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Skull and Bones Review

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The history and development of Skull and Bones is a saga within itself, much like the pirate legends of old. 

It started way back when, as a planned expansion for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag which would see it utilise the game’s already robust naval battle gameplay mechanics. But that was scrapped, decided instead to be a standalone game, first shown off at E3 in 2017, looking like a polar opposite to Sea of Thieves. Then came the delays, year by year, so much so that it felt like it was dead in the water at times.

Now we get to taste the sea and plunder the treasure after the best part of a decade of wondering if it would ever happen. Ahoy me mateys…

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Setting sail with Skull and Bones

My first impressions of Skull and Bones were delivered in the first hour or so of gameplay. And it managed to surprise. Those impressions were good, as the adventure felt real, playing well. It looked like a Ubisoft game too, and the naval battles delivered fun; tense, and full of action. But slowly my mind started to wander, and after five hours or so, Skull and Bones began to provide a gameplay loop, forgetting the story and placing focus on upgrading of a ship, all whilst saving up enough money to buy a one-eyed cat as a first mate. Is that fun?

As you start Skull and Bones, you find yourself battling away as the captain of a ship. The battle goes badly and you end up shipwrecked, floating on a bit of wreckage. Here you look at a reflection of yourself and decide on how your character should look and who they are. It is worth noting that this character never speaks, happy to instead shrug or listen. 

From there you get rescued by some crew mates on a skiff, setting sail for Sainte-Anne; a pirate port and place of safety. Here the game begins for real, as you meet a chief of the pirates who will set you off on the pirate story across the Indian Ocean. In Sainte-Anne, you also have the hub for getting everything you need to start a pirate life. 

There is a costume place, letting you get the best outfit for the high seas. A mailbox to open letters from or a warehouse to store your booty. Most important though is the Shipwright, where you can get the perfect boat for your travels. Each boat will cost money or need resources for you to collect and craft. Do you go for a tank-like ship to take damage, a support ship to help others from afar or a DPS ship for quick movement. It’s up to you how you want to play. Then you have weapons, armor, and fancy furniture that give the buffs that you need to gain blueprints for and then find the resources to be able to craft. 

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FIRE!

Missions contain a lot of fetch quests, treasure maps, sinking ships with the right cargo in boss battles, wildlife hunting, or plundering settlements. Most of the action is set on the boat, with only a small amount of time on land. That land stuff is very basic and you shouldn’t expect to be found sword fighting or parkouring. Or taking in anything fun, in fact. You will just be talking to people or occasionally finding a treasure location. 

It’s the ship stuff that Skull and Bones does very well indeed. Sailing is easy; an on/off switch helps you get the crew to put the sails up and accelerate off. So it’s very much a case of point things in the right direction via a compass and off you go. Going full speed ahead will use the crew’s stamina up, so you need to balance that or supply them with food for energy to keep going. You will be dealing with wind as well, shifting along faster when it is behind the sails is always best. 

When it comes to the battles, Skull and Bones is capable of providing some fun – and at times, frightening – conflict. You have weapons on all four sides of your ship, ranging from simple cannons to ones that shoot fire all over your enemy ship. Those enemy ships come with a health bar and a level too, so you know if you are ready to pick a fight with the right ship. It’s a tense affair full of weapon management, movement, and repairing when you need to. I’d say that these fights are the beating heart of the game and they are done right. 

Throughout, you’ll find yourself in this world with twenty other online pirates. You can team up with some friends to take on battles and missions together, however you can’t just attack anyone on sight, not unless you head to a special PvP area. I think that’s a good thing. There’s also a nice element of Skull and Bones which comes in the form of help from online pirates, or the opportunity to aid others.  

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The story is far from the best

Visually, Skull and Bones can be stunning too, full of great sweeping locations where sea meets land, brilliant lighting and weather hitting you from all sides. The ships themselves – and how you can decorate them – are impressive and there’s no doubt that certain gamers will get carried away with this. However, whilst the characters you meet are okay, they can feel a bit lifeless at times. 

The sound effects are also excellent. Skull and Bones is complete with a good score and the addition of the sea shanties is a welcome addition. But the voiceover and actual story aren’t brilliant, failing to grab. Honestly, I lost interest in the characters I met quite early on in the game. 

Ultimately, Skull and Bones is a live service game that has arrived in a world where that kind of trend seems to be dying. There’s no doubt that it starts off great, but very soon it all becomes a bit of a grind, not helped by a weak story and too much time at sea. Admittedly, the sea battles are excellent, the visuals are lush and the multiplayer angle is a nice touch. And there’s a chance that many will still find themselves spending hundreds of hours in this world, taking on daily events and streaming their best pirate outfits. But for others, Skull and Bones will lack the elements that will see them making the most of their sea legs.  

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Naval battles are brilliant
  • Lush visuals
  • Multiplayer is certainly interesting
Cons:
  • A weak story
  • Becomes grindy very quickly
  • Land sections
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Ubisoft
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), PS5, PC
  • Release date and price - 22 February 2024 | £69.99
Gareth Brierley
Gareth Brierleyhttp://www.garethbrierley.co.uk
I am an actor and a writer. I act quite a bit on stage, a little bit on tv and never on tuesdays. I have had some of my writing published and have written for TV and stage. I have been playing games since they begun and don't seem to be getting any better.
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Naval battles are brilliant</li> <li>Lush visuals</li> <li>Multiplayer is certainly interesting</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>A weak story</li> <li>Becomes grindy very quickly</li> <li>Land sections</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Ubisoft</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), PS5, PC <li>Release date and price - 22 February 2024 | £69.99</li> </ul>Skull and Bones Review
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