Prepare to Perspire in Heart of Fire
Find challenges to leave you charred and scarred in March's free Sea of Thieves update!
Given the way things took a turn in the real world this month, it's just as well that Sea of Thieves' Heart of Fire update delivers a substantial slice of new adventure to keep players busy. Yes, March saw the continuation of the story that started with The Seabound Soul in November, taking players by the hand and transporting them through a tunnel of twists, traps and toasted extremities.
In line with tradition, we've mined the minds of designers for insights into the making of this month's update. So if you want to know more about this very latest Tall Tale, or March's other additions like the Athena's Run Voyages targeted at Pirate Legends, read on. Just watch the trailer first, or John the Trailer Voice Man will be sad:
A host of familiar faces get some time to shine in this Tall Tale, from Arthur Pendragon and Grace Morrow to Stitcher Jim and the cruel Captain Flameheart, as Jim tries to say one step ahead in the race to find and survive Flameheart's catacombs.
Here at Rare, Lead Designer Andrew Preston was deeply involved in the making of 'Heart of Fire' – the Tall Tale contained within the titular monthly update – so we put him in an armlock (via email, to respect social distancing) and encouraged him to tell us how it all came together:
"The 'Heart of Fire' Tall Tale took just over five months to build, from plot creation and planning through to bug testing and final playtests. A lot of the hard work was in building the catacombs where the last leg of the Tale takes place, deep beneath the waves of The Devil's Thirst. Our 3D Level Art team did a phenomenal job of building an early version of ('whiteboxing') these catacombs, based on some Post-It note drawings from the Design team!
"This kicked off the start of a long, iterative process between Art and Design. As soon as a rough version of the catacombs was built, we'd begin testing ideas for the traps inside. We took the approach of trying to create unique, memorable traps in each 'room' – we had a design philosophy that the player should be able to look back at any particular room and be able to name it or refer to it based on the trap, puzzle or combat challenge within. This allowed us to critique each trap design with a clear set of guidelines; if traps or puzzles didn't fit this philosophy, they were scrapped or iterated upon until they did. After lots of iteration, we got more accustomed to what worked well.
"We knew we wanted to add fire traps, partly because they fit the theme, but more importantly because they aren't as punishing as instant death traps. Ultimately this allows the trap runs to be more forgiving, which keeps players immersed in the drama and theatre of the Tall Tale rather than having their immersion broken due to spikes in difficulty."
Traps and timeframes aside, what other challenges were faced and late-breaking changes made that could have affected how the Tale played out? Andrew checks his email again to find another impatient and demanding message from us, and knows we won't stop unless he responds:
"The main challenge we faced when testing 'Heart of Fire' was getting everything into place in the same build. For example, we would see the ending cutscene on one developer's machine and the awesome trap gameplay on another, but it wasn't until everything was in the same place that the 'Heart of Fire' experience literally came together.
"The only major change we made after that was deciding where you needed to take Stitcher Jim's Chest of Rage. Originally you had to return to Morrow's Peak Outpost and give it to Pendragon, where he and Grace would provide an outro together once the chest was opened. However, the Tale lost a lot of momentum with this approach. So we opted for Pendragon to appear on The Devil's Thirst as you exit the catacombs, much akin to how he does in 'The Seabound Soul'.
"With each Tall Tale we create, we try to learn and improve on the last. 'Heart of Fire' best represents this learning process. We tried very hard to strike a good balance between gameplay, puzzle-solving, cinematics and combat to create an engaging experience for players! It was a true team effort and I want to take this moment to thank everyone who worked on it. We hope you all enjoy playing it as much as we did developing it."
Accompanying the Tall Tale in this content update are Athena's Run Voyages, only purchasable by Pirate Legends and offering a suitably skull-cracking level of challenge. Duke is distributing these on the Pirate Lord's orders, and if a non-Legend lands a role on an Athena's Run as part of a Pirate Legend's crew, well, more power to them. We'll let the Ferryman know they're coming.
Athena's Run Voyages cost 50 Doubloons apiece, but the returns are worth it. Uncovered during the course of these Voyages are new Athena's Treasures, each as precious as you'd expect but also bearing another bonus: they can be traded in with the Mysterious Stranger for Athena's Fortune reputation, offering a more frequently encountered alternative to the Chest of Legends when it comes to building your rank with this elite Trading Company. New Xbox achievements, Commendations and pirate cosmetics are also up for grabs en route to vanquishing these Voyages. So what about it? Were you born to Run?
All these escapades are compounded by the new armaments made available this month: Blunderbombs combine the destructive power of a blunderbuss with the throwable nature of firebombs, while chainshot can be fired from your cannons with pinpoint accuracy to wreck a rival ship's mast, wheel or capstan in one hit, or with rubbish accuracy to do hardly any damage at all to the rest of the ship.
And when you're taking a breather from all that honest adventuring or dishonest ambushing, what do you do with all the gold and Doubloons you've accrued? Obviously you head back to see Duke and make use of his other venture, the Black Market. It's been restocked again this month and while not even Duke could source any toilet rolls or tins of beans, he has acquired some very finely made banjos, drums, concertinas and hurdy-gurdies, in cosmetic sets ranging from Deep Ocean Crawler and Inky Kraken to the less overtly menacing Nightshine Parrot and Aristocrat.
Meanwhile, the Pirate Emporium will take your Ancient Coins in return for new goods including the Royal Sea Squirrel Ship Collection, the shipwrights' tribute to a grog-loving rodent from Rare's past. There are also new emote sets, a timely Shamrock Tankard, Reaper's Mark Sails – and if you've been yearning to make your weapon or pet look significantly more like a banana, well, you're in luck. So much luck.
For a bullet-pointed breakdown of everything above – and all the smaller improvements, quality of life fixes, achievements and Commendations – lock yourself indoors with our full Heart of Fire release notes. It won't be long before we usher in the next monthly update, so if you haven't already set out to stop that mad lad Jim, rinsed at least one Athena's Run and mastered the expanded arsenal, now's the time!
Beyond that, stay safe, and we'll be back soon to deliver additional adventures right to your doorstep. Contactless, with free postage.