Skull and Bones feature image

Skull and Bones review: Release your inner yarr

Not for you if:

  • Want an engaging and worthwhile endgame.
  • Want a dark and gritty pirate adventure and story.
  • Have another live service game absorbing your free time.
5

After eleven years Skull and Bones is finally here. The first quadruple A game, according to Yves Guillemot – Ubisoft CEO. Oh boy was I excited to take the leap into the next generation of games that goes beyond anything we have seen so far. Being quadruple A surely makes up for the seventy euros price tag! Queue the bad flute Jurassic park theme song as we dive into the Skull and Bones review.

Skull and Bones' beauty, sun breaking over the mountain and through the trees.

TL;DR

Skull and bones is plagued by many factors. Mainly the CEO hyping up the game way beyond what it actually is. Having Assassins Creed Black Flag simply existing and another live service pirate game that is a heavy contender. The short of this review is: Skull and Bones feels like a Live Service first design. Instead of a good game with Live Service support to keep you coming back for more. Sailing feels awkward, there is not that much to do at end-game and the campaign felt flat and lacked any exciting moments or set pieces. Skull and bones is not bad but there are better Live Service games out there at a better price point.

Sail the Seven Seas – Skull and Bones review

Right off the bat I want to clarify a couple of things. First things first I am not an avid Assassin’s Creed Black Flag player, shame me all you want but we have some excellent reviewers at BGeek that cover the Assassins Creed games. So I personally don’t base my opinion on my experience with Assassins Creed Black Flag. But more with Sea of Thieves, that I played on the Xbox Series X and pc. I will also not cover the disastrous development cycle that led to what Skull and Bones is. But a simple ‘what is this game’ and ‘is it worth your time’ take.

Character creator is pretty weak. Skin tone, body type, body cosmetics, eye color, hair, facial hair.

Become the Boat

Skull and bones is a weird game in my opinion. At times I sighed and struggled to comprehend certain design decisions and the next day I lost myself in a 4 hour game loop and I was having a blast. Hence I want to say straight away that Skull and Bones is not a bad game at all. It is a weird game that dances between a Single Player game that really wants to be a Live Service game. And thus fails at both without even being a triple A worthy title.

Boat window, materials needed, extra stats of the ship.

Carve your Legend and become a Pirate Kingpin

After watching the Ubisoft showcase and reading up on Skull and Bones I was truly hyped for the story. A dark gritty pirate tale in a huge open world where you build your pirate empire by any means necessary. Build up your infamy and become even more dreaded than Blackbeard.

Well not really, sure you build up from a shipwrecked sailor to the owner of your own ship. To work for the loudest local drunk. After that your gameplay loop exists out of fetch quests, by shooting certain ships. Kill quests, by shooting certain ships. Transport quests, while shooting certain ships along the way. And that, in a nutshell, is the campaign. There is no personality or effort to drag you in. You take out some of the biggest adversaries of the local Kingpins by shooting their ships.

Main story cutscene where Scurlock is just monologuing, the background has docked ships and the bay where you arrive

Far from dark

There are no dark and gritty torture scenes, nobody walks the plank and there isn’t even a mention of keelhauling anyone. Where is this dark and gritty pirate story? We are supposed to be pirates, not boats gunning and running. If someone suddenly via comms told me “Rogue agents detected” I would not have been surprised.

So after doing some missions for the kingpin of one zone you get sent to the next kingpin in the other zone. Doing the same missions, in the same zones. The map is based on the Indian ocean with a certain Ubisoft take on the layout. Not that memorable and the background bugged out for me, the distant layer of the background moved up and down as my ship rode the waves, it was simply nauseating to watch. Maybe it was an immersion feature? Some of the lighting at certain times was beautiful and all, but nothing really stood out. Other side quests you will embark on are the same as the story missions: kill, loot and fetch.

Fighting off defenders of the outpost, kill all enemies in waves.

Grow your inner…hull?

While there is a very basic character creator and as a captain you can walk around in settlements. It only felt like the walking around was added as a feature to have you interact with other players in those outposts. While you do pick up quests and interact with characters at these outposts the main purpose of the third person walking on land is probably the skin system and showing off your captain to players. And secondly the interactions with vendors, story progression and some treasure hunting.

In order to progress and become a stronger boat you will need to visit outposts and acquire blueprints by buying, looting or as mission rewards. You go to the appropriate vendor to upgrade your ship or craft new cannons and see what materials you need. Then you can select a certain blueprint to track and all the nodes are visible on the map. After collecting the appropriate materials you return to the outpost and craft the boat, equip it with cannons and cosmetics and get back to shooting other stuff for more stuff.

How did I get sucked into longer gaming sessions if I make it sound so boring? It just works, having a goal to collect stuff and work towards that upgrade is simple, uncomplicated and was perfect to watch some series on my second screen. The combat is fine and the different cannons allow for a build that suits your play-style. The boats are different enough with traits that compliment certain play-styles that they are nice enough to try out and grind for. Its as simple as that.

Fight Corpo Scum and avoid Rogue Agents, I mean rogue waves.

A myriad of systems based on two different styles of games make for a messy experience. I wish there was a more deeper, darker and personal campaign with choices and more interaction instead of watching someone monologuing. Sure the occasional choice pops up but it simply doesn’t matter at all. The direction your story goes is set in stone. That route is made to lead as fast as possible to the cosmetic vendor and endgame.

I can feel it in my wooden leg

As you play Skull and Bones it simply feels kind of off. While the combat is great, boarding is a simple cutscene where your ship even becomes invulnerable. In the middle of combat you are surrounded by nine more boats bombarding you with cannonballs. You are on top of the deck singing U can’t Touch This by MC Hammer.

Sailing in itself feels like a struggle at times, yes I get that it mimics fighting the sea and waves. But it doesn’t make for a compelling or fun travelling experience. It felt slightly better with a controller and Skull and Bones overall feels to be designed for a controller. But even when using one, you bump into prompts that overlap certain features and you end up struggling to get to what you need to do.

Raiding settlements and outposts is a defend the point objective that slowly ticks forward as boats or towers pop up and you defeat them. I can assure you that a long range load-out and hard hitting precision hits make these so trivial you can binge watch the latest Anime of this season.

Treasure map hunting is done by finding treasure maps and looking for the outposts that has the buried chest. Fast-travelling to that outpost and stumbling around until you find where the chest is buried. Digging up that chest and opening it is completely devoid of sound and the rewards are so bad I gave it two tries before abandoning any and all treasure maps I found. Even the legendary ones you get from the big PvP event had barely anything useful.

At the Edge of the World

Surely the endgame is worth it then, right? If you manage to get to it, yeah. But like anything else it is plagued by a myriad of problems that come from design. So once you hit Kingpin, you unlock your own pirate hideout. Here you have a ledger and a map that allow you to collect and trade illegal goods. These goods are converted to even more illegal goods that you can trade and sell for more silver. Converting these materials is just a timer ticking down a la mobile game building your base mechanic. I can see them selling boosters for this if there is demand for it.

Now these materials need to be transported to a certain trader that buys them off u. You can’t fast travel while doing this mission and you will be hunted by Rogue agents – I mean ships. This is kinda fun and should be what Skull and Bones is all about.

But the most profitable way to make silver right now has nothing to do with any of this endgame mechanic. No, it is simply going to a certain trader, checking his goods and server hopping around until you run out of silver. Then fast travelling to the trader that offers the most for these goods and making an insane amount of profit. For a pirate game about boats you never have to set foot in your ship to become the most filthy rich pirate there ever was.

Trading merchant offering more for Camphor and less for some white crystals. Skull and Bones trading
The deep end of the sea

The other endgame content is more engaging and fun. And a necessity to procure the best ship and gun blueprints. It all comes down to collecting Pieces of Eight, the endgame currency at the endgame vendor whose name I can’t remember because nobody is truly memorable.

To collect these you can do the aforementioned trading runs, or you can start automating your production. And this part is what had me go ‘Yarr matey, we are a company now’. You look at certain factories on the maps and go and conquer them by filling up the conquer bar, these “events” are PvPvE where other players can come in and spice things up. If by any chance you are getting attacked too much, just server hop. Because you can just switch server and hope nobody hunts you.

After conquering a factory you can look at the trade routes and conquer any outpost supplying materials for that factory and it will automatically start producing pieces of eight that you have to collect before the factories are full up. These collection runs can’t be done by fast travelling and you will be hunted by Rogues. While this is fun it also gets repetitive very fast. Sure there are two world bosses to hunt but I got tired of grinding before I got to that, the combat isn’t mechanically deep enough for me to warrant a boss fight that is probably a cannonball sponge.

Quadruple A price tag with a beta experience

Skull and Bones is an expensive game. The base edition will plunder your wallet for a whopping seventy euros. And by design Skull and Bones will ask for more of that plunder in your wallet. Be it through beautiful skins, season passes or whatever way they invent along the line.

Also bear in mind that Skull and Bones still has its bugs, like being marked for death constantly without provoking it. Having that pop-up constantly was so annoying I played without sound and taped off the top of my screen with a piece of paper so I wouldn’t have to see it every minute. Yes, re-logging did not help at all, it only took three days of enduring it.

Graphically it shines at certain moments but overall Skull and Bones feels more last gen than the next big leap in gaming. Seriously, what on earth was that Quadruple A comment about ?! How detached of your product do you have to be to say that.

Controller issues in the menus, your boat having stamina, plundering and boarding being simply lackluster and… There is so much that doesn’t make sense when you put it all together. But Skull and Bones asks for a significant investment from you in the hope it might improve itself.

Skull and Bones Conclusion

My conclusion is that Skull and Bones is better than Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League. Skull and Bones is not a bad game but also not a good game. It’s mid, and not worth the price tag attached to it. Get it on sale or try it by getting Ubisoft+.

If this is the future of gaming and Quadruple A games, yes, Skull and Bones delivers a Dark and Gritty story about piracy coming back in full swing.
Thank you Ubisoft for letting me try out Skull and Bones. I was hopeful after how good Prince of Persia is.

Stijn Ginneberge

Posts published: 125

Gaming for me is about experiencing their stories, overcoming challenges, living in fantasy worlds and exploring alien planets. You can also find me in the local game store or on an airsoft field.