E3 2017: Ubisoft Delights with Naval Combat Focused Game, Skull and Bones

What made Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag so special wasn’t the plot, assassinating Templars or being an Abstergo Entertainment employee. No, it was getting your own ship and sailing around the Caribbean as a pirate that made the game so special. While Assassin’s Creed III may have introduced naval combat, it was Black Flag that perfected it. Beloved by fans, many were disappointed when Ubisoft took it away in the next Assassin’s Creed game, Unity. While naval combat, as it was in Black Flag, won’t be returning in Assassin’s Creed: Origins, it will be returning in the new IP, Skull and Bones.

Ubisoft Singapore, the same team that designed the naval combat in Assassin’s Creed III, are back and crafting a new IP around the gameplay they created. Skull and Bones is a shared world title where players will sail around the Indian Ocean either solo or teaming up and doing battle with other players. For our hands-on time at E3 2017, however, Ubisoft was only showing off the PvP element of the game.

Players who’ve spent time with Black Flag will find jumping into Skull and Bones quite easy. Controls and various mechanics, such as how the wind affects sailing, are lifted straight from Black Flag. Each ship comes equipped with two different weapons (cannons on each side and then one additional weapon), a crow’s nest for spotting and tagging ships, and a crew of singing men. Following a short tutorial, we jumped straight into a 5v5 Loot Hunt multiplayer match. The goal was to collect the most amount of loot and escape alive.

For the E3 demo, Ubisoft had three ships we could play with. The Frigate is the tank and capable of taking lots of damage but moving very slowly. The Brigantine is for those who enjoy close-quarters combat. Equipped with a battering ram, Brigantine players will want to get as close as possible to do maximum damage. Finally, we have the Sluperwar, which serves as the marksman. While ship customization will play a significant role in the final product, there wasn’t a lot of options available to us during the demo.

While the combat does feel familiar, mastering it in a multiplayer setting takes patience and lots of practice. Maneuvering a ship into the optimal angle to deliver a perfect barrage of cannon fire is a challenge, and then there are all the new additions that Ubisoft Singapore added on top of the base gameplay. Each ship now has two health bars (one for each side), meaning that if you want to take a ship down fast, you’ll need to focus on one target. If one side gets too low, and you happen to be close by, you’ll be able to board the ship and sink it. However, if you manage to destroy at least one side, the enemy will sink.

Skull and Bones is a surprisingly deep experience that relies heavily on teamwork. Coordinating with your team to select a healthy mix of ships, splitting duties, and leading enemies into traps make for a fun time. While it’s too early to say how the servers will perform, an important issue considering Ubisoft has a bad track record when it comes to launching multiplayer games, the publisher is planning multiple beta tests in the coming months.

After the match time limit runs out, a group of unbeatable pirate chasers enters the arena. The goal becomes to reach a designated point on the map and escape with your loot. At this stage in the match, if you die, you’re dead for good. The loot you worked so hard to gather will be lost. It’s a dangerous, yet exhilarating way to end a match.

Skull and Bones is still a long way off from release, but the idea of taking Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag’s naval combat and building a full game around it is quite novel. Not only is it a great idea on paper, but it’s also a fun game in execution. The different classes gel well and getting a coordinated team together has the potential to yield some visually spectacular battles. Skull and Bones is a game that feels familiar, yet has a lot of depth hidden under the surface. We’re excited to see what more Ubisoft has in store for the title.

Skull and Bones is out late 2018 on PS4, Xbox One and PC.