- Skull and Bones may not live up to the hype, as the game’s shortcuts and lack of depth in certain areas.
- The ship combat in the game is enjoyable but falls short compared to Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag.
- The on-land sections of the game are lacking in content and feel clunky to control, undermining the overall experience of the game.
After endless delays thought to date back to the Golden Age of Piracy, Ubisoft’s open-world pirate-ship service game Skull and Bones is nearly here. Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot (via VGC) has defended the game’s £70 price tag by declaring it a “quadruple-A” game, while former Creative Director Elisabeth Pellen declared its open world the “biggest open world that Ubisoft has ever created” in an interview with IGN.
Everything we’re hearing from Ubisoft frames Skull and Bones as the next big thing, and yet even before going into the beta, I think most of us who have been following it for the past 10 years or however long it’s been have already been managing our expectations with this one.
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Lost At Sea
Skull and Bones is a tarnished IP even before it’s launched, whereas Black Flag is the best-selling Assassin’s Creed game in history.
But now that the beta has launched, consider our expectations well and truly managed. It’s hard to see how Skull and Bones, between now and release, is going to become the next big thing from Ubisoft, and the idea of this as a ‘quadruple-A title’ is almost certainly going to consecrate it as a meme to be mocked throughout the ages.
It’s not that Skull and Bones is awful in and of itself. The arcadey ship combat feels both fun on the one hand and yet a step down from Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag on the other. The big problem here is just how shamelessly shortcutted everything outside the matter of sailing on the High Seas feels. You spend a lot of your time gathering resources, for example, and yet when you pull up to an island, you don’t actually get to step off and explore that island, seek some treasure, punch some trees, or maybe set up a campfire for you and your crew to chill around.
Instead you have a quick-time event minigame to gather the resource of your choice. A quick-time event? For something you’re going to be spending a lot of time doing? Likewise, boarding and taking over rival vessels plays out in a cutscene, rather than actually letting you get your hands dirty with what’s probably the most quintessentially ‘pirate fantasy’ activity imaginable. There’s something unpleasantly rushed-feeling about these shortcuts; they’re design elements that feel more ‘cheap clicker game’ than ‘quadruple-A extravaganza’.
The on-land sections, where you can bimble around towns to chat to NPCs, feel so threadbare and clunky to control that the game would be better off without them in their present state; just reduce port and town interactions to a menu where you can get what you need and be done with it. In my ideal world, I’d absolutely love for on-land interaction to be fleshed out to stuff like gambling, card games, drinking and brawling in the towns, but I’ve come to accept at this point that—for reasons that really have never been clear to me—Skull and Bones is a fairly simple ship combat game, not a full-on pirate fantasy simulator, or ‘Sea of Thieves for an older audience.’ Nevertheless, how Ubisoft Singapore has managed to make the on-land stuff feel so bad, considering it’s made in Assassin’s Creed’s Anvil engine, is quite baffling to me.
My impressions of Skull and Bones are of a frigate adrift in a becalmed ocean. Its ship-centric focus—which I’m sure will appeal to a certain subsect of enthusiasts—strips the character and sense of adventure out of one of the most mythologised time-places in history, and it feels like the areas where it could’ve built up some of that character—resource-gathering on islands, on-foot exploration, storytelling, ship-boarding—have been streamlined in an almost insultingly threadbare way.
It’s very possible that the amount of money Ubisoft spent on this may amount to something close to that ‘quadruple-A’ label they’ve given it, but as we finally approach launch after its gruelling voyage through development, the end product still feels B-level at best.
Skull and Bones
- February 16, 2024
- Ubisoft Singapore
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