I’ll be completely honest: I’ve never been a gigantic fan of pirates games. I’ve always felt like the gameplay in them looked boring. I’m not sure why, but they just never appealed to me. On top of that, when a pirate game does peak my interest (like in the case with Sea of Thieves), there’s always something stopping me from trying it out (in that case it was the fact that I don’t own an Xbox One or competent gaming PC).
That’s not to say that I hate pirate-theming in general. In fact, quite the opposite. After riding Pirates of the Caribbean in Walt Disney World as a kid, they were the coolest thing ever, but that excitement never really continued into my adult life. Because of that, I went into Skull and Bones not expecting much. After playing it at E3 2018 however, I can say that Skull and Bones is shaping up to be the ultimate pirate experience.
First off, each ship feels like a character in and of itself which is essential in a pirate game. In the demo I played, we had three ships available to us. The first one, The Black Horn, could be the considered the “starter” ship. It had decent statistics all around, but it didn’t excel in one particular area over another. The next was the Jaeger, which one could look at as the “scout” class ship, relying on movement and speed, while sacrificing a bit of damage regarding firepower. Finally, we had the Royal Fortune, which Ubisoft told us was essentially the “tank” of the game. After trying out each one of the ships, I favored the Royal Fortune, as I felt that the lower speed didn’t hinder my experience all that much, although that could be different for other people.
When you get out on the water, the gameplay in Skull and Bones feels similar to Assassin’s Creed‘s ship controls, but it sets itself apart far enough to where it doesn’t feel like a carbon copy. For example, players can see what weapon is “active” at the bottom of your screen at all times, and how long it’ll take to reload, which is something that I felt was missing before.
In addition to that, ships can now be repaired on the fly, but they take time. Players will have to strategize as to when they’re going to commit to it, as taking damage can halt the repair process. All of these combine for an experience that makes you feel like you’re in a true RPG, which is remarkable for a game that is mostly (if not wholly) confined to a ship.
The other thing that stuck out to me during my demo with Skull and Bones, and it’s probably the most important, is the atmosphere. When you’re dropped into the world, you genuinely feel like you’ve been transported back in time to the height of piracy. Ships creak with the wind and crash against waves, all with your crew giving orders to each other when they spot ships and detect strong winds. Each weapon feels like they pack a punch, and even when you use the “tank” ship, you never feel slow, which is a trope that pirate movies, games, and books seem to exploit time and time again. On the other side, the graphics themselves are astonishing, while the UI never gets in the way to the point where it takes you out of the experience.
I came out of my demo with Skull and Bones pleased. As someone who isn’t a die-hard pirate fan, the game looks to be an experience that, while it takes a bit from Assassin’s Creed’s gameplay, feels distinct enough to where too many comparisons won’t be drawn. That being said, the demo I played wasn’t exactly playing smoothly. In some areas, it was a bit jittery, while in others button presses sometimes wouldn’t register on screen. Of course, the game potentially isn’t coming out until 2020, and the version I played was an early build, so there is PLENTY of time to polish the game before release. I for one am looking forward to the open beta coming soon and Skull and Bones’ full release later down the road.
Skull and Bones will be available on PC, PS4, and Xbox One some time before March 2020; you can pre-order the game on Amazon in the near future.