At E3 2017, tucked away behind Ubisoft’s massive public booth, I was able to go hands-on with Skull & Bones, the game that was announced just a couple of days prior at their press conference. I had a ton of fun, sailing around the Caribbean Sea with my fellow pirates, looking for ships to loot and fighting off the other team. By the end, having won one match and lost another only due to poor winds and a lack of time, I felt like Ubisoft had another hit on their hands, but could it repeat the mistakes of their other recent games?
Skull & Bones, as described by Ubisoft, is a multiplayer focused pirate game that takes heavy inspiration from the sailing found in Assassin’s Creed IV. Players fight one another and some NPC ships for loot then, duking it out for a preset amount of time. Once pirate hunters show up everyone rushes to the exit and the teams hope that they have more loot than each other.
There’s some cool mechanics that add variety and strategy to the game, including ship classes such as a battering ram, heavy, and sniper. They still function as ships, so don’t expect to pull of headshots or anything. Instead it’s just a measure of the ship’s range, maneuverability, speed, and fortitude. We all made sure to get a nice variety of ships, though I doubt this is absolutely necessary unless players are really working well as a team.
I say this because most combat was either 1v1 or horribly one sided, though this is likely a result of us all having just picked up the controller that day. There were some moments where class mattered, such as when I peppered ships from far away as the sniper before my battering rams closed in to finish them off. Overall though strategy and tactics took a back seat for these initial games.
What does help lead players into interesting conflicts is that we can all see just how much loot each other player has. Store too much and you’ll find your sailing accosted by any nearby enemy, as they hunt you down for that sweet silver. Die and you drop half your loot for the enemy to pick up, and you have to wait a little while to spawn again. This can cause some heavy swings, as we saw near the end of the second match.
What really separates Skull & Bones from other multiplayer affairs is how it handles movement. You sail the seas here in a much more complex way than many other titles. You can’t just jam the gas and go; you are reliant on the wind and your sails. Commanding your men to raise the sails will increase speed and decrease maneuverability, and you need to give them time to adjust things. You can’t just go fast, slam the brakes, then boost out again, it takes some forethought and planning.
Where Skull & Bones worries me is in the ways it felt like For Honor. Now, I want to say that I really loved For Honor and felt like it was an expertly crafted multiplayer fighting experience. However, this far from launch it is clear that it made some missteps that dwindled the audience to the point that continued play is difficult. A lack of variety and deeper team mechanics are some of its sins that this game might repeat, with server configuration hopefully not being a problem for Skull & Bones.
Skull & Bones hits PS4, Xbox One, and PC in late 2018.