole narrative around Pirates of the Caribbean characters entering the Sea of Thieves. It’s resulted in some strong fan service, thanks to a shared appreciation between Rare and Disney, and Captain Jack Sparrow fighting alongside players in A Pirate’s Life.
“Disney actually reached out to us at E3 2019,” says Mike Chapman, Sea of Thieves creative director, in an interview with The Verge. “We met with Disney and they were huge fans of the game, so they reached out as huge fans of Sea of Thieves ... and that alone was kind of mind-blowing.”
This first meeting led to an opportunity to bring Captain Jack Sparrow to Sea of Thieves in a way that respects the virtual pirate world and the story of Pirates of the Caribbean. “Essentially they summarized it as ‘you’ve made the game that we should have made, we’d love to make a Pirates of the Caribbean game but you’ve kind of made it with Sea of Thieves.’”
Rare has crafted five episodes as part of the expansion, or Tall Tales as they appear in Sea of Thieves. These adventures let players explore some new environments and enjoy meeting familiar Pirates of the Caribbean characters. While the story content lasts around eight hours in total, if you’re new to Sea of Thieves or returning from months or years of not playing, you can jump into the Pirate’s Life story freely.
The opening episode sees players meet the Cursed Captain, an animated skull that you can carry around to unlock clues, lore, and parts of the adventure. The Cursed Captain is part of a wonderfully animated environment, with some fun puzzles for players to figure out. The Black Pearl also makes an appearance here, and Captain Jack Sparrow will help you fire cannon balls to defeat it.
Fans of Sea of Thieves will also be delighted to visit some key locations in the game this season. There’s a huge underwater Sunken Kingdom that allows players to swim to the very depths of the ocean and participate in underwater combat. It’s here you’re introduced to a new weapon, the Trident of Dark Times, that is used to defeat Sirens beneath the seas.
You’ll also fight hoards of brand-new enemy types in the Sunken Kingdom, including bipedal crustaceans that attack from land or sea. Crabs, eels, and hermits will all prove challenging to defeat, and they’re the first non-skeleton enemies since the launch of Sea of Thieves three years ago. The Kraken will also finally show its face in the murky depths of the Sunken Kingdom.
A Pirate’s Life also coincides with season three of Sea of Thieves, with an improved progression and reward system. Seasons are still a new system in Sea of Thieves, but this latest one has opened with the most memorable content in the game’s history.
Rare is also experimenting with how solo players and groups of friends experience the story. The multiplayer, open-world aspect of Sea of Thieves has often turned solo players away from the game. Some players don’t want to meet rival pirates on the seas that will happily sink their ship and ruin hours of progress. A Pirate’s Life attempts to answer that by cordoning off parts of this new campaign from the shared open-world. It allows you to enjoy meeting Captain Jack Sparrow in peace, without having to worry that you’ll be sniped in the head or that someone is blowing up your ship and stealing all your bananas behind your back.
A Pirate’s Life feels like a big step forward for Sea of Thieves, and a combination of a lot of changes to the game over the years. I originally started playing Sea of Thieves at launch in March 2018, hitting the max Pirate Legend rank within weeks. While the jolly open world was intriguing at first, the novelty of sailing the high seas soon wore off for me due to a lack of things to do. Returning to play Sea of Thieves again this year has been a delight, and the virtual seas feel like they’re now truly alive with content. I’m hoping we see Rare deliver more of this delightful storytelling in future seasons of Sea of Thieves.
Sea of Thieves: A Pirate’s Life is available now on Xbox One, PC, Xbox Series X / S, and on Xbox Game Pass.