Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag is STILL my favourite game in the Assassin’s Creed series, with the pirate-themed adventure offering the sort of sea-faring thrills I dreamt of when I was a kid. Naturally then, I was super excited for Skull and Bones when it was announced in 2017, but of course… that was seven years ago. Saying the game has had a rocky development cycle since then would be an understatement, and whilst it has finally launched, I did go in with some apprehension.

So, is it a good game? I certainly think so, though it can get repetitive in places and is a far way away from being the ‘quadruple-A’ experience that Ubisoft head honcho Yves Guillemot described it as.

Check out some screenshots down below:

Skull and Bones puts players in the role of a pirate that’s sailing across the seas, with the ultimate goal being to gain the infamy of the many swashbuckling buccaneers of legend. You’ll do this by battling other ships and plundering their goods, trading your loot for gold, seeking out treasures across the oceans, and partaking in piracy in the many towns you encounter on your journey. It offers everything you’d expect of a pirate game, with Skull and Bones undoubtedly getting all of the basics right.

If you played Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, you’ll probably have a good idea of how naval combat plays out. Players will freely move their ship around as they encounter enemy vessels, with your ship’s position, range, and speed ultimately affecting the efficiency of your attacks. You’re able to equip a multitude of different weapons that’s effectiveness varies depending on the position you find yourself in, whilst the different ship types you encounter bring with them varying strengths and weaknesses that have to be considered. It’s all about lining up that perfect shot and unloading upon your foes, whether that’s with the Demi-Cannons that allow you to blast rivals up close, the Long Guns that see you keeping your distance as you attack from range, the Mortars that let you unleash explosive damage across a vertical trajectory, or the Ballista that allows you to blast mighty arrows from the front of your ship, just to name a few examples of your arsenal. Or, of course, you can just ram into another ship, which I always found to be a satisfying means to obliterate a weaker rival.

The selection of weaponry ensures that combat remains satisfying throughout the game, whilst being to upgrade some of your favourites is always a nice reward. It is worth noting that you’ll need to find blueprints in order to craft some weapons, whilst you’ll also have to reach a specific level in-game to use them. Whilst this can feel a bit limiting early on, it does make progression feel more rewarding and ensures your increase in stature brings with it a worthwhile return. And when you do have a fully armed ship and find yourself at battle with numerous foes? It helps make for some really thrilling naval showdowns that ensure that the combat of Skull and Bones always feels exciting.

“So, is it a good game? I certainly think so, though it can get repetitive in places and is a far way away from being the ‘quadruple-A’ experience that Ubisoft head honcho Yves Guillemot described it as.”

Of course, there’s more to piracy than simply battling other ships at sea, with players able to sell the goods they plunder to earn some gold. This eventually evolves into players running their own facilities across the seas to continue to line their pockets, with Skull and Bones’ money-making loop continuing outside of your ship. Don’t get me wrong, the systems themselves are never especially deep, but there are more ways to get rich than simply finding loot at sea.

Gathering loot is the most effective means of building your riches though, but it does come with the caveat that it can get very repetitive. Whilst you can sell loot on to make gold, it’s also essential to upgrading your ship, with a lot of time spent across the seas simply finding the resources required to increase its power level. It can be very time-consuming, and I found most of my time with Skull and Bones so far has seen me simply prioritizing finding resources to improve my ship over anything else. Don’t get me wrong, it can be satisfying (especially when you find valuable resources following a gruelling naval battle that sees you overcome dangerous odds), but it can also be a grind that takes hours of effort – more so when the resource demands are more substantial. The pacing just felt a little bit off at times, with Skull and Bones needing a bit more variety to keep players invested outside of its more exciting moments.

You’ll also step off your ship to explore land on occasions, though this is probably the most underwhelming aspect of Skull and Bones. Whilst this is where you’ll gather missions to undertake, sell loot, and so forth, it can feel a little lifeless. Sure, there are some cool sights to see and you’ll also get to mingle with other scallywags of the seas, but there just isn’t a whole lot to do that feels explorative or fun. It might feel like an unfair thing to criticise, especially since Skull and Bones is primarily a sea-faring experience anyway, but it’s hard not to compare it to the likes of Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag which offered a wonderful balance of excitement across land and sea.   

Check out some screenshots down below:

Luckily, Skull and Bones offers plenty of fun across its sea-faring escapades to keep the experience exciting, whether that’s when completing missions, taking on legendary sea monsters, partaking in PvP or PvE events, or simply battling rival ships to steal their plunder. Simply discovering treasure across the sea can be a treat too, whilst building up your ship and increasing your level never stops being satisfying (even IF it is a grind). It’s ESPECIALLY fun to play with friends, with the co-operative nature of the game making your sea antics a lot more enjoyable. There’s nothing quite like wiping out an enemy fleet of ships with a pal in tow, whilst uncovering the vast beauties of the sea, finding some elusive treasure, or battling against one of its many monstrosities is way more exciting with friends. Skull and Bones can be enjoyed solo (even if it doesn’t have a conventional single player campaign to follow), but if you really want to get the most out of it, you’ll want to play with friends – it definitely makes the grind a hell of a lot more bearable.

Skull and Bones Review

Skull and Bones is an enjoyable sea-faring romp that has thrilling naval combat, but the grind-heavy gameplay loop can get a little tiring over time. It’d be something if there was a bit more to do on land to give the gameplay loop more variety, but with most of your progression based upon your antics at sea and grinding for resources, it doesn’t take long before you find yourself doing a lot of the same things over and over again.

Did it make Skull and Bones a bad experience? Definitely not, with the naval battles offering plenty of thrills and exploration across the seas proving to be a real treat. Progression is rewarding too, whilst playing with friends makes a lot of the flaws a lot more forgivable. It just needs that little something extra to make the grind a bit less repetitive right now – hopefully it’s something Ubisoft can work on with the upcoming Year One content, because the foundations are in place for Skull and Bones to stand out as a mighty impressive pirate experience.

Developer: Ubisoft Singapore
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platform(s): PlayStation 5 (Reviewed), Xbox Series X|S, PC