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Skull and Bones Review

Skull and Bones often feels like it has been built on some good ideas that haven’t been as fleshed out as much as they could have been. Much of its development hell is also showcased throughout the game as its mechanics feel dull and its general rinse-and-repeat gameplay never offers much excitement. The entire game feels like a shell of ideas that still need time to grow almost ten years later.

Of course, it is difficult to review Skull and Bones without comparing it to Ubisoft’s masterpiece naval game-meets-Assassin’s-Creed entry, Black Flag. In the game, naval combat took centre stage and if anything, the whole “Assassin’s Creed” theme felt like an afterthought.

However, it was a phenomenal game that saw players sailing the seas, slaying sea beasts, and taking down large ships. Of course, those legendary ship fights were something else. Black Flag did a lot of things right. Many of which are levels better than Skull and Bones but its on-foot gameplay truly made you feel like a pirate.

Skull and Bones Review

Being able to explore the islands and fight strongholds on land while your ship was docked on the beach truly delivered the pirate fantasy. Skull and Bones, on the other hand, relies on just naval combat to deliver that fantasy. While you can leave your ship and explore various locations on foot, these simply act as social hubs with various vendors to chat with and boring treasure maps to solve.

But even the naval combat in Skull and Bones often feels underwhelming. There are a handful of ships to unlock with different class roles. Think of these ships as your character in an RPG and you need to equip gear to improve it in various ways. There are different types of weapons that can also stylize your ship into a role.

Torpedo cannons can launch torpedoes from a distance and the long gun acts as an accurate sniper-like weapon which also helps damage from afar. However, whatever playstyle you choose is often hindered by the fact that you’re still a ship, you still get slowed down by the wrong wind direction and you can only sail as fast as your build.

Skull and Bones Review

So there are still limitations in the types of ships you would like to build. After a while, I still went for an up-close ship with the best possible canons at the time and slowly improved on that. This also meant that combat became repetitive faster than I expected. The idea of sailing around this ocean with an incredibly restricted stamina gauge, blowing up a ship here and there, looting for items I had in abundance and moving on was tiresome after twenty hours in the game.

Mostly all the objectives are also boring MMO-styled tasks. Run here, collect this and bring it back. I need “XYZ” material, please go find it. Kill these animals and bring back their pelts. Some were even as low-grade as “ram into flotsam to pick up a star chart and bring it back”.

I don’t know who would find these objectives entertaining. Especially considering that ships are slow, they run out of stamina really quickly and the ocean lacks excitement. There’s no open-world energy worth taking in. There wasn’t a point of interest on the map I just had to explore because every point of interest is either a shallow outpost or a fort I could not plunder alone.

Skull and Bones Review

So essentially, you spend your time at sea pressing the X button to sail faster, wait for the stamina gauge to drop, and press the circle button. You wait for the gauge to increase, press the X button again and rinse and repeat. There are some side hustles on the side like harvesting wood or prying open a wreckage. But even these become tired very quickly.

When combat does happen, it is as you would expect. You sail around tossing canons into enemy ships and waiting for them to explode. Some ships have weak spots that you need to aim for. Ships can also be boarded if you’re close enough and successfully toss a rope over the edge. But “boarded” here means a cutscene playing out for a few seconds and nabbing a few extra materials for your patience.

I won’t lie, I had more excitement hunting animals in Skull and Bones than destroying ships. Using a Dhow, I could sail up small ravines and fight strong animals for rarer pelts. These fights saw me sailing around frantically avoiding the animal while tossing spears at it. Some got close and chomped by Dhow into pieces.

Skull and Bones Review

Some legendary animals are then fought on the larger ship. These are crazy, mutated-like animals that pack a real punch and need canon fire and serious damage to slay. These fights were rather exciting.

There’s an odd public even naval fight that appears on the map too. Here, a legendary pirate spawns and players need to band together to take it down. However, I often stayed at the spawn point hoping other players would join, I even issued the SOS function and no one ever came. These fights are near impossible to solo which kind of ruins the entire social aspect of Skull and Bones.

Don’t get me wrong, naval fights can get intense much later in the game. Stronger weapons are not only flashier but also deal more damage over larger spaces. Bigger ships would put up a fight and bring all the firepower to the party too. So I had to carefully plan my approach, and monitor my stamina gauge and consumables. It works when it wants to.

Skull and Bones Review

Sadly, much of the excitement takes forever to get there. You’ll spend countless hours fighting little pawn ships before building up your arsenal and growing in ship size. The game’s live-service elements also mean everything is a grind and a slog.

A late-game canon requires loads of rare materials which I had to spend hours finding and refining. Not to mention that the game locks these upgrades behind ship ranks but doesn’t tell you this at any point. So you’ll need to grind through the game to get minor upgrades to rank up to purchase the blueprint to get the materials to make the damn canon. This is peak “fun”.

These checkbox mechanics do nothing but create walls around the game’s fun. The build-up to an item is a real snoozefest and feels incredibly demotivating. Keep in mind that the general sailing in the game is also pretty slow and boring so now everything you do requires much more of this slow and boring sailing.

Skull and Bones Review

The thing is, Ubisoft knows loot. The Division 2 is a heavy loot-based live-service game and it never feels too grindy. Skull and Bones has increased the grind by 500% and slowed it down at the same time. It doesn’t work.

It also helps that most grindy live-service games deliver fun gameplay to mindlessly farm for materials. Skull and Bones, on the other hand, is a sailing-across-the-ocean game. There’s simply no way to make grinding appealing. Maybe if the world wasn’t so bland? Or perhaps I could explore caves for loot and treasure while slicing a few enemies up with my sword? Hell, I might as well just replay Black Flag.

Skull and Bones also falls flat in its infamy ranks too. The more I would blow up enemies, the higher my wanted tier would rise. However, just like in GTA V, once I sailed away from enemies for a while, that wanted tier would drop to nothing. This means I could simply return to the source of my crime and they would be none-the-wiser.

Skull and Bones Review

The game pushes the idea of this so-called “become the notorious pirate”. However, it is more more like “become the notorious pirate for 30 seconds while your wanted rank goes down”.

This sort of changes during the game’s endgame grind. The Black Market, which is presented in a different form during the campaign, gets fleshed out after completing the story. It introduces the game’s real live-service mechanics which include PvE and PvP mechanics.

The idea is that players need to build a series of Manufactories that help generate a currency on an hourly basis. This currency is called “Points of Eight” and is only funded by Silver which you’ll need to constantly be earning to keep up with the Manufactories demand. When you have built up enough Points of Eight, this has to be picked up and manually taken back to the Pirate Haven to contribute to your score.

Skull and Bones Review

The catch here is that when carrying this currency, other players and a vast array of enemy ships can hunt you down and steal it. The leaderboard then shows players who have delivered the most Points of Eight and will reset at the start of each season. Essentially, future seasons will add new mechanics to the general Points of Eight loop which sets them apart from the current game.

I don’t think Skull and Bones is a bad game and it definitely has potential to become a grander pirate experience. However, its gameplay often feels uninspired. I know, it isn’t fair to compare it to Black Flag but everything in that PS3 game felt more robust and exciting than Skull and Bones. From the world to the naval fights. It still stands as the better pirate game from Ubisoft.

Skull and Bones

This Skull and Bones review is based on a PS5 codes sent to us by Ubisoft. The game is now available on PS5, Xbox Series X/S and PC starting at R1399 in retail and R1369 on digital stores

Summary

Skull and Bones works when it works and if you can get past the MMO-like quests, there’s a fully-imagined pirate experience here. Just a pity that some of these features aren’t are fleshed out and exciting as others. But I do have hope that Ubisoft will work its magic here and turn this into a long-lasting live-service game. There’s potential here.

Overall
6.5/10
6.5/10
Marco is the owner and founder of GLITCHED. South Africa’s largest gaming and pop culture website. GLITCHED quickly established itself with tech and gaming enthusiasts with on-point opinions, quick coverage of breaking events and unbiased reviews across its website, social platforms, and YouTube channel.

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