E3 2018: Skull and Bones is piracy for you and friends

Ubisoft /

There’s nothing more thrilling than doing something wrong with a bunch of friends, and Skull and Bones lets you even turn on said friends.

When Skull and Bones was first announced, I immediately thought, “Doesn’t Ubisoft already make this kind of game with the Assassin’s Creed series?” That’s right, Ubisoft let me sit in on two different experiences with sea-faring combat on the high seas, with Skull and Bones expanding on what was available with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.

The dedicated piracy title offers both single and multiplayer experiences, and this time I got to play with friends. Complete strangers came together to take down huge freighters and trading ships in the Indian ocean, with random variables (predetermined for our demo) setting combat to an all-out affair.

At first glance, there’s not too much different between Ubisoft’s naval video games. In each, you get the chance to take a crew and sail the open seas, with lower and much higher threats surrounding you. There are markedly fewer Greek shanties here, but the opportunity to fly the flags of neighboring ships and hide your piracy ways until the time to strike adds a layer of subterfuge.

Skull and Bones Ships
Ubisoft /

Ship customization is supposed to be a big part of Skull and Bones, yet we had just the selection of a few ships and hopped right into the action. There are heavier, slow ships, quick cruisers, and good all-around vessels, each with their own sets of weapon damage, health and special abilities. For example, heavier tanky ships can unleash an ult that lets you fire infinite rounds (as long as you hunker down movement).

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Though it seems odd to describe this action-adventure game in MMO terms, the gameplay loop does focus on going on raids in order to fight for loot. We did so as a team as some points during my Skull and Bones gameplay, taking on a large ship that way outleveled any of us on our own.

It’s hard to coordinate with other players zoned into your instance to team up. Just search for other players in your crow’s nest and send an invite, then make your way over to the target and pincer them together. Though there’s no support class or healer, working together to pull aggro and damage in a coordinated manner helps everyone take down enemies as a team.

Skull and Bones ship battle
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However, the greed of loot causes undesirable pirates to act undesirably. Just as a player can grab the bounty of a hard-fought plunder, they can easily turn their ships against you, trying to take you out and earn experience (or even a bounty). Working with people you know in real life might be the best approach.

Skull and Bones has a simple style of combat loop, but its variance seems to extend its life. There was a hint of a narrative during the beginning of the demo before you even pick a frigate or a brigantine, but each time you sail out the seas of fortune affects things such as traders, bounties, weather and much more.

Skull and Bones captain
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Though I had fun during my exhilarating time with the comradery and debauchery of online play, I’m hard-pressed to find reasons you should pick up Skull and Bones as a full single-player title while Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has naval combat on top of a richer narrative, stealth mechanics and large-scale combat. There could be richly deeper gameplay and progression systems involved, but it wasn’t immediately obvious.

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Another thing I want to see more of is how progression works. With microtransactions primed for the game, improving your ships and leveling up needs to be balanced out with the functions of your crew and how your ships look aesthetically. For now, it’s a yo ho ho and a pirate’s life for me.