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Skull & Bones Review (PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC)

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Skull & Bones is finally hoisting its sails onto the PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC after nearly a decade of development. The ‘quadruple A' game is now available in open beta. So, it's time to roll up my sleeves and put it through its paces. 

Originally conceived as an expansion for Black Flag, Skulls and Bones has now taken its final form. But what seemed like a shiny treasure chest at first glance has turned out to be nothing but a dark abyss. Let's cut to the chase: this MMORPG really makes you work for it. You'll grind away countless hours, which feels like running in circles. The game's concept was top-notch, but the studio made a complete U-turn, replacing the beloved elements from Black Flag with a new take. Don't get me wrong, there are some redeeming qualities, but expecting an Assassin's Creed expansion and getting the short end of the stick is a real downer.

But enough beating around the bush. Is the game worth the $70 price tag? Let's hoist the sails and dive into our Skull & Bones review.

Ahoy Mate!

Pirates shooting other pirate ships with cannon

If Sea of Thieves didn't quite scratch that pirate itch for you, Skull & Bones isn't likely to do the trick. Ubisoft's take on the high seas holds immense promise. With its vast expanse, it was almost inevitable that the game would veer toward the MMORPG genre. You live out your pirate fantasy of rising the ranks by collecting loot and attacking other ships in the Indian Ocean. 

But, in classic Ubisoft fashion, you will set sail once you prove your worth to an NPC crew. This not-so-ingenious technique is a passive way to teach you the game's mechanics. The prologue gives you a feel of the chaos, with dozens of British ships converging. Your task is to blast each one of them into oblivion. The trick is to target the weak areas, or else you'll shoot cannons and not deal any damage. But the fleet soon overpowers your ship, and it's back to the ropes for you. But a rescue later on turns the tides in your favor. 

Ideally, Skull and Bones shallowly fill the Buccaneer barrel. The NPC dialogue sounds like something ripped from a high school play, with predictable lines such as, ‘There is no room for shame in piracy.' I mean, tell me something I don't know. The cutscenes, however, add more depth to the story. Although it's not necessary, it's certainly appreciated. 

Feeling Sea Sick

shooting and killing enemies

Skull and Bones gradually transforms into gameplay reminiscent of The Division. You start by creating your character and then dive into a small area, completing tasks until you're ready to ditch the training wheels and join the big leagues in the main world. If you were expecting to jump straight into the action, I hate to burst your bubble. The game throws plenty of on-foot elements your way, from chopping acacia woods to snagging sinking loot—it's basically the life of the underdog. That's what it takes to climb the ranks and become the next Kingpin in Skulls and Bones. But unfortunately, this fell short of my expectations.

Given its lineage with Assassin's Creed, you'd think Skull and Bones would wear its pirate action from Black Flag on its sleeve. You'd envision sailing the high seas, plundering loot, and sending enemy vessels to Davy Jones's locker. But nope, instead, you find yourself chopping down acacia trees and obediently following orders from your captain. The game's first few minutes are bearable, especially if you're not expecting action-packed takedowns. If you enjoy indulging in simple, one-minute tasks, you might find some enjoyment here.

X Marks the Spot

4 pirate men sitting near a pit fire

Maybe all hope isn't lost in Ubisoft's latest MMORPG. The absolute brilliance of the game lies in the encounters with other players during random events. Plus, teaming up with others and pulling off a mini-takeover feels akin to the teamwork in Sea of Thieves. Sure, you're not manning a ship with a crew but navigating the seas with a few buddies. Joining forces is crucial for tackling the challenging objectives that yield hefty rewards. Fortunately, the game fully supports cooperative play.

One disappointing aspect, though, is the imbalance among players. Without teaming up, you're essentially on a solo grind, competing for loot with others. But Ubisoft tries to balance things out. You can radio for assistance from other players, especially when launching an assault on a base. An extra pair of hands can make all the difference in keeping things under control. Ironically, you can only call for help during a loot event; this option isn't available on the map for other missions. I say ironic because it would be an excellent opportunity to use during cooperative play.

The matchmaking is a bit off, but since the game is in open beta, we can circle back for a full review.

Hoist the Jolly Roger

sailing through sea

Sailing through the open seas in Skull and Bones is an exhilarating experience. Sure, you won't be manning the ship and playing with the controls, but it harbors a feeling of freedom in Black Flag. Moreover, you can customize your ship to suit your style, arming it with various weapons. However, before doing this, you must craft your vessel—your very own Black Pear, if you wish. 

Crafting requires resources—more specifically, blueprints. You will need to do more exploration to find them. Alternatively, if you're feeling sea sick, you can buy the blueprints and materials from vendors. Each item has a specific quantity of materials. The crafting menu gives you a rough idea of how much you need to collect by highlighting the item. Now, the downside to crafting is its repetitive and tiresome procedure. The game takes building things from scratch to the last letter. Ideally, not all items are crafted in one place, i.e., you craft consumables from the cookery, ships at the shipwright, refined materials at the refinery, furniture, tools at the carpenter, and weapons at the Blacksmith. So picture crafting a ship with proper furniture and weapons; take a wild guess how many trips you'll be making, not forgetting the amount of exploring you need to collect all the items.

Essentially, this is what spread-thin gameplay looks like. Endless hours of grinding shift you out of the core gameplay, which is blasting ships into oblivion. But heck, we all have to start somewhere. Rome certainly took more than a day to build, and according to Ubisoft, so should your ship.  

Shiver Me, Timbers

Skull & Bones ships at war

Wrapping up this review, let me say that the combat is a delight. It's not entirely there, but it will do for now. It's incredibly satisfying after hurling cannonballs and explosives at enemy ships. Moreover, the fire rate has a realistic feel to it. The best part is sprucing up your ship with various weapons. If you prefer long-range or close-up damage, choose the away captain. However, only some of the ships you come across are worth the trouble. You must weigh your options on who to attack to survive longer in the game. Going up against a heavily armored ship will be pointless, just like a fly trying to blend into a spider's web. 

Either way, Skulls and Bones builds on the fundamentals set forth by Black Flag, adding its own unique twist. But navigating the ship is another level of treachery. Turning the vessel is a chore since the controls could be more active and responsive. 

Moreover, stamina on the boat dictates the amount of strength your crew has. Low stamina means your crew is hungry. You must now ditch the captain's hat and strap on a chef's hat. To do so, you must catch, cook, and manage your food resources to get your crew back on track. It's an ingenious technique, if you ask me. Another way to vary the gameplay, but it plays out as half-baked.


Talking to John Scurlock in Skull & Bones Review

The long-awaited arrival of Skull and Bones brings both anticipation and disappointment. Above all, it remains a game where you execute your wild buccaneer dreams. It also involves a ton of quests, which you can take on solo or in multiplayer mode. Plus, taking in the scenic, reflecting water as you sail across the sea is refreshing. Further, the game gives you control over customizing your ship. You decide where to place your weapons and any additional artifacts. The pegged cat is my personal favorite so far.

Nevertheless, Skulls and Bones also proves it's not the next Black Flag. It does carve its niche but narrowly misses the mark with its combat and the on-foot runs. It's a pirate game, so chopping up timber should be the last thing I have to do to be the next kingpin. 

Skull & Bones Review (PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC)

X Marks the Spot of Disappointment

Skull and Bones, Ubisoft’s latest RPG, sets sail on the treacherous waters of the Indian Ocean. Originally conceived as an expansion to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, the game charts a new course focusing on ship combat, crafting, and customization. However, despite the additional features, it feels somewhat watered down and fails to live up to the expectations set by its predecessor.

Evans I. Karanja is a freelance writer who loves to write about anything technology. He is always on the lookout for interesting topics, and enjoys writing about video games, cryptocurrency and blockchain and more. When not writing, he can be found playing video games or watching F1.