Obligatory ahoy, pirates. Season 8 of Sea Of Thieves goes live tomorrow, bringing on-demand ship combat and a faction system that pits goodly ghost-pirates against evil skeleton-pirates. It's all woven into the existing open world, with your ship plunging beneath the waves when you tell it you want to go a-hunting.
If you want more info, you can watch the devs launch into an appropriately deep dive in their latest update video.
As they discuss, to trigger a battle, you'll have to walk up to the new hourglass on your captain's table and tell it which side you're on. That sends you beneath the waves, speeding towards a crew from the opposing faction whose crew skill (based on previous wins and losses) matches yours. There's no running, once that happens: if either crew tries to sail away then their hourglass explodes and sinks the ship.
I like it. This sounds like an elegant way to bring quick PvP battles to those who want them, without bothering people who'd rather potter about doing pirate things as per usual. There's a neat layer of risk and reward baked into it, too, because chaining succesfull battles together earns you extra progress - but you only get to bank it once you return to port. Winning four in a row lets rival faction members see you on the map, and also makes your ship all cool and glowy.
You can also dig up faction treasures while out and about, which might bring players from the rival faction knocking. Defending your ship earns you rewards for your faction based on how much treasure you've accrued, with new cosmetics purchasable en-route to unlocking new areas in the Pirate Legend's tavern and the Reaper's Lair. Top-tier rewards turn you into a skeleton or a ghost. Grand.
You can buy Sea Of Thieves for £17.50 on the Microsoft Store. It's on Game Pass, too.