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Skull and Bones Review – Pirate Ship Combat at its Best

Skull and Bones is the ultimate piracy simulator developed by Ubisoft and launched on February 16, 2024. While you can play the game solo, I got the most fun out of the game playing co-operatively with a crew of two or three of us. It’s one of those games that you can login for 15-20 minutes, knock off a quest or two and log off with a sense of accomplishment. While it takes elements of Sea of Thieves and Assassin’s Creed Black Flag, it is different to both games and I am very much enjoying my time with it, especially now that Season 1 Raging Tides is out.

We start out learning how to control the ship and fire our cannons in a battle we are destined to lose. No matter how long you last, you eventually get overwhelmed, and your ship is sunk. You are saved by two sailors on a small dhow boat and taken to a nearby settlement. It is here you start your journey to becoming a pirate captain. While you can run around settlements on foot to pick up story quests, missions and bounties, there’s no melee fighting of any sort in this game. Your primary mode of progression is by becoming one with your ship and sailing the high seas of the Indian Ocean.

The Indian Ocean in Skull and Bones is a beauty. Lush archipelagos and stormy weather systems create a dynamic world to explore. There are crocodiles and sharks in shallow waters that can be speared for their meat and hides, you’ll see whales breaching and if you follow some rumours you hear in your travels, there are some ferocious sea monsters that Johnny and I found at way too low a level and it destroyed us up within seconds. The major ports of Saint-Anne and Telok Penjarah are immensely detailed, and it really felt like I was playing in the Pirates of the Caribbean. Seeing storms off in the distance and the light slowly darkening as you get close, with waves getting larger and choppier as the wind increases, is the level of sailing immersion I was looking for.

All times we are sailing between points, I was marvelling at the outstanding graphics around us. Sunsets and sunrises are amazing, and this game has the best wave and ocean graphics I have seen in a video game. The way the waves blow in the wind and affect your ship, and even the massive rogue waves that roll through are genuinely frightening to witness. If one happens near the shore though, it’s a bit anticlimactic as the intensity of the wave approaches, then dissipates as if it was never then when it hits shore. I know it’s unrealistic to have a tsunami animated on the shoreline, it’s just a bit jarring.

Ship to ship combat in Skull and Bones is outstanding and can be very versatile depending on how you outfit your ship. There are red vulnerability points on each ship design and hitting these will do massive bonus damage. There is a heap of different weapon types that, as you find better blueprints, you can craft upgraded versions that will add to your ship’s level. Crafting new ships start them at a base level, for example the sloop is base level 3 and bombardier is level 5. Adding weapons, armour and accessory bonuses will add item power to the ship, increasing the ship’s overall level. Blueprints are found from vendors in settlements around the world.

Once you get an enemy ship’s health down below half, you’ll start to unleash crew skills such as firing their weapons, lobbing flame bombs and so on. When a ship is about to be destroyed, you’ll get the option to board the ship. This is an automated process that will net you additional resources, however there’s no actual boarding happening. This is probably my only disappointing part of the game, but I got over it quickly. Yes, it would be great to jump onto the enemy deck and fight hand-to-hand, but I’m often fighting two or three ships at once, so I am more than happy to gain the additional loot from boarding, then switch my focus to taking out the remaining ships.

I really like the quest and mission tracking system in Skull and Bones because you can also choose a blueprint to track, and it will highlight where to find the specific resources you require from around the world. This helps you to plot your next course as you slowly reveal the fog of war on the map and find new forts and settlements. You can fast travel from major settlements once you have docked at them. I enjoyed grabbing a heap of quests, setting off in a particular direction and just blasting whatever quest objectives I found along the way. There are also shipwrecks you can loot if you have upgraded your crowbar.

You will also find treasure maps in your travels, and you search for these on foot at settlements based on the cryptic clues on the maps. Once you land at a settlement, you will be prompted that a treasure location is nearby. You then look at the map and try to cross reference the hand-drawn picture to locations in the settlement. As you get close to the spot, an orange beacon will shine where you need to dig.

It wouldn’t be a pirate game without some actual piracy, and there’s both PvE and PvP options for that. I have steered clear of any PvP encounters so far. I am currently level 8 and Johnny is almost level 12, and we are just enjoying the game at our own pace. We will often get prompted that a PvP event is happening, and I wish we could untick to show these. We aren’t interested in PvP, but more importantly the prompts take up so much screen space that it’s annoying as heck, especially if you’re about to enter or are trying to flee combat.

When there is a PvP event happening nearby, there is a red cloud of influence on the ocean so that you know where you can safely sail around it without accidentally getting involved or copping a stray cannonball. One day I will engage in PvP content in Skull and Bones, but for now I am just enjoying exploring the world, completing contracts, hunting down bounties, building up my silver coffers and steadily finding blueprints to upgrade my ship.

Smuggling is also in the game and is an optional side component that is quite complex as you delve more into it. You need to earn your right to enter the smuggler’s hideout, and once you’re in there are more options that become available as you grow your reputation. Once you accept a smuggling mission, you can’t fast travel, so you’ll want to be ready to prioritise those missions. You’ll earn pieces of eight for your efforts, but having these on your ship means other npc pirate ships will be aggressive towards you, more than usual.

The economy within Skull and Bones has you collecting various types of currency. After silver and pieces of eight comes a third currency called sovereigns which you start earning once you reach the Kingpin infamy rank. Just like pieces of eight, sovereigns are used to purchase rare cosmetics, furniture, weapons, and armour from the Black Market at Le Pont Muet or Palka Buta. Sovereigns are earned by collecting specific amounts of pieces of eight and this moves you up the weekly and seasonal leaderboards. You start on the seasonal leaderboard at bronze rank and will receive 500 sovereigns upon reaching silver by collecting 30,000 pieces of eight, so here the grind comes.

The free Season 1 Raging Tides launched last week on February 28 and has you facing increasingly difficult seasonal events where you fight against La Peste’s Fleet of Pestilence. Taking out these ships nets you a bag of heads that you need to turn in, but the longer you have it in your ship’s hold, the more it will attract La Peste’s fleet against you. Eventually you do get to go against him in a world event, culminating in a final showdown where you seek out his base of operations, the Blighted Bastion, for an epic battle. It’s an exciting addition to the game and I can’t wait to see what comes in future seasons.

Overall, Skull and Bones is the best piracy game I have played with highly engaging ship-to-ship combat and some of the best ocean and environmental graphics I have seen in a game. Sunsets and sunrises are amazing, and the lighting effects are excellent. It is becoming quite a grind however the seasonal events are world events that pop up are a good distraction, as is smuggling and the chase for pieces of eight and sovereign currencies.

This review utilised Ubisoft Connect keys provided by Ubisoft ANZ and Skull and Bones is available now on Ubisoft+, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X|S as well as PC through the Ubisoft Store and Epic Games Store. There is a free 8-hour trial available that I highly recommend you try if you’re on the fence about purchasing or not. It will give you a really good sample at what the game has to offer.


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