Season Three of Sea Of Thieves, that most piratical of online PvPvE adventures, kicked off last night with some new enemy types and cosmetics and such. The headline feature, though, is a bunch of Pirates Of The Caribbean crossover stuff, hence why the current season is subtitled A Pirate's Life. Yer PotC bits are primarily showing up in the Tall Tale story quests, and last night I played the first two. Through a combination of the game being a bit janky off the back of a big update, us being a bit stupid, and some utter, utter cheese grater sinking our ship, it took us six hours.
The extent of our piratical ineptitude was not suprising. What is, though, is that the Pirates Of The Caribbean stuff in the first two Tall Tales is a relatively small feature, and that the Pirates characters in particular end up being kinda annoying. Rare have adapted Pirates' vibe more than anything else, and while the rest of the changes are rad, especially the new enemies, you'd better be ready to spend time playing what feels a bit like a non-copyright infringing amusement park called Buccanneers Of The Central Americas.
Of course, this is an official crossover, and I don't wish to be a massive downer on the effort that the folks at Rare have put in here, because it's really fun. There are some really cool set piece moments, like sailing through a portal I persistently referred to as a giant magical sea fanny, and ending up in the land of the dead. You have to travel through a network of caves themed after the Disneyland ride that originally inspired the whole messy movie franchise, and it even plays audio from said ride, too, including the line, "Dead men tell no tales..." repeated a truly comical number of times. Then you emerge in a ghost pirate town with a ghost pirate pub and everything. It's also really cool to swim deep, deep, down to the seabed and suddenly discover The Black Pearl, looming out of the dark at you like a sexier Mary Rose. This whole bit is accompanied by a mournful siren song, and its very fantasyland piratey, 10/10.
(The magic was lost somewhat when we had to do it twice more, because a bug in a puzzle room in the siren fortress made us very confused, and prevented the exit from triggering properly. But you can't have everything.)
But these bits could have existed without the PotC IP being involved. There's no real reason that sunken ship wasn't any other banjaxed tall ship, apart from that we were told it was The Black Pearl. And in both of the Tall Tales, a PotC film character turned up at the end to be like, "Remember this? Stop blowing holes in the ship! Wahey!", and felt like a bit of a tacked on annoyance.
Thankfully, their appearance formed a very small part of the overall story. Now, there was an implication in both the Tall Tales that the friends you meet along the way will all come back later for some big climactic battle with Davy Jones and a kraken and what have you. But so far, it feels like the best pirate theme park you have ever seen was given an astronomical budget - albeit on the bizarre condition that they featured a Jack Sparrow impersonator for at least 20 minutes.
Now, this isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, after some consideration, I think Rare should have leaned really hard into this and characterised the Jack Sparrow in question as Mike Smith, 38 year old IT consultant from Hull, or one of the million other dudes who dress up as the Cap'n for weekends and bank holiday events. This would surely make everything a million times more enjoyable on a number of levels. Like, sure, actually being on a pirate ship and getting attacked by angry eel monsters is more intense than Mike is used to, but when stacked up next to a hen do, it isn't that bad, wahey! So there's no way Mike is dropping out of character.
Ultimately, this crossover has only served to make Pirates Of The Caribbean look bad - not because Rare have done a bad job with it, but because Sea Of Thieves is just more fun anyway. A Pirate's Life is good, but it's good because Rare are really nailed on with making this pirate shit now. It's good because, as I suspected, Sea Of Thieves has already become the more iconic pirate IP compared to PotC. At least to me. But listen, if the untold treasure chests of gold coins Rare make from doing this means they can make even more big expansions and updates, I'll put up with all the Mike Smiths I have to.