After May's monthly content update Lost Treasures went big on introducing Daily Bounties and live events, June's update has brought the focus back around to new emergent threats on the seas. Haunted Shores bolsters the armies of undead foes along your path to Pirate Legend as Captain Flameheart summons his fleets of Ghost Ships!
Yes, all those skeletons cluttering up the place now have some sinister seabound company, recently raised from the Sea of the Damned. Lead Designer Andrew Preston offered a peek at these eerie new ships in June's episode of Sea of Thieves News, and now they're out there on the seas marauding like champs and taking on everyone, including our huge numbers of new Steam players! Ghost Ships have actually been a long time coming, as we're about to hear from Sea of Thieves Game Designer George Orton...
"We had a clear vision for these spectral vessels from the start: there had to be lots of them, and they had to be playable on demand. We had an early prototype of the encounter back in September last year, but at the time the team were working hard on the first chapters in the story of Flameheart's reappearance – 'The Seabound Soul' and 'Heart of Fire' Tall Tales. Once those stories were told, we could focus on taking the Ghost Ships and turning them into the fearsome foes that our pirates are now taking on in battle!
"The actual number of ships was important to give players the thrilling spectacle of sailing towards an island surrounded by more Galleons than they've ever seen in one place. A lot of the emotions we wanted them to feel had been tapped into the last time we introduced a major new sea-based threat to the game in Cursed Sails. Thinking back to stories from the first weeks of that update gave us a fantastic starting point in terms of how exciting the encounter was – we just had to turn it up to 11!"
As mentioned, this saga of a resurgent Captain Flameheart kicked off in our most recent Tall Tales, and the team are keen to seize any opportunity to maintain his bad-tempered momentum. So Haunted Shores continues Flameheart's comeback, this time in Sea of Thieves' wider shared world setting rather than the fixed narrative of a Tall Tale, and easing in nicely alongside other emergent encounters with its use of established visual cues.
Flameheart's vast visage looming high in the sky makes his presence known to all pirates on the seas whenever he begins another assault, similar to the clouds that signal incoming Skeleton Ships and active Forts. This can serve as either an invitation or a warning to players, depending on their confidence and current activities. Better yet, it offers the chance to be yelled at by Sea of Thieves' chief antagonist as Flameheart taunts any crews struggling to control their ships, rages at the loss of his own vessels and hints at his future designs...
Naturally, bringing in a whole new enemy type to be encountered on such a grand scale posed challenges. The team had to focus their combined design and software wiles on resolving all kinds of interesting issues before Ghost Ships could be unleashed. George recalls a few of them and the solutions (and sometimes bonuses) discovered:
"One challenge was the unpredictable nature of the paths on which the Ghost Ships sail. As we want these battles to feel organic and unscripted, each ship randomly draws a path around the island and picks a direction to sail. This creates some great moments as the ships bunch up and separate throughout the encounters, but it would lead to lulls in the excitement if they got too far away. So we gave formations of Ghost Ships the ability to 'jump' towards players in an aggressive manoeuvre, meaning that less time is spent chasing after them and more can be spent peppering them with cannonballs!"
"There was similar reasoning behind the ghostly mines dropped by the ships. Some of our more skilled players were becoming far too comfortable positioning their ships out of reach of the cannons, so we wanted to add an extra bit of spice that doesn't make it too punishing but does mean you always have to keep an eye on where you're sailing!
"The spooky form of the Ghost Ships also gave us an opportunity to experiment by adding the spectral effect to the ethereal loot left floating in the water. We know that finding treasure after sinking a ship can be tricky, so Haunted Shores gave us a chance to address that and theme it in a way that makes it instantly visible from a distance. Now we're thinking about how we can apply this to other areas of the game!
"Balancing the Ghost Ships across multiple levels of Voyage, as well as every crew size, was one of the largest challenges of this project. It was our priority to make each battle feel thrilling to survive by the skin of your teeth, but always achievable for competent crews of any number. I'd really like to give a shout out to our Insiders for their help with this – working alongside them throughout development was helpful and exciting in equal measure. There is no way we could have hit the right balance of difficulty, at such large scale, without their attention to detail. If you're an Insider reading this, it was an absolute pleasure building Ghost Ships with you, and they're an awesome experience because of your feedback. Thank you!"
No sir, thank you. Of course, they may be the headline feature of Haunted Shores, but Ghost Ships do not arrive unaccompanied. Among this update's other additions and improvements is a long-awaited buff to the shanty system, with the double whammy of instant song selection and eight new shanties made available to play, ensuring a drunken cacophony for all occasions. You can hear more about this from our visibly excited Audio Director Jon Vincent in June's episode of Sea of Thieves News.
What else? Some thoughtful improvements to our non-verbal comms system as detailed by Lead Designer Shelley Preston in this News post, expanded Emissary Ledgers, new Commendations and achievements – and of course those Daily Bounties and other live events we mentioned up top which have been refreshed with new events throughout June and July, so be sure to sign in to check your progress on our dedicated Events Hub.
Meanwhile, it's a busy month for the Pirate Emporium with the arrival of exclusive Gold Curse Pets, well-timed Ghost pet outfits, the deeply creepy State of Decay-inspired Blighted Ship Set and bundles of brand new emotes – including a couple of freebies! Duke's Black Market stock update is quite sedate this month by comparison, but it does allow you to funnel your gold and Doubloons into any pieces of Inky Kraken equipment and Wild Rose clothing you've been patiently awaiting.
Those, then, are the highlights of Haunted Shores, the very latest free Sea of Thieves content update. If you want to send shivers up your own spine with a couple of thousand words' worth of release notes, check out the Haunted Shores release notes, which we've posted on a page we like to call Release Notes. Then go bust some Ghost Ships while they're still your most pressing concern, because in a matter of weeks you can expect even more trouble as the winds carry July's content update your way...
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