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April 2024

Skull And Bones

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft
Release Date: Feb. 16, 2024

About Tony "OUberLord" Mitera

I've been entrenched in the world of game reviews for almost a decade, and I've been playing them for even longer. I'm primarily a PC gamer, though I own and play pretty much all modern platforms. When I'm not shooting up the place in the online arena, I can be found working in the IT field, which has just as many computers but far less shooting. Usually.


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PC Review - 'Skull and Bones'

by Tony "OUberLord" Mitera on Feb. 27, 2024 @ 12:00 a.m. PST

In Skull & Bones you will take command of their own warship to live the ultimate pirate experience alongside their friends and become a legend of the open-ocean.

The best parts of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag had absolutely nothing to do with being an assassin — or really anything that tied the game to the rest of the series. The best parts of that game were in how well the sailing was implemented, in leaping from your ship to board an enemy vessel after a battle at sea, and in how well it tackled the overall pirate theme. All Skull and Bones really needed to do to be successful was to expand upon the parts of Black Flag that worked and focus the entire game on that concept. After a decade in development and a seemingly turbulent development process, Skull and Bones has strayed rather far from that course.

At the start of the game, you are the captain of your own vessel, tasked with protecting the Exeter and its valuable cargo. You arrive late in a battle to find the wreckage of ships everywhere, and while the Exeter is nowhere to be found, an entire fleet of enemy ships pounces upon you. After the ensuing one-versus-twenty scenario, your ship gets destroyed and you wake up on a small boat after being pulled from the water by a pair of kind souls. It's the same as every other player on the server instance, and it only gets developed further by way of occasional cut scenes with major characters. In this way, it feels like an MMO; everyone is the chosen one and the captain who has narrowly escaped death.

With your ship blasted to pieces, you have to get a new one if you want to make a fresh start, which is exactly as ceremonial and important as doing a couple of fetch quests and having a crafter build a ship. To facilitate gathering some of the other materials needed, you simply sail over to a resource node and left-click at the right time to stop a needle in the green spot on a meter. To outfit your ship, you do the same; gather enough metal and other resources, and the blacksmith can set you up with some shiny new cannons or some armor to put on the hull.

While many resources can be found floating in the ocean or via resource nodes, there are some that can only be found in the ship's holds of particular NPC factions. Of course, this means that it's time to take to the high seas and engage in some piracy — and that's also one of the areas where the game is weakest. Ships are effectively floating health bars, beholden to a physics engine that doesn't ever seem to understand that these ships are weighty. Sailing at full sail reveals that ships have a stamina bar before you must step it down a notch.

There's no location-specific damage, and there aren't different ammo types. The wind changes direction multiple times a minute, which makes it random to the point of it being useless to heed. This is kind of a good thing, as all info regarding ship sails, speed, and wind direction disappears if you are aiming your cannons. Black Flag didn't have much deeper mechanics, either, but it seems like an odd design choice to make ship combat so simplistic.

It's not as though there's any other type of combat in Skull and Bones. Other than disembarking into specific, instanced-off settlement areas where you can walk around to chat with vendors, you never really play as your created character. When you are on your ship, you are the ship. Boarding actions are not only devoid of any swashbuckling gameplay, but they also automatically succeed as long as your grappling hooks land true. There's no way to walk the deck of your ship, but you can at least toggle the camera to be from your captain's viewpoint rather than the third-person camera.

It is difficult to overstate how limiting this feels. Some settlements can't be visited at all, and instead, you interact with them via a menu system. The ones that you can explore with your own two feet are relatively small, and they're devoid of character to the point that your movement feels like a glorified menu system. It should've been a sign during character creation, when you can only see the head of your character via the reflection in a pool of water, but in Skull and Bones, you are your ship. Your character exists solely to present a human figure during a story cut scene.

Even the act of piracy is something that the game struggles to make enjoyable. With the oft-changing winds and strange ship handling, combat boils down to a gear check more than anything else. Sinking a ship leaves behind some of its cargo, whereas a boarding action (which, again, is something you just automatically win) gets you all of it and some cargo that's unique to the ship faction. The trade lanes are clearly marked on the map, so it's not as though it takes effort to find some tasty holds to prey upon. It simply isn't all that fun to do, which becomes all the more problematic when much of the progression in the game boils down to sourcing some of that unique cargo.

There is endgame content in the form of setting up the production of your own cargo that you can use yourself or sell for a profit elsewhere. This also involves means of acquiring Pieces of Eight, which are the currency that allows you to unlock end-game gear, such as high-end cannons, etc. The problem is that the game isn't fun enough to grind to that point, let alone grinding further to unlock the new tier of gear.

When I think of all of the other pirate-themed games, all of them had their areas of focus that made them excel. Sea of Thieves is meant to generate stories and let you fully live the life of a pirate, from using the cannons to swinging a sword. Pirates of the Burning Sea attempted to make its economy largely player-driven and scratched the economic itch of things. Black Flag did equally well anytime Edward was on foot or behind the helm, and it really sold a sense of adventure at every turn. Skull and Bones could have taken notes from any of their successes, and that it utterly failed to do so would only be shocking if one paid no attention to how many times the game's development has been delayed and/or restarted.

Unfortunately, that doesn't leave Skull and Bones with anything that it can really claim as one of its strengths. Its ship combat is weak, and for all intents and purposes the on-foot gameplay is nonexistent. What little story the game has is threadbare at best, and it gives the player no good reason to slog through the grind. It is saddening, as the game could've been something great, especially since there aren't a ton of pirate games out there. However, there isn't much about Skull and Bones that I will remember a year from now.

Score: 5.1/10

Reviewed on: AMD Ryzen 7 3700X, 32 GB RAM, NVidia RTX 4070 Ti

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