- Sea of Thieves has kicked off its latest Mystery event, The Hoarder’s Hunt.
- The four-week event will see players solving puzzles both in-game and elsewhere online, with real-life treasure to be won.
- We spoke to the team behind the Mystery to discover how it was inspired, how it was made, and learn a little about what’s in store.
As the story goes, in 1730, Olivier Levasseur stood on the gallows, awaiting his execution for a lifetime of piracy – which had included the theft of an enormous treasure haul from a Portuguese galleon, subsequently buried on the Seychelles island of Mahé. Asked for any last words, Levasseur removed a necklace from his neck, shouted, “My treasure for he who can understand!”, and threw it into the watching crowd. That necklace was hung with a parchment featuring a 17-line cryptogram, seemingly offering the location of his hidden riches. For more than three centuries, treasure hunters have tried and failed to decode the message on that parchment, and the gold remains lost to this day.
It’s a fitting inspiration for Sea of Thieves’ new mystery, The Hoarder’s Hunt, which will take players both in-game and beyond in the hunt for a real-life treasure – a golden skull, which will be awarded to the first player that solves a multitude of puzzles (with more physical treasure for the next 110 players to reach the end of the process, and in-game rewards for others who take part). Those puzzles might not be quite as difficult to decode as Levasseur’s treasure, but it certainly won’t be a simple process.
For Lead Designer Chris Davies, the promise of the event is simple: “To deliver the ultimate treasure hunt. Sea of Thieves is five years old, and we’ve done a lot of allowing players to pursue that pirate fantasy of searching out treasure, and digging it up. [So,] how can we offer the ultimate version of that? Taking it outside of the game as well as in-game and actually offer real-world treasure for our community to search out.”
To do that, The Hoarder’s Hunt will feature out-of-game puzzles, spread out across the online world, which will lead you to otherwise-locked in-game Voyages, which in turn lead to more out-of-game clues to decode. All of this will be wrapped up in the story of a new character, H, who – for the next four weeks – will send players cryptic messages, helping direct them to their next goal, leading to a race to the prize (and you can sign up to receive H’s first message now). The first player to finish that final Voyage will receive the golden skull as their reward.
Aside from Levasseur’s gold, the event has been inspired by other treasure hunts, from Cadbury’s Conundrum promotion (which offered real golden eggs for those that could solve complex puzzle books), to Ready Player One’s story about an online hunt with enormous real-life rewards. But it’s also a reaction to previous Sea of Thieves events. Before release, Rare set up a quest to earn real-life golden bananas, and the game’s first Mystery event saw players cracking the case of who killed Sea Dog DeMarco. But The Hoarder’s Hunt aims to improve on both.
The hunt for the Golden Bananas saw fewer and fewer players able to participate until its end – The Hoarder’s Hunt will remain open to all right until its conclusion. Meanwhile, the Mystery of DeMarco was fairly open-ended, leading to a very long mystery, dominated by clues solely from Rare’s own social channels. This hunt will be far more open but it’ll be time-limited, giving players more interesting puzzles, but with an endgoal always in sight.
To do this, Rare has worked with real-life puzzlemasters, tasked with creating truly mind-boggling tasks that will send players all over the internet in the hunt for the next solution – with a view to creating a very interesting dynamic: this should be a collaborative effort, with multiple players working together to uncover solutions – until it transforms into an individual hunt for that final treasure.
“What we don’t want,” explains Davies, “is individuals, puzzle experts, to kind of squirrel themselves away and solve these individually. We want this to be something where the community needs to lean on each other, where they speculate on potential avenues of investigation to find the solutions. And by getting the community working together, that’s what makes it such an interesting dynamic shift, [until] people reach that point of, ‘Okay, this is actually a race with a cool prize at the end of it.’”
And that final race will be fascinating to see – the moment this becomes a true sprint for the end will be a test for players’ moral compasses as well as their brains. It’s truly the first player to solve the mystery that earns the reward – not their crew. The final golden skull comes with four detachable golden keys, allowing the victorious player to reward their crew – but they don’t have to. That’s very much by design:
“[This is] the ultimate test of the Pirate Code,” says Head of Brand and Licensing, Adam Park. “Because fundamentally as a crew you can go and win this prize but whoever proposed that voyage will be the actual winner. So that person could at that point turn around and choose to keep the prize for themselves, or it’s been made in such a way that it can be split with the keys – they can share their spoils but again, it’s going to be another fascinating test of how people actually behave. I know what I’d do… you’d never hear from me again.”
“That’s why I’d never crew up with you Adam,” laughs Davies.
All of this has led Rare to think in new ways about how it delivers this Mystery. For the out-of-game puzzles, the mantra has been that there’s no puzzle too difficult, as long as the clues have been provided fairly, and that at least a few players could crack the code and share it with the community. I won’t give anything away, but be prepared to look for clues in some very unexpected places.
Even the in-game Voyages are a new undertaking, though:
“We’re calling them Hunt Voyages,” says Davies. “Ultimately, you’re hunting for one of the keys that can be used to unlock the chests that have been added to every Gold Hoarders tent. It’s a unique Voyage, different to what we’ve done before. It’s going to send you throughout the locations in the game, island-hopping, to do a map-wide scavenger hunt for these keys. But obviously, after five years, our super-engaged players know these locations like the back of their hand. And what we actually want this to feel like is, even if you haven’t played the game as much, even if you’ve recently joined the game, you’ve still got a great chance of winning these.”
The key to that is the new character, H. Players have been solving in-game riddles for years, but H speaks to players in an entirely different way: “H will see things through a slightly different lens and describe things in a slightly different way. You can’t rely on how we usually describe these aspects of the scenes, you need to interpret H’s lexicon and how they talk about these things, try and understand what H was seeing when they were making these notes and following in their footsteps.”
In effect, H will be the game’s own version of the Mystery’s inspiration, Levasseur, offering inscrutable materials for players to puzzle over, discuss, and work together on – until they strike out on their own to receive the ultimate prize. But don’t dilly-dally; you have a lot less than 300 years to figure this one out.
The Hoarder’s Hunt begins in Sea of Thieves today. Sign up now to take part.
Sea of Thieves 2023 Edition