Skull & Bones started out as a relatively mediocre and little-noticed title when Ubisoft showed the game at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) game trade show in 2017. But when the French video game publisher came back to show the title at E3 2018 last week, it had undergone a big makeover.
I played the game for a half hour and recorded my gameplay, which you can see in the video. It is an immersive pirate naval battle simulation.
Ubisoft Singapore is making the game with help from studios Ubisoft Blue Byte, Ubisoft Philippines, Ubisoft Sofia, and Ubisoft Chengdu. That suggests that Ubisoft is putting a lot of development resources into Skull & Bones, which was inspired by the naval battles in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. But while Black Flag took place in the Caribbean during the Golden Age of Piracy, Skull & Bones takes place in the Indian Ocean.
With the voice over acting and the sounds of the ocean, Skull & Bones makes you feel like you’re on a pirate ship. I chose to sail the Black Thorn, a speedy Brigantine ship. I trained for just a couple of minutes and then headed into open water. The simulated water looked gorgeous, with reflections bouncing off the sunlight on the waves. I could see the bow ahead of me.
Before me was a tiny sloop that was dead ahead. It was a sitting duck, put there for target practice. I controlled the steering for my own ship with the left stick of my PlayStation 4 controller. Then I pulled the right trigger to make my ship go faster. That was all I had to do for navigation. When enemy ship came within range, I pulled the left trigger and then fired my bow cannon with the right trigger. A pair of chained balls flew toward the enemy ship, striking its mast. Then I kept on firing and did some damage.
I passed by the side of the ship and opened up with my broadsides. That damaged the ship enough for me to board it. I did so with the touch of a button and my crew overwhelmed the enemy. I added to my chest of treasure.
Next, I sailed after a Portuguese frigate, a much bigger ship in the distance. My shipmates were shouting commands at each other as I fired my bow cannon at the ship. As we passed each other, the Portuguese ship opened first on me with its broadsides, and then I reacted with my cannon. I took a lot of damage, but managed to do some repairs while the ship was sailing away. I also did some long range damage to it using rockets. Reloading started taking longer.
“Captain, we’re taking a beating,” my first mate yelled. “We won’t take another hit.”
And then I did, and I was sunk by the Princess de Ceu. I had a nice bird’s-eye view of my sinking ship. As I was reborn, I selected the Black Thorn again. This time, I headed toward a shipwreck first. I studied the interface and noticed the wind direction that was indicated in the lower right corner, as well as the speed of my ship. I found no shortage of ships in the sea, but many were distant.
I closed in on a medium-sized ship. I was better at the cannons and hit it with both the forward cannon and the broadsides. It went down without too much trouble, and I collected some treasure. Then came another ship, and I sank that one too at long range. I accidentally hit ramming speed when I was too far away, and that would prove fatal as I closed in on another ship, which was controlled by one of the human players on the seas. That ship was much stronger, and I could have taken it with a ram, but it blew me out of the water as I approached. I sank and lost all of my cargo again.
I was reborn again, and I scouted out my surroundings and went after another target. I had to be careful because so many ships were in the waters around me. This time, I closed and rammed the ship, and it went down immediately. Then came another. We dueled and it did heavy damage to me, but then I got lucky and maneuvered into a ramming position. The ship went down, and I repaired my vessel.
The action wasn’t over yet. I fought two ships as once, and I took one of them down with my ram, and I took down another with my broadsides and long-range rockets. But ultimately, my damaged ship couldn’t last, and the next ship that came along took me down. Overall, I went down three times and sank eight ships.
The game comes out on Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One in 2019. It has both single player and multiplayer modes. I think it’s going to be a wonderful pirate game. I loved both the visuals and the sounds, and it was very accessible in terms of ease of play.