Skull and Bones is not for me. The truth was obvious as I watched the hour-long presentation for the long-awaited game. I’m a single-player enthusiast and never got into multiplayer-focused live service games. Perhaps that’s the future, and I’m living in the past. Skull and Bones is fully embracing that future, so I’m happy to skip the online pirate adventure in favor of a single-player experience I know and love, specifically God of War Ragnarok, which comes out the day after.
Skull and Bones, previously Skull & Bones, was announced in 2017 as an Assassin’s Creed Blackflag successor, except it, scrapped the assassins and kept the pirates. It was designed as a ship combat game set in the open-world setting of the Indian Ocean. To the dismay of fans, the game was delayed multiple times, leaving many to wonder if it would ever see the light of day. Thankfully, Skull and Bones has risen from the ashes, and we finally have some bountiful gameplay and a release date of November 8, 2022.
It’s easy to fantasize about your perfect pirate game, and honestly, Sea of Thieves might be the closest we’ll get. When I saw Skull and Bones, I knew it was a multiplayer game, but I was still hoping for a full pirate adventure, not a ship combat simulator. I wanted to explore islands on foot, treasure hunt, undergo a story of thievery, and plunder ships in third-person sword/rifle combat. Skull and Bones is not that at all. It’s a live service game about shooting ships on the open seas with some added survival elements for flavor.
Before I get into the specifics, let’s briefly discuss the downfalls of live service games. First and foremost, they are designed to take your money. Obviously, every game requires a financial buy-in, but with live service games, it’s not a one-time deal. It’s years upon years of enticing you with additional paid content. Most live service games ease the financial burden by making the game free-to-play. Not Skull and Bones. It will likely be full price at launch with a steady stream of microtransactions and paid expansions. Secondly, live service games are never finished. There is not a nice, consistent campaign with a start and end. Content is always being added or taken away, which leads to my first specific qualm.
There is no campaign. In Skull and Bones, you are shipwrecked and tasked with building up infamy for better upgrades and customization options. That’s it, no story to pull you along or meaningful mission designs. Skull and Bones is designed around multiplayer co-op and PVP, but I’m not convinced ship battles alone will keep my interest. You can only shoot cannons at opposing ships for so long without it getting repetitive and boring. In fact, I got bored even watching the presentation. At one point during the gameplay demo, I started to zone out because there was no variety within the segment.
Yep. He blew up another ship… exciting.
Without a compelling narrative or gameplay variety, I don’t see Skull and Bones being that fun for the long haul.
The only time you won’t be sailing across the sea is when you are at the pirate’s den, which serves as a player hub. Here, you can receive contacts, go to different shops, and customize your ship. I always love the idea of a hub in multiplayer games where players can hang out before going on exciting missions. The element is fun, but overall, the pirate dens seem like a big tease. I wanted a full-fledged pirate game with ground-level adventures as well as ship combat. Instead, all we got was a glorified customization menu. That’s what the pirate dens are: a place to pick your ship, customize your appearance, and accept missions. As far as we know, the dens won’t have any other nuance, and they won’t diversify or add to the gameplay.
In addition, boarding ships and pillaging are all cutscenes. Every potential gameplay mechanic is stripped in favor of ship combat. This is not the pirate adventure we were hoping for. It’s simply ship battles and repetitive objectives. My last criticism is the UI. The compass on the top center is overrun with icons, which brings back nightmares of Assassin’s Creed. Those games are filled to the brim with icons that signify anything from shops to side missions. Assassin’s Creed has always been an overstuffed mess of checklists and repetitive side activities. I fear Skull and Bones will follow the same fate.
Some people who have a group of solid online friends may find Skull and Bones entertaining, but, even then, I don’t see the ship combat keeping anyone around for long. I don’t plan on checking out Ubisoft’s upcoming pirate adventure and will, instead, focus on games that fit my particular tastes – single-player action-adventure with clever and diversified level design. I do think the concept of your pirate crew going on mutiny is an intriguing idea that heightens the unexpected survival elements of Skull and Bones. That, by itself, is not enough to win me over however I may give it a shot if one of three things happens: it launches on Game Pass, it gets raving reviews, or there is a One Piece collaboration. Unless that happens, pirating adventures simply aren’t for me.