Skull and Bones Review: Shipwreck or Conquest of the Seven Seas? Our Verdict After 200 hours of gameplay

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After riding a tide of anticipation, Skull and Bones has finally set sail. The latest addition to the Ubisoft franchise arrives after a turbulent journey of development and numerous delays. For reasons that are still beyond me, Skull and Bones has become arguably the most hated title of the moment, with many unleashing cannon shots of criticism at it.

Scouring the Indian Ocean for nearly 200 hours across the closed beta, open beta, and the final game, it’s now time for me to take stock. Like I said back in the closed beta preview, I was hooked on the game, and now with the final version, my initial impression is just solidified. Skull and Bones is a very good game.

It’s not perfect, and there are things to criticize, but fundamentally: it’s enjoyable. After all, that’s the whole point of any video game.

Let’s take a closer look at what the latest Ubisoft service game has in its hold.

The Docking of Skull And Bones after 7 Years of Storms

Unless you’ve been living as a castaway, you’ve probably caught wind of the rollercoaster development ride that Skull and Bones has been on. Ubisoft Singapore’s brainchild started as a DLC for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag way back in 2013 before evolving into a standalone title. It was officially unveiled in 2017, slated for a 2018 release, then pushed back to 2019, then 2020… and the saga continued until finally hitting shelves in 2024.

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At last, as of February 16, 2024, Skull and Bones has made its grand entrance, now accessible on PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PC, and Amazon Luna (Cloud Gaming).

Skull And Bones

Game name: Skull And Bones

Release Date: 16th february 2024

Available on: PC, PS5, XBox Series X, Amazon Luna, Ubisoft +

Buy Skull And Bones on Instant Gaming

The Skull and Bones test was performed on the Xbox Series X in Graphics mode. I’ll go into the technical aspects of the game in more detail later on.

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This is Neither Assassin’s Creed nor Black Flag

Skull And Bones is a pirate-themed multiplayer open-world RPG. Your aim is to climb the ranks of piracy to become a kingpin and rule over the Indian Ocean. 

The game starts off with a brief introduction where your ship gets sunk, leaving you stranded. Once you’ve created your character, you take control of a small boat and navigate your way to Sainte-Anne, one of the game’s primary cities.

This introduction serves as a tutorial, where you must gather planks and kill sharks to familiarize yourself with handling the boat. When you reach Sainte-Anne and meet the local kingpin, John Scurlock, who sees you as a potential ally, is when the game really kicks in. 

The storyline may not be at the level of a Final Fantasy 16, but it is still enjoyable to follow. It’s light with a touch of humor and sets the proper pirate spirit.

As you sail along, you’ll cross paths with Admiral Rahma, the other bigwig ruling over Telok Penjarah, the second major city in the East Indies region.

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Once your ship’s ready to roll, it’s grind time. You have to earn your infamy – that’s Skull And Bones’ version of XP – by taking on all sorts of quests, from main missions to chasing bounties and raiding bases. The bounties are great – think ghost ships, sea monsters, the whole shebang. Plus, teaming up with other players for some co-op action is where the fun lies (not to be confused with the Pvp, which I’m dedicating a separate section to).

Even if you’re a lone wolf, there’s plenty of adventure to be had. It’s tougher, especially early on when you’re up against waves of enemy ships. But, as you level up with a sturdier ship like the Snow, and your skills improve, taking on the challenge head-on feels almost heroic.

And what’s a pirate adventure without some hidden treasure and legendary quests? Throughout your journey, you’ll be hunting down treasure maps, following NPC’s rumors, and diving into investigations. If you take the time to follow and read clues, it becomes engaging to uncover quite pleasant pirate stories. In the end, it’s always about going from point A to point B, but the storytelling is quite well done. There are loads of missions, although repetitive at times, but when you’re chasing after that Kingpin title, every skirmish and sea battle feels like a step closer to glory.

Yes, the journey’s tough, but when you finally reach the top of the pirate heap – it’s worth every cutlass swing and cannon blast.

The Forgotten Terrestrial Adventure

Skull And Bones has certainly stirred the waters, though it harnesses the Anvil engine, this is no Assassin’s Creed. Those hoping for a sequel to Black Flag will need to bide their time. In Skull And Bones, on-land activities are limited to two major cities as mentioned earlier, and about thirty outposts. This aspect of the game left me wanting, as Sainte Anne and Telok Penjarah offer all manner of shops, from carpenters and blacksmiths to shipbuilders, along with ample contract opportunities. I would have appreciated more diversity, especially among NPCs who, for the most part, offer the same things in both cities. Some mini-games to stretch one’s legs wouldn’t have gone amiss either.

Another sore point is the outposts. Despite changes in scenery, their design remains identical across the board. You land on the beach, greeted by an NPC from a faction offering missions, and a stash providing access to your storage – quite convenient. But by your fourth or fifth outpost visit, you’ll feel right at home, no matter the setting. Even if the landscapes shift, and some are truly magnificent – the Necropolis or Kaa Mangrove, to name a couple – it’s a pity Ubisoft didn’t delve deeper into this aspect and opted for a copy-paste approach instead.

Thus, the thrill of discovery on terra firma is somewhat diminished. There’s not much incentive to set sail and seek out new horizons, apart from the pretty views. Even treasure hunts feel a bit ho-hum – you’re likely to find the loot in the same old spots every time, and surprises? Well, they’re few and far between.

I would’ve loved to see outposts with more depth – maybe throw in some mini-games, unique quests, or NPCs that actually vary from place to place. Here’s hoping Ubisoft spices things up in future updates.

Following the treasure hunt, one of piracy’s most iconic activities, boarding, takes a different turn in Skull and Bones. If you expected to board enemy ships and engage in saber duels as in AC Odyssey or Black Flag, think again.

In Skull and Bones, boarding is resolved through a cutscene when an enemy ship’s health bar is nearly depleted. Boarding allows you to loot slightly more than if you were to sink a ship directly. It proves beneficial when you’re on the hunt for a specific resource.

The absence of manual boarding is a common criticism. Personally, after spending countless hours on AC Odyssey, I found this aspect of the game eventually became tedious, something I’d try to avoid. Not that the combat wasn’t good, far from it, but it disrupted the flow of action and exploration.

If memory serves, many players at the time also didn’t quite take to it.

While I understand this might unsettle some players, for me, it keeps the focus on exchanging cannon fire between ships. And this, Skull And Bones excels at.

Touché Coulé

The heart of the game lies in naval combat. It’s lively and, while it might seem arcade-like at first glance, it demands a good mix of skill and strategy to come out on top against certain adversaries. Just spamming the trigger won’t cut it. Every enemy ship has its weak spots, and to make battles shorter, you’ll need to aim precisely to hit them.

When the sea is calm, it’s smooth sailing, but when you’re up against a pack of angry pirates in a storm, it’s a whole different story. Depending on where you target your enemies and the weapons you’re packing, you can unleash various effects. For example, taking out the mast and sails will leave them stranded. Some weapons pack an explosive punch, causing fires or floods.

However, you’re not the only one capable of this; other pirates can do the same, and the AI-controlled ships that Ubisoft has unleashed upon the Indian Ocean all share one trait: they aim devilishly well! Even in the midst of a storm, at a reasonable distance, these rogues launch torpedoes with a hit rate close to 100%. You’ll need to demonstrate dexterity at the helm to avoid being hit.

In tight spots, you can rely on the brace – it acts like a shield, making you untouchable. But it’s not a permanent solution; it drains your stamina, so don’t lean on it too heavily.

Speaking of stamina, it represents your crew’s fatigue. When it’s low, you won’t be able to use all your sails, slowing you down. Better stock up on food to give your crew a boost. You can loot or even cook dishes that provide buffs, like extra resistance or stamina regeneration.

These epic sea battles underscore the importance of having a ship that’s not just fast and nimble, but also kitted out to handle anything. That’s where ship customization comes in, letting you tailor your vessel to your liking and carve out your own path on the wild waves of the Indian Ocean.

The Sea Belongs Only to the Armed

Being a master at the helm and a daring pirate will not ensure your survival in the perilous waters of the Indian Ocean without suitable equipment.

Thankfully, Ubisoft has gone all out in this department. The array of equipment, weapons, and customization options for your ship is mind-boggling. The level of personalization is so deep that chances are slim you’ll come across another fledgling pirate with the same look as yours. This aspect is a real standout, and Ubisoft Singapore deserves kudos for it.

But beyond just looking cool, you’ll need to beef up your firepower to navigate the ocean safely. And there’s no shortage of choices – from traditional cannonballs to cutting-edge torpedoes, and even crossbows that can pierce through enemy hulls or rocket launchers, there’s something for every pirate’s taste.

You can craft standard weapons at the blacksmith after purchasing or looting the blueprint, or even find legendary weapons from certain bosses or during PvP events. In Skull And Bones, aside from some weapons that can be directly purchased at the helm in exchange for the famed pieces of eight, or from regional Kingpins in exchange for certain commodities like Gold Skull Rum, you’ll need to craft them.

Crafting isn’t just for show either. It’s essential for beefing up your vessel. Weapons, armor, ammo –  even the ships themselves – all need to be crafted once you’ve got the blueprint.

How to get Scurlock Long Nine

As you upgrade your ship, its level increases, allowing you to venture into more challenging areas with confidence. It becomes a real race to transform your ship into a maritime juggernaut. Speaking of ships, there are 11 to choose from, with one more added in season 1. While they all have their own unique traits, I can’t help but wish there was more incentive to switch between them. Once you’ve got your hands on the Brigantine, the Snow, or the Barque, there’s little reason to swap. The Brigantine is lightning-fast and packs a punch, while the Snow is a tough nut to crack, able to take a beating without breaking a sweat. It would’ve been nice to see missions that required specific types of ships, encouraging us to collect them all and give them a spin. Personally, I stick with the Snow for everyday sailing and bust out the Brigantine when I’m chasing down pieces of eight.

Two Games for the Price of One

The initial part of Skull and Bones, during your rise from sailor to Kingpin, resembles a serene journey across the Indian Ocean. This phase is marked by fulfilling contracts, sinking rival ships, and engaging in a few PvP skirmishes to sharpen your cannons, all within a relatively wholesome atmosphere.

You accumulate a wealth of resources, watching your silver coin stash grow, pondering over what you might splurge your booty on.

When I reached the Kingpin level, I had nearly half a million silver coins, and my storage was as packed as that of an avid garage sale enthusiast. I found the game’s economic system to be flawed, feeling that money wasn’t as crucial as in many other games of the sort.

But that was before I became a Kingpin, and the much-acclaimed endgame, as touted by Ubisoft, was unlocked.

Fortune Favors the Bold

When you reach the Kingpin level, the game’s dynamics shift, or rather evolve. The famed endgame introduces numerous new activities and transforms Skull And Bones.

To achieve this, you’ll need to seize factories, essentially all the coastal towns where you previously stopped to trade or plunder, according to your whims, now become targets in your quest for power.

But you won’t be the only one with this idea. Many of your freshly named Kingpin peers are also on quests for power and desire for the same factories. It’s during PvPvE events that you’ll battle not only AI but also human opponents to take control of these factories.

The goal isn’t to sink everyone, but to inflict the most damage on the AI to successfully take control. The concept is truly brilliant.

Once the event concludes, and you’ve successfully seized the factories, they will award you the renowned pieces of 8. The more you expand your empire by capturing factories, the more pieces of 8 you’ll produce. These, in turn, will grant you access to some of the game’s most powerful equipment and help you climb the online leaderboard.

With 76 factories to conquer on the map, the quest for power and wealth appears endless.

Especially since with each season, Ubisoft will reset your empire, and you’ll need to reconquer these factories. Each season lasts 90 days.

Skull and Bones factory

Uber Ship

This segment of the game calls for a bit more strategy to prevent your Skull and Bones adventure from turning into a daily grind akin to Uber delivery behind the joystick. Once your factories are up and running, you’ll need to collect your pieces of 8 and bring them safely to port. During this task, fast travel is disabled, and you must make your way to Saint-Anne or Telok Penjarah to secure your cargo.

However, rogue ships lie in wait, aiming to swipe your loot, making the experience challenging.

Even though Ubisoft has toned down these enemies’ aggression in a recent update, they remain formidable, requiring you to be ever vigilant. I’ve found myself distracted in one moment, only to return and discover my ship sunk by one of these buccaneers. Clearly, collecting will not be a walk in the park.

Therefore, optimizing your time, deciding which factory to prioritize, and determining the most efficient route to collect enough pieces of 8 without it consuming hours is crucial. I initially aimed to secure all factories on the red islands, only to realize some produce faster than others.

This collection process can quickly become a chore, often requiring 20-30 minutes of navigation just to gather pieces of 8. This can be burdensome if you’re not playing for several hours at a stretch.

I would have appreciated a system allowing, for instance, a human or AI ship to do the gathering on my behalf for a fee. After all, a Kingpin shouldn’t have to do the dirty work.

Editor’s Note: Ubisoft has released patch Y1S1.3, which significantly changes the collection of pieces of 8. Factory funding and storage now last longer, reducing the frequency of collections needed than before. This system update is highly beneficial and eliminates the feeling that collecting is your daily job.

Anno 1800

Owning factories demands a steady investment, both in pieces of 8 for their enhancement and in silver for their operation. Managing numerous factories quickly becomes costly, melting your treasure like snow in the sun.

When you have 2-3 factories, it’s manageable. When you own 20, it starts to sting. Hence, you’ll need to earn money. A lot of money!

And for that, you have several options: when fulfilling contracts, you’ll be rewarded with some silver, but with the financing needs of the factories, you’ll soon find the rewards are too meager.

Insider Trading

The trade of commodities presents a real financial windfall in Skull and Bones. Given that each region displays specific needs, the prices of goods vary significantly from one place to another and fluctuate over time. A cargo of vanilla can be sold for a fortune in a port starved for this commodity, while its price might drop in the following hours, reflecting the game’s dynamic economy. This price volatility adds a strategic layer to trading, encouraging you to wait for the right moment to buy low and sell high, instead of mindlessly selling all your commodities to the first NPC that comes along.

But it doesn’t stop there; you also have the opportunity to play as modern-day privateers. Spot merchant galleons on their way to the outposts, and by sending them to the bottom, you will cause a temporary shortage of their cargoes, thereby driving up prices on the local market. Diabolical, but profitable. After all, you are a pirate, so act accordingly. This concept is fun and ingeniously integrated into the game.

Another good way to make money is through PvP, which leads us to the multiplayer part of Skull And Bones.

Friendly Pirate

Except for Phantasy Star Online on Dreamcast, or WoW, I’ve never been much of a MMORPG enthusiast, likely because I grew up in the era of Neo Geo and N64 where multiplayer was all about gathering at a friend’s place.

The PvP aspect of Skull and Bones is well integrated into the game, suiting all types of players, though it can be a bit frustrating at times.

Since the update to patch Y1S1.3, PvP is available everywhere for those who wish it, which is a great improvement. An option to activate PvP is available when you embark on your ship, turning the Indian Ocean into a battleground for amateur pirates. However, you can only sink players who have activated PvP,  so there is no bullying of players who aren’t interested. This excellent update truly accommodates all types of players.

As mentioned before, online activities include co-op, where you’ll face AI in plundering or during World Events to attack certain ship fleets.

Pure PvP is tough, featuring Cutthroat Cargo where you must recover a treasure map and find the outpost where a chest awaits with a tidy sum and items. At the game’s launch, this PvP aspect was somewhat unbalanced; it was enough to wait for someone to retrieve the map, then teleport using fast travel to wait for the player to arrive and sink them before they could land at the Outpost. Not very sportsmanlike. Another positive from the Y1S1.3 patch is the ban of fast travel during a PvP event, avoiding such issues. It’s truly commendable to see Ubisoft listening to the community and updating the game accordingly.

This update makes PvP in Cutthroat Cargo much more engaging. Another PvP activity is Helm Wagers. When you collect your Pieces of 8, the helm will offer to double them or lose everything. A bit like Russian roulette but pirate style. If you accept, you must travel to the other end of the map, surviving other players who will attempt to take your treasure.

I must admit, I seldom participate in these events. The first time, I was disconnected and lost my Pieces of 8, which was quite annoying, and I’m not on a quest for the maximum amount of Pieces of 8 possible.

During these events, you often encounter groups of pirates protecting each other, or attacking in a group, leaving you little chance of survival. Yes, Skull and Bones is a pirate game, and some players are ruthless. Despite this, the game’s atmosphere remains very friendly, and you’ll find many players ready to help, whether through Reddit or the game’s Discord. I regularly see Kingpins dropping items for new players and offering their help for certain events.

Overall, there’s plenty to do with multiplayer to keep you engaged for a long time, especially since the co-op activities are very fun, in my opinion.

My critique of the online is the number of people per server (only 20 players.) This might seem like a lot, but in reality, not really. As a result, I often find myself doing Cutthroat Cargo alone, as well as PvPvE to capture factories. It’s handy if you want to progress quickly in the game, but I find it somewhat detracts from the enjoyment. Doubling the number of players on servers wouldn’t be amiss, especially since the map of Skull and Bones is 620 km2, which is quite large.

Technically, the netcode is good, but I’ve still experienced a few annoying disconnections. However, except for once during a Helm Wager, where I lost some Pieces of 8, it generally doesn’t impact the game.

Netcode is all well and good, but what about the game’s technical and visual execution?

Sailing Into Beauty

Skull And Bones is beautiful, offering breathtaking panoramas thanks to successful artistic direction. Each of the three distinct regions has its own charm, with a world teeming with details that are hard to grasp at first glance. You’ll spot elephants on the African coast, birds taking flight as you sail near shores, and some will even perch on your ship… And that’s just the beginning.

And the ocean? After all, you’ll spend most of your time upon it. It is also masterfully done, likely one of the best renditions of water I’ve seen in a video game. Whether it’s the physics of the waves or the reflection of the sun and lightning, the water has been given meticulous attention by the Ubisoft team. It’s worth noting that the latest Assassin’s Creed games, from Origins to Mirage, boast breathtaking graphics. Skull And Bones is no exception, even if it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Assassin’s Creed Mirage. The only notable flaw in the water’s rendering is the spray that looks like a slight cluster of pixels, reminding me of the clouds in X-Plane 12. However, this is hardly a deal-breaker.

The dynamic weather system is equally impressive as the storms at sea genuinely impact the handling of the boat and visibility.

After 200 hours of gameplay, the locations where storms occur remain more or less constant, as do the calm sea areas. The wind, which significantly affects the speed and behavior of ships, tends to always blow against you. When you manage to catch it from behind, full sail, it’s exhilarating, and your ship will soar on the slightest wave.

While the outposts and cities each have their charm, your character and the NPCs, on the other hand, are somewhat disappointing. They fall short of the rendering seen in Mirage.

As mentioned earlier, I played mostly in graphical mode on Xbox Series X. The game runs well in this mode, the only downside being the frame rate drop during storm battles where it struggles to maintain 30 FPS, which is annoying. Switching to performance mode solves this issue at the expense of a slight decrease in graphical quality.

Immersive Acoustics in Perfect Harmony

The acoustic ambiance of Skull and Bones is second to none. The sounds of the wooden hull creaking, waves crashing against the stern, thunder during storms—all contribute to the deeply engaging atmosphere of the game. And the pirate chants from your crew make you feel as though you’re truly there.

Whether it’s visually or musically, the atmosphere of Skull and Bones seeps into your very bones.

Drifting into the sunset between skirmishes with enemy ships, with your crewmates singing, is an extraordinary experience. A true journey.

Conclusion

Movie Review Ratings
8

FinalBoss Verdict: Skull And Bones

Skull and Bones may not be the pirate game or the quad-A title many were anticipating. Yet, Ubisoft’s latest foray into the MMORPG genre matures over time, thanks to an interesting endgame and regular updates from a developer who listens to its players.

Skull and Bones is not a flawless vessel, sometimes encountering choppy waters in terms of repetitiveness and land exploration, but it delivers enthralling naval battles, a richly detailed ocean, and a multiplayer experience full of great concepts.

Despite the discontent stirred by its prolonged development and the shadow of Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, Skull And Bones manages to carve out its own identity.

Skull and Bones won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve had a great time with this game and continue to do so. It deserves a chance to win over your pirate heart.

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Lan Di
Lan Di
Lan Di is a known figure among the four leading rank members of the Chi You Men. With his cold, calculating demeanor and piercing gaze, he strikes fear into the hearts of those who cross his path. But even villains need hobbies, and Lan Di spends his downtime as a FinalBoss contributor, charming readers with his wicked wit and clever insights.

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