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  • Writer's pictureCourt Lalonde

Is Skull And Bones the Ultimate Pirate Game? A Review of the Highly Anticipated Title


skull and bones

Skull and Bones was a game over ten years in the making inspired by one of my favourite Assassin's Creed games, Assassin's Creed Back Flag. At the release of Black Flag, the naval combat felt different from any game I had ever played. Fast Forward to 2017, and Ubisoft announces Skull and Bones. Many, including myself, thought we would get a spiritual successor to Black Flag but with more of a pirate theme. The initial trailer shows only naval combat with a kill-or-be-killed theme throughout, but I still hoped for more at the time for something a little different. I'm a fan of pirate movies and was extremely excited about a pirate theme game, but what I wanted and what we got with Skull and Bones weren't quite the same. At one point, I didn't know if Skull and Bones would ever come out because the rumours surrounding the game weren't good, and we weren't getting news about the game. I would love to see a documentary about the making of Skull and Bones to see what happened during its development and get the whole story.


I wanted a pirate game with ship combat, exploring islands for treasure, combat when boarding, combat on land, and lots of treasure with a great story. We got a pirate game focusing on naval combat and resource gathering.


Scallywag


They start you in combat with a large ship, taking a fleet of boats in what I think is somewhere in the East Indies. This is where you learn how to steer your ships, combat and get the hang of the game. The naval combat is where Skull and Bones shines, and I will go more in-depth as the review continues, but I instantly got the hang of it and an upgrade over Black Flag. When you go to use your side cannons, the camera shifts to show you the side of your ship, but it allows you to see the battle and the destruction from the fire that you're unleashing upon your enemy. You can see the other boat explode in some parts, and the weak spots are outlined in red, and you can see your enemy's health bar. You will put up a great fight, but eventually, a whole frigate appears and takes you down rather quickly and sinks your ship to the bottom of the ocean.


You will then jump into the character creator screen, which doesn't have many options, but after many hours of playing the game, I can see why. Your ship is the main character of the game and not your pirate.


character screen

Right here is where I noticed that the game graphically looked a little off. You have two options when it comes to graphics with Skull Bones. The Graphics Mode is 4K 30FPs, and the Performance is 1440p with 60FPS. I played Skull and Bones on a PS5 for this review. I would have thought that with such a long development cycle and from what we have seen from other games this generation, they could have at least hit 4K 60FPS. I started playing the game in Performance Mode, as I do with most games, but after I passed the character creation screen and saw the water more closely, I had to switch to Graphics Mode.


You will then meet your pirate companions and start on your first contract, which is given to you by one of the many forgettable MPCs in Skull and Bones. This is when you first realize that Skull and Bones will be about resources gathering over plundering. Every contract you get early on in the game is about finding resources to either give to another MPC or to help you crat to upgrade your ship. I felt like I was on an endless run of fetch quests that had little to do with advancing the story. After you finish the story, the quest feels only there to make your ship strong enough for the end game.


You eventually get to Sainte-Anne, and the game opens up, and you meet John Scurlock, who will be someone you work with until you don't. You do the quest and move on from him to another contract giver. While talking, you are met with choices about where the conversation could go, but I didn't feel they would have changed the story's direction, just the type of contract you get. Saint-Anne is filled with life until you look closer and see the MPCs are stuck in a holding pattern and doing the same animations repeatedly. The island of Sant-Anne is beautiful and genuinely is its only character, but I was left thinking it could have been so much more. I wanted more slums, drunks and violence. Everything we have ever heard about pirate times tells me it was a kill-or-be-killed time in the world and that everyone is out to get you, but I had no sense of danger or mystery as I walked around. It is only there, so you can use its shops to upgrade, get contracts, and change your attire. It is there to move you along and get upgrades for your ship, but the game's story does not have much substance. I will not spoil any of the story in this review, but I wish the story had more depth.


skull and bones

Fire in the Hole


The naval combat is where Skull and Bones shines, and I truly enjoyed myself. It's engaging and exciting and leaves you coming back for more. I found myself sailing around the ocean, looking for any ship that looked vulnerable to attack and plundering it. Your boat uses the wind to move around the map fast or slow, depending on where your sails are facing, but they added in a stamina bar for some reason. I don't know how wind gets tired, but I genuinely wish they didn't have this feature in the game. It doesn't add anything and only subtracts from enjoying sailing around the ocean to discover new islands, ships, and sea monsters. While sailing, you can catch enough speed to move farther fast across the map.


small ship skull and bones

Finding ships to plunder becomes my favourite thing in the game because, as I mentioned before, it is all about collecting resources to upgrade your ship. When boarding another ship, it is relatively simple. Once that ship has its energy bar down enough, you will get promoted when near if you want to board the ship to plunder the goods. The animation for it goes rather quickly, and you don't actually board the ship, which is a disappointment.


spy glass

Use your spyglass to see ships off in the distance to find out what loot they have and their armour type to see how to plan your attack. Be very careful, though, because if you get sunk at any moment, you lose all the loot you have plundered unless you return to shore to exchange it or store it in your warehouse. You can unlock ports worldwide that you can dock at and put loot in a cache to come back and get later. Fast travel is available, but it will cost you doubloons to use it. But near the end of the game, you will have enough of them to use fast travel at your leisure. You will earn infamy for all contracts you complete and ships you sink. You will see other players on the water who can join your game if you allow them to play at any time and vice versa. They can also attack you, so watch out, but I never had anyone else besides enemy ships attack me on the open seas. Through the upgrade system, you will unlock new weapons and ships. Each ship has strengths and weaknesses, and I couldn't help but think there was more to this, but they took that feature out of the game. Each ship feels part of a class system and would have had the advantage or time to use it in a previous version of Skull and Bones, which Ubisoft might have scrapped. I always used the ship with the highest level so I could have the strongest armour and room for the best weapons. You can upgrade and acquire some ship-devastating weapons. Equipping a fire cannon and mortar, I would say, is a must, and the damage they cause is massive, and during boss battles, you will need them.


Davy Jones' Locker


The vast map has many islands to explore, but when you get off your boat, the island exploration leaves me wanting more. It has MPCs to talk to and some treasure, but it feels lifeless as there is no combat and nothing to do besides trade or buy items. You can find loot on islands, ports, and even at sea. There isn't much else to do on these islands or ports, and I felt this was a mistake and could have been so much more to open up the world of Skull and Bones and make you feel more like a pirate.


island skull and bones

Your character can't swim, which I thought was an odd design choice. As I explored the islands, I couldn't help but think of some areas that the developers originally had more to do with and maybe even had combat in mind when designing them.


The map shows where contracts are, and ports, items of interest, and resources would be to help with upgrading. I haven't found all the secrets on the map, and I hope there are some fun easter eggs to see during the rest of my playthrough. There are animals to hunt to gain more resources or sell for a lot, and I would highly suggest you head towards the question marks on the map to uncover the rewards. I recommend upgrading your crowbar, as it will be needed to unlock many of the treasures you find throughout the map. I did see many treasure maps, but on more than one occasion, the map said the treasure was there, but it wasn't. It was eventually found somewhat in that area, but as I pulled open the map when I found I couldn't help but think the treasure was in the wrong place.


map

Shiver Me Timbers


Skull and Bones is a live service game, so I need to discuss the microtransactions and whether the game is paid to win. Because Skull and Bones is PVE and PVP. You need to enable PVP, but it is possible, and I did have it enabled. I'm happy to see I don't feel Skull and Bones is paid to win in any way. Most of the items to buy are purely cosmetic, but I do find that the way to purchase these things could have been done differently. All decorative items are right there besides items in your inventory when looking at your character's or ship's look. They're highlighted with a yellow circle but aren't in a different section. Anything you truly need in the game can be earned through the game or bought with in-game currency you make.


Old Salt


When you complete the story and become the Kingpin, you arrive in end-game territory where the game opens up and the system changes. Instead of looting ports, you're now trying to capture them and have them working for you to make your resources. They're called manufacturers, and they will help you earn more resources to buy black market items that will make your fleet more powerful to conquer the seas and whatever may be there. Ubisoft has a roadmap for the game, and if it's like any of their other live service games, they will provide endless content for all of the Skull and Bones players for years to come. I'm a massive fan of The Division 2, and Ubisoft is still giving me new content, which came out in 2019.


Batten Down the Hatches


Skull and Bones tries many things to engage the player base, but I couldn't help but feel it wasn't a game for this generation. It felt more and more like a game made for an older console, as the system and graphics felt dated. The naval combat is exciting and keeps you coming back for more, but all the other aspects of the game fall flat for me. I wanted to love this game and be a game I was returning to daily to get new items or rewards, but I found myself putting down the controller after getting to the end game. Maybe with more updates in the future, I will find a reason that has me going back, but for now, I will be satisfied with my playthrough but leave wanting more.



PROS


Naval Combat

Size of Map

No predatory microtransactions

Not pay to win

Many players to play with


CONS


Graphics

MPCs

Story

Empty Islands

Not enough to do off the boat

Resource farming



Final Verdict


6.5/10



Ubisoft Canada provided code for review.








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