It’s no secret that Ubisoft’s seafaring pirate game, Skull & Bones, which was first revealed way back in 2017, has endured a troubled development. Originally conceived as an expansion to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, then an MMO spinoff, and finally an independent project that’s suffered numerous delays, it’s understandable for players to be concerned about the upcoming action game where naval warfare and piracy are placed front and center. But after numerous hours sunk into the recent closed beta, I’m happy to report that I came away from the experience much more confident that we’ll be getting a worthy successor to Black Flag’s awesome buccaneering ways. With a much more interesting story than I was expecting, some really appetizing RPG systems in place, and smooth and entertaining naval combat, Skull & Bones is looking pretty darn fun as it prepares to finally set sail at long last.
Following up on the success of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag from way back in 2013, Skull & Bones is an open-world tactical action game where you play as a pirate captain set loose on the high seas during the golden age of piracy and unfettered capitalism. After suffering defeat at the hands of some water narcs and finding myself washed ashore, my journey of notoriety started from humble beginnings aboard a piece of glorified driftwood, all the way to a massive ship with enough cannons to fight off an army. The story placed me in the Indian Ocean, where I joined the crew of pirate legend John Spurlock and began running jobs in my pursuit of wealth and power. I’ll admit that I expected very little from the story, but was pleasantly surprised by the memorable cast of characters and extensive dialogue in between action-packed stretches of robbery and oceanic misdeeds.
Skull & Bones Slideshow
Much more interesting, though, were the shockingly deep RPG progression systems, which included survival game elements that had me collecting raw materials to build my ships and an extensive loadout system where I could customize every aspect of my vessel from function to cosmetics – including designating my very own lemur co-captain to the ship, which is obviously the most important part. Unlocking new schematics to build more powerful ships, different varieties of cannon, and other game-changing add-ons and accessories became an absolute obsession, and I poured all the silver and ill-gotten booty I could into turning my ship into the ultimate tool of destruction. There’s a dizzying amount of unlockables and configuration that goes into each vessel, and I could see myself easily losing many more hours optimizing my tools of the trade.
Beyond that, I also spent a fair bit of time and silver on my pirate captain’s appearance, and while the starting options during the beta weren’t terribly extensive, years of playing Sea of Thieves has taught me the importance of striking fear into the hearts of my enemies by looking as intimidating as possible.
Of course, the crown jewel of Skull & Bones is in its naval combat, and like Black Flag before it, this game seems to absolutely nail that element, even in this early beta phase. Because I had to place different weapons on different sides of my ship, mobility was key to winning the day, as I could fire from one end of the ship, then rotate to unload a different cannon while the first one was being reloaded by my crew. Watching a ship sink down to Davy Jones in a massive, fiery explosion is a sight to behold, and jumping aboard a weakened enemy ship awarded some much-appreciated extra loot. I also enjoyed just how brutally difficult my adventures on the high sea could be, with different areas locked at different difficulties, meaning a voyage too far into uncharted waters could leave me pursued by a ship far beyond my capabilities…or stuck in a thunderstorm that could spell my imminent demise.
This formula was especially exciting when played among friends, and having up to two of my most trusted despoilers join me in a bit of piracy made for some wonderful added chaos. My favorite activity was “Plundering,” where my friends and I attacked a settlement from the coastline, then held off waves of increasingly challenging enemy ships as we accumulated loot. I’m not surprised that Skull & Bones seems like it’s going to pull off ship-to-ship combat so well given its Black Flag origins, but I’m definitely surprised that it seems like it might actually blow it out of the water with interesting activities and a much-needed co-op component.
After a good chunk of time climbing the ranks of notoriety in Skull & Bones’ beta, I’m more excited to dive into the full experience than I was even way back when it was announced at E3 all those years ago. Here’s hoping it’ll make it safely to shore in the coming months.