Another month in lockdown, another content update carefully built to keep pirates busy on the Sea of Thieves, and April's was a big one. Amongst other things, Ships of Fortune introduced the pairing of a zealous new Trading Company with a fully functional Emissary system, offering all players new possibilities while marking out prey for The Reaper's Bones!

Ships of Fortune: Official Sea of Thieves Content Update

Duration 2:11

The Emissaries enterprise was explained in some depth in our All About Emissaries article, but who could say no to another sit-down with Senior Designer Chris Davies? We assured him that his words are like sweet nectar to information-hungry Sea of Thieves players across the globe, and he blushed like a genteel Elizabethan maiden as he took a seat to tell us more about the making of Emissaries.

"The Emissary system is all about giving players new options while adding richness to the world. The Trading Companies have been a crucial part of Sea of Thieves since the beginning, but when you max out a Company's ranks or reach Pirate Legend status, the Companies can often end up feeling like background scenery as you go about your high-level business – which is a shame as they're such a big part of this world. So Emissaries are our way of helping the Trading Companies to grow and giving players a reason to renew those relationships.

"Becoming an Emissary lets you indulge yourself in the role-playing side of Sea of Thieves through allegiance-based gameplay. Spot another Emissary Flag out on the seas and you'll immediately have some idea of the Voyages that crew might be on and the treasure they'll likely have on board. Or while you're at an Outpost, check out the model ships on Emissary Tables (showing the Emissary crews currently sailing for that Company on the same server as you) to help decide what you might want to do once you weigh anchor. In either case, you could choose to represent the same Company and ally up with those Emissaries for greater rewards and safety, or set out as a Reaper to hunt them down for their loot and Flag. Or, of course, just keep your head down and mind your own business!

"Emissary status had to feel like an investment for players, hence the need to stump up the gold for a Trading Company's Emissary Flag – but we also had to be careful not to make anyone feel locked in. Freedom to play however you want is central to Sea of Thieves, and restricting the system so that you could only commit to a single Company would have meant sacrificing some of that freedom. You might want to shift goals midway through a gameplay session, or help another crewmate meet a different target, and that option should always be there."

Emissaries Explained - Official Sea of Thieves Gameplay Guide

Duration 3:44

With heightened risk balanced by multiplied rewards, sailing under an Emissary Flag is the optimal way to play for pirates who've had some experience on the seas. But what provides that risk? Enter The Reaper's Bones, Sea of Thieves' latest Trading Company. The challenges and chatter of content updates stretching back to last year laid the groundwork, with Flameheart and the Masked Stranger moving their pawns around on the board while mysterious chests and gifts made their way to The Reaper's Hideout, delivered by players who might have thought it all felt a bit dodgy but hey, Doubloons! Even the cheery end-of-year Festival of Giving gave way to more competitive and combative pursuits centered on the same location, clouding its atmosphere as time went by.

Now, finally, this is home to The Reaper's Bones, treasure thieves and Emissary hunter-killers with dreams of dominion over all other pirates. Sea of Thieves' Design team had been discussing the next phase of Adventure mode for many months, and it was around the time of the Dark Relics update that they knew for sure it would involve a new Trading Company ushering a controlled form of PvP into this world.

"Conceptually, a PvP Trading Company sounds simple in a world where players are already free to target other players," continues Chris, "but we wanted to give that more structure and essentially make it an opt-in process for that Company's potential targets. That's where the Emissary system that we'd also been thinking about slotted into place.

"Even though we knew any update introducing The Reaper's Bones would be seen as 'the PvP update', from the very first pitch deck we also championed the PvE benefits by helping players with different play styles to avoid confrontations with more combative crews – focusing PvP among those who choose to run as Reapers or Emissaries. That's why the Reapers see little benefit from targeting non-Emissary players, and why Emissaries of The Reaper's Bones show up on everyone's map so that you can steer well clear if you have other adventures in mind. It's also one of the reasons that Reapers can only cash in at The Reaper's Hideout rather than any Outpost: players always know where to look for them if they have revenge in mind, or just fancy taking them down a peg.

"Conversely, skilled Emissaries of the Reapers – especially those good enough to make it to Grade 5 and reveal all other Emissaries on the map – were always intended to pose a very real, very visible threat, effectively a boss battle created and run by our players."

Of course, some loot-based progression is necessary as anything can happen in Sea of Thieves' fluid open world, and Reapers have to be able to make headway should other Emissaries prove elusive. So it's just as well that the representatives of The Reaper's Bones are so dead set on proving their dominance that they'll take any old treasure off your hands. In their eyes, loot that comes to them is loot that doesn't go to their rivals. With no care for the shared concerns of other Companies, they won't raise your Grade for suppressing a Skeleton Fort or keeping shipping lanes safe by whacking a Kraken, as would other Companies such as the Gold Hoarders – they care only about proving their superiority.

And it's not just the Reapers but all participating Trading Companies who want to make sure their Emissaries are up to scratch. Hence the use of Emissary Ledgers, in which the Companies track the efforts of all pirates flying their Flag and reward the most diligent. However, while setting your sights on the top spot in a Ledger can certainly be seen as competitive, having the Ledgers operate as leaderboards in the traditional sense wasn't strictly the intent, explains Chris:

"While the Ledgers are important to motivate a bit of loyalty and engagement with the Companies, we were always keen to ensure they didn't put you under constant high pressure to perform. Instead, we want them to be an aspirational goal spread over the duration of the month – almost a passive tracking of your contribution over time. So we made sure the reward bands are broad and generous, and the rewards themselves are always there as optional targets rather than being time-limited, so you don't have to rush for every set immediately or lose out. We may well add more rewards over time, but we have no plans to switch out the existing ones."

While the Sea Dogs haven't jumped on the Emissary bandwagon just yet, they have been busy: The Arena has undergone a major overhaul in Ships of Fortune, so if it's been a while since you matched yourself against other crews for silver and glory, this is a fine time to jump in and kick off a ruck in our newly streamlined contests. Lead Designer Shelley took us through the highlights of this next chapter of The Arena in the mid-March edition of Sea of Thieves News – and if you're thinking of strolling into the Glorious Sea Dog Tavern and trying your luck, get a headstart from our modestly convenient Top Tips for Tackling The Arena article!

Another important feature of April's content update that changes everyday life on the Sea of Thieves is the new revival system, keeping downed pirates away from the Ferry of the Damned if a crewmate can reach them to deliver some rough-and-ready CPR. This applies to Adventure as well as The Arena, and you can hear more about it in this mid-April edition of Sea of Thieves News. There's been a sizeable increase to level caps too, timed to arrive just as the Emissary system nudges players to get talking to the Trading Companies again and racking up rep by the… raftload? Raftload.

May's content update is only a couple of weeks away, but all the key features carried in by Ships of Fortune will remain in the game indefinitely – in fact, it's only the fresh stock in the Black Market and Pirate Emporium that you could miss out on, at least at its introductory discount. The long-awaited arrival of cats is a clear highlight, but if you don't want to buy a pet Wildcat, Ragamuffin or Mau to snuggle when it's not snoozing on unlikely parts of your ship, well, that's your decision. Is it because you're more of a dog person? In that case, latch a lupine liability to the front of your Galleon with the Night Wulf Ship Set, based on that ancient fable of fearless exploration, Sabre Wulf.

As always, the complete release notes are the best place to wallow in the finer details of everything added with this update. Make sure you take the time to check out everything that tickles your fancy, and come back for the lowdown on our May update in a few weeks!