Skull and Bones Review — Naval Enterprise

Skull and Bones offers some excellent pirate adventuring with its addictive naval combat and stellar immersion.
Skull And Bones Featured

The relatively slim market of Pirate fantasy fulfillment games sees a new contender with Skull and Bones, a Ubisoft original that sees players swashbuckling across the Indian Ocean in the golden age of piracy. This fresh-faced title, which aims to be the pirating MMO of the next decade, is packed with some interesting features at launch. While the game has certainly come out of the gate swinging with its strong foundation, there are doubtless areas I’d love to see the game improve and missing features I would have enjoyed that I, unfortunately, don’t see the developers adding in the game’s lifespan.

Skull And Bones Red Moon
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

To begin talking about Skull and Bones, it’s important to understand what is undoubtedly the game’s main inspiration. Skull and Bones leverages Ubisoft’s ship-based combat system, which originates from Assassin’s Creed 3 and saw a much bigger focus in Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag. These mechanics are undoubtedly popular. I remember falling in love with the simple yet immersive gameplay of ship combat in the previously mentioned titles, and many players would call it the strongest point of AC4.

An improved version of the timeless mechanics is the bread and butter of the gameplay in Skull and Bones, which focuses almost exclusively on naval combat. Honestly, it’s hard to blame Ubisoft for building an entire title around these mechanics because, as you will see in Skull and Bones, it simply works. The ship combat is fun, exciting and immersive, flying through the incredibly life-like physicals of the ocean waves and circling your foes to trade cannon fire and boarding action, there’s really nothing like it.

Skull And Bones Burning Tides
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

The game makes me wish for a historical warfare title that sees players engaging in huge naval battles between powerful armadas, such as those from the French and British Empires. What do you think, Ubisoft? You’ve got my contact information.

The naval mechanics of Skull and Bones are even more exciting when you consider the game’s extensive ship customization. There are not only a large number of ships to eventually collect but also classes of ships that change how you sail and battle on the seas. You can choose your ship’s paint, accouterment, sails, flag, and even the amount and type of canons you bring on board. That ship you see tackling the waves and raiding settlements will always feel like your ship because it is. You put the time into making it that way.

Skull And Bones Ship Management
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

Skull and Bones undoubtedly nails the mark for the sailing aspect of the pirate fantasy. From the exciting battles to navigating the sea as huge waves knock your ship about and the wind pushes you forward, there is never a time spent sailing that feels inauthentic or unexciting, with a great deal of care being required just to navigate the rivers that split vast islands apart. Your boat controls like a boat, needs time to accelerate and decelerate, and the game isn’t afraid to slam you into some rocks if you sail carelessly.

Unfortunately, if you’re looking for a more swashbuckling type of pirate game, Skull and Bones isn’t going to live up to your expectations. What I mean by that is there is a certain highly appealing aspect of the pirate fantasy that many people strive to see recreated. I am, of course, talking about exciting sword fights on the deck of ships, swinging from the mast and firing your plethora of pistols at unsuspecting foes. In comparison, Skull and Bones will let you customize your character with many different outfit combinations, but you will never see them swinging a sword or firing a pistol, as the game is solely focused on naval combat.

Skull And Bones Storm At Sea
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

Boarding does exist, but it’s a sort of cutscene that happens to quickly finish off low-health ships and gain a bonus to your loot. While any character-focused, sword dueling action is missing from the game, that isn’t to say that there’s nothing to do.

At launch, Skull and Bones features a wealth of activities so broad that I would struggle to begin to list them. Some notable options, of course, include raiding ships for valuable cargo, harvesting materials for crafting, and even taking on a ghost ship or giant sea monster.

There are times when I actually found myself a bit overwhelmed trying to follow the string of quests I was given and just started sailing out in one direction until I found something else to do, which certainly did not take long.

The crafting mechanic may put some players off, and unfortunately, is a large part of the game. You don’t purchase ships outright but must unlock their blueprints and gather the required materials to build them yourself. Thankfully, most other objects, such as cosmetics, can be purchased with silver, the game’s main currency, and drops plentifully from playing the game normally. I’ve not yet found a time when I had too little silver for something I wanted that didn’t change after a quick raid.

Skull And Bones Cosmetics
Screenshot: Try Hard Guides

Despite its minor drawbacks, Skull and Bones has the potential to carve its niche in the pirate fantasy genre. With its immersive naval combat, extensive ship customization, and many activities to explore, the game offers a compelling experience for those who revel in the thrill of high-seas adventures.

As the game evolves, whether Ubisoft will address some of the missing elements remains to be seen and further refine the player experience. Still, the developers are already keen on expanding the scope of what the game has to offer. In the meantime, Skull and Bones stands as a promising addition to the pirate gaming landscape, offering a unique, captivating, if a bit singular in its focus on naval warfare, take on the golden age of piracy.

The Final Word

Skull and Bones offers the promise of adventure on the high sea. While the game focuses a little hard on its naval warfare mechanics, they are nonetheless exciting and don’t grow old quickly. Though a bit grindy, Skull and Bones should offer hours of entertainment and many customization options to those looking to set sail into its waters.

8

Try Hard Guides was provided with a PC review copy of this game. Find more detailed looks at popular and upcoming titles in the Game Reviews section of our website! Skull and Bones is available on Ubisoft, Epic Games, Xbox, and Playstation.

Erik Hodges

Erik Hodges

Erik Hodges is a hobby writer and a professional gamer, at least if you asked him. He has been writing fiction for over 12 years and gaming practically since birth, so he knows exactly what to nitpick when dissecting a game's story. When he isn't reviewing games, he's probably playing them.

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  1. Qaushaus

    Embarrassing opinions in this article.

  2. johndango

    are you out of your mind!? re-read your review… it reads as ‘but’ ‘but’ ‘but’…. it’s not a great game. it’s not a good game. it’s truly the most disappointing launch of a game in years.

  3. Steve

    How anyone in their right mind could give this game an 8/10. It has *some* redeeming qualities but for the most part plays (and often looks) like a PS2 era game. So many of the core gameplay loops are tedious/not fun. Never has been exploring a desert island been more boring. Menus are slow and clunky. Quests are monotonous and repetitive. No depth whatsoever / the gameplay does not evolve past the first few hours. Complete grind fest. Makes other Ubisoft games look like masterpieces. Again, I’m astounded how anyone would review this game positively.

    1. Erik Hodges

      As per our review policy, “8: Good and worth consideration, but features at least one or two glaring flaws that caused issues with the experience.” I played Skull & Bones during the free open weekend and again with my review copy, and was very satisfied with the naval combat but disappointed in other areas, as I emphasized in the review.

  4. Sparrow

    It grows old VERY quickly, I played the beta and the first day I was excited, I enjoyed the game very much. The second day, a LOT more of the same, nothing new, the same thing to do over and over again. And the ship system, why to not use the Black Flag system? It was perfect. No, they had to change it and make it less fun, mortars? like firing a cannon, what´s the point? The steering of the ship? not as good as Black flag either, too low, it´s hard to see where the ship goes, it´s even better in AC Odyssey. So, no thank, I´m not going to spend that much in a very thin game that doesn´t feel finished at all.

  5. HazyDavy

    Good review!! It took me a while to warm up to this game in beta because it wasn’t what I had heard it was going to be. Uniquely ship-centric and I enjoy that type of approach however I understand that’s not for everyone. Not an AAAA or even an AAA game and I feel it’s a bit overpriced, but I believe there will be more value added in the near future. I purchased it and am enjoying playing it.