Skull & Bones was one of the surprises from last year’s E3 and while it’s still going to be a while before this pirate-themed adventure is shipshape, Hardcore Gamer recently got to spend some time at the helm. Skull & Bones is an upcoming action game that focuses on piracy and naval battles. Fans of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag will see the obvious influence that the naval battles had on this title, though ideally the concept will be greatly fleshed out in order to justify Skull & Bones standing alone as a new IP and not simply taking a feature of one game and turning it into its own title.
During the play session at E3 we got a taste of how cutthroat the PvP action can be. There will be a single player, but since battling against real people is all the rage these days Skull & Bones will support multiplayer battles up to five against five. Different ships are available with individual stat breakdowns. Some might have a stronger hull but that extra heft comes at the expense of speed and mobility for example. In the final build ships will be customizable with crew, weapons and other attributes but for this build there were only a few ready made options.
Combat in Skull & Bones was pretty interesting. Pirate ships by nature aren’t the most nimble vessels ever put to a gamepad and the limited technology of the weapons does make positioning an important part of the strategy. Firing cannons and rockets were the primary means of attack, and depending on what the part of the enemy ship is hit determined what the damage was. Hitting the hull would be akin to damaging the life bar and making it easier to board their ship while damaging the sails would limit mobility. Building up ramming speed and charging straight into an enemy ship to inflict damage is another viable option for attack. Players can have the crew brace themselves to limit damage and repair the ship in real time, since a successful battle strategy is more than just offense.
Being a pirate is more than just going into battle with other ships an attempting to board them to steal their booty. Navigating the high seas is a difficult task for even the saltiest of sea dogs, and that’s why having a good crew is crewcial. To locate quest objectives, sunken ships to plunder or active threats someone needs to climb the crow’s nest and mark all points of interest to the captain. The sails aren’t just for decoration, so knowing how to read the wind gauge and use to the wind and other changes in weather to facilitate ease of travel is also an important skill for any sea dog worth their salt to know. Also, even though they aren’t just for decoration, changing up one’s hoisted sails and flags to confuse the enemy isn’t the worst idea to ensure survival.
The story of Skull & Bones begins with the rise of an empire that basically ruins all the fun the pirates are having in the Caribbean, forcing them to set sail to the Indian Ocean to continue their plundering. Life at sea is rough between dangerous weather, other pirates and the biggest antipiracy empire since Metallica mean that these pirates will need to keep their wits and cutlasses sharp if they wish to continue their life of piracy. While still early in development, Skull & Bones shows potential for combining PvE and PvP gameplay while providing the cinematic spectacle that Ubisoft has become known for. Originally slated for release at the end of this year, Skull & Bones has been pushed back to sometime to 2019, possibly fiscal year 2020 before it sets sail on the three seas of PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.