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Skull and Bones

Ubisoft's pirate game is back and looking fantastic
by Andrew Reiner on Jul 07, 2022 at 01:30 PM
Platform PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Stadia, PC
Publisher Ubisoft
Developer Ubisoft Singapore
Rating Mature

Sing your favorite pirate sea shanty at the top of your lungs! If you don't know any pirate sea shanties, make one up. We have reason to celebrate: Ubisoft's Skull and Bones launches on November 8 and looks quite good. News of the game's resurrection (after a long delay) came today in a 20-minute Ubisoft Forward livestream that included a brief look at stunning new gameplay footage.

"Will you live as pawns or die as pirates!" This message kicked off the presentation that included a CGI trailer highlighting intense ship battles and a pirate's infamy growing over time. Vanessa Sow, a producer from Ubisoft Singapore, says that Skull and Bones has evolved since its 2017 debut.

"Forget everything you know about the traditional pirate fantasy, Skull and Bones is taking a darker and grittier approach with our new game direction," she said. "We wanted to reimagine what pirates were really like, drawing inspiration from the Indian Ocean during the Golden Age of piracy. You start as a shipwreck survivor, washed up in an unknown, mysterious, and exotic location. This is a world where everything and everyone wants you dead. You'll come face to face with many dangers: from vicious hippos and crocodiles to violent storms, pirate hunters, powerful corporations, and even the mutiny of your very own crew."

Designed as an open-sea pirate experience, Skull and Bones starts on a small scale with the player pirating a tiny ship called the Dhow. You are equipped with a basic spear to fend off hungry wildlife as you set sail. In these early stages of play, you collect items and complete contracts for other pirates you befriend. The more work you do, the higher your infamy level, which opens up new blueprints and designs for ships, weapons, and armors.

Ubisoft's game director Ryan Barnard says naval combat is still the core experience in Skull and Bones. "We want it to be visceral, fast-paced, rewarding, and part of the way we do that is to offer the players a wide variety of weapon choices, which you unlock through Infamy," he said. "You've seen cannons, for instance, but we also have Greek Fire, explosive mortars, and bombards that you can lob onto the decks of the enemy players." As you make a name for yourself on the high seas, your infamy reaches new ears, which bring additional missions and better rewards.

The first footage of this redesigned Skull and Bones game draws the eye to elaborate ship designs and small islands with just as much detail in the foliage, mountainous rocks, and heavily guarded fortresses. We also see a pirate den called Sainte-Anne, where you can freely walk around, talk to vendors to craft new gear, purchase provisions for your next expedition, take on new contracts, and socialize with other players. In one clip, we see a player dancing, a moment that screams of Fortnite and potential purchases.

The ship battles look just like we remember, drawing heavy inspiration from Assassin's Creed:  Black Flag's excellent naval warfare. As the vessels roar across rolling waves, cannon fire collides with wood, creating an explosion of debris and sails collapsing. We learn that if your ship sinks, you respawn at the nearest den or outpost and may lose some progress. Most of your cargo automatically recovers, and you can travel to your wreckage to gain the rest of it. Odds are you may not find anything there, as other players can grab it first.

We see other on-foot sections, showing the player's pirate holding a compass on an island and later unearthing a treasure chest. The contracts and exploration are playable in single-player and cooperative play. If you want to take on other players, you can join PvP servers.

Sinking ships is one way to gain supplies, but you can also pull your vessel next to shore to harvest wood from trees, rock, and more. When in gathering mode, you'll want to bring a cargo ship as it can haul more but be wary of other pirates because this ship is slower than others. Navigation ships sail faster, yet have less HP and cargo space. If you want to battle against rival NPC-controlled pirates, you'll want to captain the Firepower ship, which has more cannons but is harder to maneuver. All the ships shown are wildly different in design, giving us a glimpse of the customization options.

We don't know how big the open world is, but the game's trailer says we'll be able to explore the Indian Ocean's coast of Africa and East Indies. You'll need to watch the skies, as weather can affect your sailing. You could experience violent storms or huge rogue waves. You could also come across dynamic events requiring other players' help, like taking on a royal fleet and its merchant ships.

After the game launches in November, Ubisoft says players can expect a steady stream of content spanning numerous years.

I liked what I saw of Skull and Bones' return in this presentation. While it isn't the Black Flag spiritual successor I was hoping Ubisoft would make, the depth of customization looks fantastic, and I love the idea of starting with nothing and working up to a fleet. That's a hell of a carrot to dangle in front of the player and I can't wait. 

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Skull and Bones

PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Stadia, PC
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