Skull And Bones

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Skull And Bones (Xbox Series X) – Review

Avast ye scurvy dogs! What a journey Ubisoft Singapore’s ‘Skull and Bones’ has come and we haven’t even booted up to hit the seas yet. Beginning development all the way back in 2013 after the critical success of ‘Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag’, and being revealed in 2017 as a work-in-progress project, we are finally here. This 17th-century pirate fantasy, adventure game has been long awaited, but batten down the hatches my friends, a storm is brewing on the tides.

Playing alone or with up to a group of 3, you are a lone castaway captain who has lost his ship in a skirmish at sea to Davey Jone’s locker. Meeting the right people turns into the classic fight your way back to the top of the ranks to become a Pirate Lord on your endeavour of the oceans. Playing across the coasts of Africa right up into the infamous trading routes of the East Indies, there is plenty of bounty to pillage across this map. Starting with a little fishing boat you must earn your keep and work your way up to a ruthless warship that even Captain Barbossa himself would be envious of.

Allies, outcasts, French rogues, and other NPCs will offer you quests on each island and settlement to help you embark on your adventure or to assist other pirate lords to take out enemies against the cause. The whole premise can be interesting, I mean, everyone loves the thought of being a pirate, especially with the way it is portrayed by the infamous Jack Sparrow, but in Skull and Bones, it does become a bit long-winded and convoluted, the very opposite of what pirates generally stand for.

The story has some highs and some lows with a whole map full of NPCs and Captain Scurlock being the only interesting character of the lot. Dialogue at most of the many vendors you encounter is blown out, bloated, and dull, and since they mostly have no connection to the main mission anything they say is very demisable quickly.

The game begins with a typical customization screen for your character. Frankly, I expected more from this, but it makes sense later since nearly every customisable element can be acquired in game from scars and jewels to Captains’ jackets and eyepatches. Now, gameplay-wise, Skull and Bones can be separated into what seems like two distinct types; an RPG-like barter and fetch booty quest style on islands and naval combat and survivalist resource collection on the open oceans. I know, it’s a very bizarre combination. It’s almost as if the studio kept flip-flopping on what they wanted from this title.

On the mainland and the many islands that splatter the map, you will find pirates and a plethora of vendors to talk to such as a Shipwright or a Blacksmith. Here you will gain an abundance of quests, repair your boat, barter goods, and wheel and deal. Completing missions or flat-out buying blueprints will help you craft items to improve or upgrade your ship, recipes for stat-improving food, or even clothing to look the real deal and not like some nasty landlubber. There is so much ship customisation thankfully, with sails and hull colours, patterns, and decorations to fulfill that need of being unique since you will be on the boat most of the time.

Out on the big blue, it is a very different story. You will need to attack and plunder any ships in the range of your cannons for silver (the main in-game currency) and resources. This can all be managed in your cargo or you can loot and scavenge materials in a very survival series of minigames, to chop, mine, or thatch raw materials. Attacking other boats is definitely the more fun option as you can use a range of types of weapons from mortars to balistas to just run-of-the-mill cannons to chip away at their health bars while watching your own stamina bar. The combat is all directed from your boat in a very ‘World of Warships’ fashion. While it is disappointing you are permanently rooted on your boat as a character outside docking on islands I did find the ship combat and sailing clean, fluid and enjoyable, especially with friends tagging along.

The campaign missions feel a little barebones at the moment but the future does look promising. There are a few events you can partake in outside missions on the server such as the PVP Cutthroat events, Supply Routes with named bosses, Smuggler missions to earn another type of currency (I am not going to even start to mention the inclusion of the 4 types of currency) and Investigations. Each of these drops some pretty sweet loot and if you want bragging rights for your ship build then PVP is a must.

Visually, I am very torn. It is just like the cannons, a case of a hit-or-miss affair. Sailing the oceans and navigating estuaries and isles as the sunsets with rays of light dancing on the surface are grand. The islands too are very charming albeit quite empty but the environmental features are decent. The NPCs however are just emotionless and at times downright bland with no charisma or personality in their appearance to make them stand out from the next castaway. They just stand there most of the time not really milling around or interacting with each other let alone the environment they reside in.

The environmental sounds are a little wishy-washy too. Extremely loud crickets will chirp in the background but waves that break on the shore are barely audible. The combat effects in contrast though are very deliberate and impactful. Torpedoes will wizz past, cannon blasts will ring in the air, and humpback whale calls will carry on the winds. My only disappointment is that there wasn’t a much larger library of sea shanties from the crew because when they do start singing it carries the mood.

Finally, to address the elephants in the room. I have avoided mentioning the likes of ‘Sea of Thieves’ and my favorite (ironically) Assassin’s game ‘Black Flag’ until now because in fairness to ‘Skull and Bones’ it should be judged with blinkers on. In saying that however, there are some things that a comparison just can’t be helped. The missing features of being able to actually board another ship or plunder a town in actual hand-to-hand combat even in the most minute sense just makes the whole experience feel somewhat shallow.

The inclusion of just a cutscene of a crew boarding or throwing firebombs in combat almost feels like a slap in the face as if they thought about doing it but pulled back on the concept at the last minute. The cutscene of boarding a ship or throwing a firebomb is quite exciting really but then to go to a resource managing screen is such a letdown.

Despite, what seems like a lot of mismanagement and cynicism, I didn’t hate my time with Skull and Bones, in fact, I think it’s an above-average game. Though always going to be comparative to other pirate games, the solid naval combat just doesn’t carry the lack of features that should have been included for a ‘Quadruple A’ title. With friends though, my hearties, it’s a pirate life for me.

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The Good

  • Co-op play with up to three
  • Customisation of pirate look
  • Customisation of your boat
  • Vast range of weaponry to upgrade
  • Naval combat is pretty fun, especially with friends
  • Other events to keep you occupied such as PVP
  • Environmental visuals are decent
  • Combat effects impactful

The Bad

  • The narrative is a little bloated
  • Lacklustre dialogue
  • Rooted in your boat for most of the adventure
  • Campaign is lacklustre
  • NPCs have no charisma or charm
  • Hit-and-miss audio

Written by: Stacey


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