Skull and Bones was always going to be a tough game to review. I have a love/hate relationship with a lot of Ubisofts recent gaming exploits but I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt from the start because Black Flag was, and will likely remain, my favourite in the Assassins Creed franchise. There has been a lot of opinions out there on this pirate foray and I’ve done my best to avoid reading too much into the negativity. I didn’t want it to colour my opinion before I’d given it a chance to show its merits after all. This game is the very definition of marmite, but before I get into that, let me quickly explain the premise.

Skull and Bones is an open world, live service pirate experience set in a miniaturised version of the seas between the east coast of Africa and a smattering of Indian islands. You’re dropped onto a ship, quickly ambushed by the navy and find yourself floating on driftwood where you create a captain from premade body parts and the introduction starts properly. There is a fair amount of character customisation options but most need to be bought in game. Obviously, there are also premium options for the coolest stuff that can be bought with a separate currency. Thankfully, this is purely cosmetic so its entirely optional and has no bearing on the game overall. one all this is done, you’re taught the gameplay fundamentals and you set off on your first few quests and have a bit of a natter with the janky looking NPCs. It was here I also ran into my first issue.

After pottering about in what equated to a row boat for about 20 minutes, chopping down trees and spearing sharks I was informed I needed to gain entry to our recently scuttled ship. Sounds easy enough right? Wrong! I approached the blocked entry way and hit the button to crack it open. Nothing happened. I tried again and got the same issue. Cue me, getting increasingly frustrated as it showed me an error message saying “currently unavailable”. I assumed I must have been missing something and sailed about a bit more hoping to find the answer but it was apparent I was actually in the right place but the instanced event was currently full. It was like The Division NPC all over again! It wasn’t the most encouraging of starts, but the game had now launched so the influx of players would clearly cause some teething issues. It is a live service game after all, and hey, at least the servers weren’t so full that the game had collapsed.

Anyway… once this is all done, the game opens up and you are free to sail the seas. From here you get a prod to find the pirate kingpin who runs the area, as they will be your main quest giver for the majority of the game. I won’t go into too much detail so as to prevent spoilers, but it mainly revolves around a man who is convinced everyone is out to get him and replace him at the top. It’s functional and provides some drive but its easy to see where things are going early on. Unfortunately, the main questline doesn’t make you feel like a pirate, you’re nothing more than an errand boy.

This area also operates as a hub and introduces you to various NPCs such as the ship builder, blacksmith, commodities trader and more. Everyone has a quest for you and the game begins to get a little more fleshed out. Ultimately though, these amount to little more than fetch quests. You’re encouraged to explore the coastlines, discovering pirate camps and various other points of interest. Towns and cities provide trading or pillaging opportunities. It was here that it dawned on me that the gameplay loop was reminiscent of Frontier Elite 2 from the Amiga days. Just replace the space ships with pirate ships and the classical music with sea shanties. The biggest issue is that there is very little threat to these excursions, unless you antagonise the AI ships.

It also actively discourages PvP and often reminds you via tips, to avoid player contact outside of the designated PvP activities. It can be fun to help others who are being attacked by the AI in the open seas or when they are clearing outposts but it is rarely challenging. Targeting weak points does heavy damage and some weapons have buffs that set fire to the decks or cause flooding that slow them down. The biggest issue is that they seem stupid. You can easily run rings around ships and guard towers, pounding them with cannonballs. This does build up a sort of wanted level and more protectors turn up, but I rarely felt overwhelmed and was sinking multiple ships as I goaded the AI. Not only that, but boarding another ship is nothing more than a button prompt. Fighting on deck would have been welcome and is a strange omission that was present in Black Flag. The same goes for attacking outposts. It all serves to remove player engagement and feels heavily stripped back when compared to the game that inspired it.

As this is a service game, we’ll obviously get more content as time goes on  but wow does progression feel slow. It encourages you to seek out blueprints for new ships and parts, scavenge materials – yes there are strange survival style elements – and build your infamy by doing things for the various NPCs littered around the few areas of land you can actually walk on. It’s very clear that the multiple teams wanted to avoid recreating Black Flag, but this has severely curtailed the game as a whole. It very much feels like the team had an idea but struggled with how to flesh it out. Take trading for example – outside of the main hubs, these are nothing more than a pretty background and a menu. There is zero exploration of these areas and it feels exceptionally undercooked. Not only that, but exploration of the coasts starts to take a backseat once fast travel becomes available. For all that sailing from point to point helps you uncover parts of the map, you need to make your own fun along the way. It’s quite a bland experience overall and requires little interaction. You monitor the wind direction, fiddle with the sails to maintain speed and crew stamina, and occasionally adjust the direction the ship is travelling as you are buffeted around by the waves.

Thankfully, things improve as you hit the midway point of the story and smuggling runs become available. These serve to provide you with more challenging trade runs and net you infamy, cash and materials for your distillery and opium operations. Once again though, dealing with these rogues head on is a simple affair as they can be easily dispatched or avoided altogether.  I did enjoy them a lot more though as fast travel is disabled and some of the bigger ships you can lure out carry more dangerous weaponry that can seriously damage your ship, increasing the overall risk. But I did keep asking myself – are you actually having fun? Sure there was a certain allure to uncovering the map, and ship combat was entertaining to an extent, but I don’t think it’s enough. I was happy to turn it off when I’d had my fill and I felt a certain compulsion to play more after a break, but I was never fully engaged. The gameplay became repetitive and tedious and the map variety started to become a blur.

Despite covering Africa and India, the visuals all muddy together. There’s only so many similar looking islands and towns you can see before it starts become boring. Granted there is only so much you can do with the setting, but it’s ugly as sin and it’s long development time and roots in an early Xbox One generation title were apparent from the off. Textures are murky, character models are poorly animated puppets and there are a litany of visual inconsistencies. Foliage pops in and out, shadows are low quality and ships inexplicably vanish when you turn the camera. The reflections are also low quality and appear to be SSR so they like to casually disappear at the edges of the screen. It can also look very washed out even with HDR properly balanced. There is some good voice acting from the main cast, but the protagonist is mute throughout. It all feels a little rushed despite the protracted development time.

Ultimately this is the game in a nutshell – too many cooks seem to have spoiled the broth. The opening credits list a multitude of studios playing there part in the development of Skull and Bones! As I said, the game starts with a bang but then slowly peters out as it attempts to take up much of your time as possible. Even the introduction of season one did little to entice me to take part in activities. It’s a real shame because the idea is sound, but the application leaves a lot to be desired. Core activities are stripped back, sailing becomes a chore and there is very little there to encourage extended play sessions. I went in with an open mind and a love of pirates but it just doesn’t make you feel like one. The overall production values are severely lacking and there is a feeling of nobody really knowing what to do with the idea. It’s design by committee and tough to recommend to anyone, especially at the price. Worst of all, despite being a multiplayer game, it feels like a very solitary experience.

All of Ubisofts talk of being the first proper AAAA title has fallen flat and it absolutely feels like they were compelled to release it due to the funding they received. It’s really disappointing to say this, as the world needs more pirate games. Maybe over time, it will grow and become something that should be experienced, but as of now it feels like that ship has sailed. This pirate life, was not for me.

  • 60%
    CX Score - 60%



  • Lots of content at launch
  • Seasons are free for everyone



  • Overall presentation
  • Repetitive content
  • Slow progression
  • Engagement drops rapidly
  • Ship combat is basic

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