Skull and Bones, the highly anticipated pirate adventure developed by Ubisoft Singapore and published by Ubisoft, finally made its debut on PlayStation 5, Windows, and Xbox Series X/S on February 16th. After seven years of development, marked by turbulent seas and uncertain horizons, the game sets sail with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. But as we delve into this review, we embark on a journey to uncover whether Skull and Bones emerges victorious from its stormy development voyage, or if it ultimately succumbs to the depths of disappointment.

Launch Trailer

The Life of a Pirate

Skull and Bones is separated into two types of gameplay, on foot or sailing. There’s quite a contrast between the two.

The heart of Skull and Bones lies in its maritime warfare, constantly beckoning you back to the open waters where the true essence of piracy thrives. While the on-foot segments offer a change of pace, it’s evident that the game’s primary focus remains firmly anchored in the tumultuous seas.

The opening moments of Skull and Bones serve as a tantalizing glimpse into the pirate’s life, setting the stage for the grand adventure that awaits. As an established pirate with a formidable ship, you’re thrust into the midst of a chaotic firefight, only to have the treasures plundered and the vessel reduced to splinters. This gripping introduction lays the foundation for a captivating narrative as you are compelled to rebuild your pirate empire from the ashes of defeat.

Offering an 8-hour trial of the game with this exhilarating setup is a masterstroke, hooking players from the outset with a taste of the high-stakes drama and adrenaline-fueled action that defines Skull and Bones. It’s a testament to the game’s gripping gameplay that left me craving more as I embarked on my pirating career amidst the perilous seas.

There’s a change of pace from the opening section, as you’re now working your way back up the ladder. You’re giving a small dhow to start your journey on, and within the first couple of hours you will build you way up to your first ship. And there’s something exciting about starting small, exploring the sea in your tiny boat, and the beginning environment is set up perfectly. Surrounded by tiny islands, dangerous sea life and the wreckage of your ship to pillage.

Sailing feels responsive, and easy to navigate. However, it does feel like the wind is always against you, which can be frustrating at times. There’s a stamina system in place which somewhat circumvents this, in exchange for stamina you can move faster. This will replenish on its own, or you can eat food to restore stamina and gave additional buffs.

The highlight of Skull and Bones is its combat, it’s so easy to execute. As you upgrade to bigger ships, you can install weapons across 4 slots: the front, sides, and rear of the ship. To use any of these weapons, you need to look in that direction and press right trigger to fire.

It feels like you’re on this never-ending journey to upgrade your ship, readying you for more difficult opponents to allow you to get more and more loot. And while following along with the games barebones storyline is gradually preparing you for these challenges, the most excitement came from going off the beaten track to get myself prepared. While you’re rewarded with armaments for completing these missions, you need to make the majority yourself.

Ship Building

There are a handful of ships which you can currently build, at launch. With hopefully more being added throughout the game’s seasons. Where you’re going to spend most of your time is finding blueprints and crafting different armaments for your ship.

Don’t be fooled by the game’s appearance, this is an RPG. There’s so much that you can craft and install on your ship, tweaking your stats and utilizing different elements against your enemy.  And let’s not forget that throughout all this customisation, you can just make an awesome looking vessel.

There are multiple ways to get the required materials to craft, some which are interesting, and others feel like an afterthought. You can sail to different settlements and purchase what you need, or you can plunder those settlements and take what you need.

Plundering launches a horde mode, where you’re periodically rewarded with resources as you keep the area clear of supporting ships – other players can support you while you’re doing this and yield additional resources.

There are other options available, but they tend to yield a lot less. Namely you can find merchant ships and take their cargo, or you can harvest the resources you need and then process those into what you’re looking for.

There be Treasure!

You’re given opportunities to leave your ship and explore some minor areas. In the early game this is used to further the narrative, but there are also traders and treasure chests to be found.

Treasure hunting, a cornerstone of the pirate fantasy, is unfortunately marred by poor implementation in Skull and Bones. While players may stumble upon treasure maps during their travels, the execution of the treasure hunt leaves much to be desired. The maps lead players to specific locations, where they are presented with a drawing indicating the buried treasure’s whereabouts. As players draw near, a glowing light serves as a beacon, guiding them to the treasure’s exact location.

This process quickly devolves into a frustrating exercise in trial and error. I found myself aimlessly running around the designated area, desperately searching for the elusive treasure spot. The lack of meaningful clues or engaging mechanics detracts from the immersive experience, leaving me feeling like a headless chicken as I struggled to pinpoint the correct location.

Will it sink or is it smooth sailing?

Skull and Bones is a strange one to talk about, pirate games are a niche and there’s already a big contender within the genre, namely Sea of Thieves. It’s difficult to try and not make direct comparisons between the two.

There’s also a lot of drama in regarding the development of Skull and Bones, and when you take that into account – the final product is quite impressive.

Skull and Bones has been an absolute thrill ride from the moment I set sail. Traversing the open ocean and exploring various ports has been an adventure unlike any other, filling me with a sense of freedom and excitement.

While I’ve enjoyed my time sailing in third-person view, there’s been a slight disappointment with the camera angle. It feels like it doesn’t quite capture the full scope of the maritime environment. However, switching to first-person view has been a game-changer for me. It’s like stepping directly into the shoes of a pirate captain, immersing myself fully in the experience.

From this perspective, the attention to detail is remarkable. Watching my crew as they go about their duties on the ship, every aspect of shipboard life feels alive and vibrant. Whether it’s navigating through turbulent waters or engaging in intense naval battles, the first-person view adds a layer of immersion that truly makes me feel like I’m part of the action.

Upon setting foot on land, my sentiments towards Skull and Bones take a bit of a turn. The character customization options, and the extensive array of clothing choices provided, especially for the early stages of a live service game, are commendable. The variety allows for a personalized touch to my pirate captain’s appearance, giving me a sense of identity in this vast virtual world.

However, the enthusiasm wanes a bit as it feels like there’s not enough incentive to showcase this extensive customization. While the game rightly places its primary focus on the maritime gameplay, it seems as though I’m being swiftly ushered back out to sea, almost neglecting the potential for onshore experiences.

The richness of the character customization and wardrobe options could be better appreciated with more opportunities to interact with the game world beyond the confines of the ship. It leaves me yearning for moments where I can proudly display my unique pirate persona in diverse onshore activities or even engage with other players in social hubs.

With its RPG mechanics and extensive array of boats and armaments, Skull and Bones presents players with a tantalizing array of options for creating unique and powerful builds. The potential for experimentation and customization is vast, allowing players to tailor their experience to suit their preferred playstyle. However, it’s worth noting that some builds may feel overly dominant due to the current lack of content available in the game.

Despite this, Skull and Bones demonstrates a solid foundation upon which future content can be built. The game shows promise with its engaging maritime gameplay and intricate RPG elements, setting sail on its maiden voyage with confidence.

However, the true test for Skull and Bones will lie in its post-launch content. The availability of a roadmap is a promising sign, indicating that the developers are committed to providing ongoing support and updates to the game. How this additional content is implemented and the frequency at which it is delivered will ultimately determine the game’s longevity and success.

As players eagerly await the arrival of new content, it’s clear that Skull and Bones has the potential to become a standout title in the realm of maritime gaming. With a solid foundation and a roadmap for future development, the game is poised to chart a course for success in the ever-evolving landscape of live service games. It’s an exciting time to be a pirate captain, and I can’t wait to see where the winds of adventure take us next.