Any pirate worth their bananas has played the latest Monthly Content Update for Sea of Thieves, entitled Festival of Giving. This update has been live since December 11th, and has brought various activities into the game to keep you all from going mad during the festive season. While it does include yet more gifts, we have at least wrapped these for you! More Ashen Tomes have also been released into the wild, while the Black Market and Pirate Emporium have refreshed their stock and offer yet more shiny goodies. And lording it over this update are three new Skeleton Lords, defending Forts and generally not feeling the holiday spirit. However, the gem at the heart of Festival of Giving is the new Maiden Voyage tutorial.

With the update now live and players sharing their experiences, thoughts and hilarious videos, it’s time for us to share a bit more about the process behind it. We’ve caught up with two members of the Sea of Thieves Design team (the ones we were able to lure into the old ‘box propped on a stick’ trap) and interrogated them with gusto on what players are getting in this free update.

Official Sea of Thieves Content Update: Festival of Giving

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Let’s begin, appropriately, with the Maiden Voyage. This is a narrative-driven tutorial experience, separate from Adventure and Arena. New Sea of Thieves players will begin their experience inside this scenario, which provides some guidance and information to fledgling sailors. If you’re already a shark-bitten, weathered pirate veteran, you can still pop into the Maiden Voyage from the game’s main menu to experience the journey and even earn a bonus cosmetic!

Sea of Thieves’ newly promoted Lead Designer Andrew Preston (you may applaud at your screen) was a driving force behind the Maiden Voyage. Let’s hear a little from him about what prompted this move.

“With the Maiden Voyage, we wanted to improve our onboarding experience with the lofty aim of making players fall in love with Sea of Thieves! The idea was to teach players the fundamentals of the game whilst still allowing them to discover things for themselves. Players would wake up on an island outside the Sea of Thieves, gather their starting equipment, explore the island and its many secrets and then ultimately repair their ship and set sail.

“Up until this point we’ve been very hands-off in terms of teaching players how to play Sea of Thieves; at an early stage in development we became attached to the joy of players learning to sail the ship themselves and discover the world. This for some players is a magical experience, but on reflection this approach is not always suitable when trying to appeal to a wider audience! We wanted to take the time to build a more welcoming experience for new players that still leaves them with mechanics to discover for themselves, and hopefully gives them a fantastic first voyage in Sea of Thieves.”

The premise of the Maiden Voyage that Andrew and the team cooked up is simple: you’re stranded on an island just outside the infamous Devil’s Shroud that encircles the Sea of Thieves and hides it from the outside world. Here, you encounter the Pirate Lord himself, who gives you a little helping hand as you take your first steps on the path to Legend.

“We wanted to build the Maiden Voyage as if it were a Tall Tale; a lore-rich adventure with custom cutscenes, voiceovers and music. We considered having the Mysterious Stranger as a guide, but the Pirate Lord felt like the best character to introduce you to your journey into the game.

“We chose to set the experience outside of the Sea of Thieves for a number of reasons. Firstly, we wanted players to have a safe, uninterrupted onboarding experience, so they were free to learn the game’s mechanics without the risks of emergent features or other players. Secondly, we thought it would be a great cinematic experience for players to sail through the Devil’s Shroud as they try to reach the Sea of Thieves, passing the wrecks of pirates who have tried and failed before, whilst also hinting at the fantastical monsters that inhabit the world.

“From a design perspective, the challenges here were choosing what we’d teach the player and what we’d hold back for them to discover themselves. On a software level, it was about ensuring players can enjoy the Maiden Voyage on a server by themselves and go on to matchmake into a traditional Sea of Thieves Adventure server after completing the onboarding experience. The team worked very hard on the Maiden Voyage to give players the best introduction to Sea of Thieves as possible – we hope you enjoy it!”

We’re happy to see that reports coming in from players on social media so far have been very positive. However, the game is not just about the first steps of your pirate journey, but also about the brand new content coming out each month! During Festival of Giving, the Black Market is in Stitcher Jim’s hands and thankfully, he seems to be taking his new duties as a Bilge Rat seriously. He’s even bringing new Voyages in response to a lost shipment of mysterious gifts washing up ashore, but he does have things a little skewed – he wants you to take them all to his beloved!

Still, the Masked Stranger does have a pretty pouch of Doubloons for all pirates who take gifts to her – and you can opt to leave your gifts at the foot of the decorated mast for other crews to hand in, earning Commendations for your kindness. Senior Designer Chris Davies admitted at flintlock-point that this was done on purpose, to be all nice and neighbourly:

“We wanted to put on a festive event that encouraged players to come together in a positive way, not competing over something this time. Offering a Commendation when another player cashes in a gift that you intentionally left for them seemed like a good way to encourage that. We set up a table under the festive mast at The Reaper’s Hideout to see if it would encourage that behaviour without giving direct instructions, and it seems to be paying off!

“As for what this event contributes to the ongoing lore of these monthly updates, it definitely moves things forward, but you'll have to wait to find out exactly how...”

You mean it’s not all sweetness and light? Not on your nautical nelly! This update also brings three new Skeleton Lords into play – the Duchess, the Mutinous Helmsman and the Two-Faced Scoundrel. This troublesome trio have begun defending Forts, making a raid a riskier proposition, but worth it for the Ashen Chests inside the vaults right now. It’s a great way to continue collecting the Ashen Tomes and grabbing exclusive Ashen cosmetics. There are five new Tomes of Power this month, with five accompanying cosmetics, and a sixth for finding the full set. The Tomes of Curses introduced last month are still out there to find too!

In the Black Market there are new Aristocrat, Mercenary and Stonewall Imperial Sovereign cosmetics among other items to help you express your play style, plus a new Archive section allowing players to pick up previous Black Market items that they may have missed. Let’s hear more from Chris:

“The arrival of the Black Market Archive is a pretty big deal. We always assured players we’d rotate Black Market variant cosmetics back in again if they missed them the first time. What we originally planned to do was just have a selection of items back in stock every month, but we felt it was unfair to keep putting that extra time pressure on players alongside all the other things going on in-game. So we adjusted the plan to ensure the Archive now stocks everything. However, stock in the Black Market Archive sells at the full gold or Doubloon price, so there’s still a reason to grab shiny new stock at the initial discount when it first arrives!”

That’s the lowdown on this month’s update – from the Maiden Voyage to an expanded Black Market. In keeping with the season of giving, we’ve also added a little extra present for all pirates in the form of the Calendar of Giving! If you haven’t seen it yet, visit the special Calendar of Giving page on the site, or the What’s New section of the game’s main menu. Each day from December 13th-24th, we’re dishing out bonus Voyages, reputation boosts and even a couple of cosmetics for free! Just log in to the game to get the daily reward. In the words of Chris himself:

“We tried to put more thought into the Calendar of Giving than just dropping random gifts so that players would log in and straight back out. The idea was to use that incentive to drive activity, e.g. matching gifts of special Voyages to the daily rep boosts or cosmetics (e.g. a Hunter’s Call Voyage alongside the Obsidian Fishing Rod). That gives each day’s gifts more impact and fuels different types of gameplay, which hopefully players end up finding more worthwhile.”

Thanks Chris! So enjoy your daily boosts and all the fun wrapped up in Festival of Giving, which is free to download for anyone who owns Sea of Thieves or plays via Xbox Game Pass. Take part in Gift Seeker Voyages, battle new Skeleton Lords or enjoy the immersive new Maiden Voyage tutorial right now, while we prepare January’s Monthly Content Update with yet more activities and rewards! Have a fantastic holiday and we’ll see you then.