Skull and Bones really makes you feel like a game stuck development hell

Every so often we like to flip through our game library and reminisce about gaming in days gone by. This doesn’t always end well because with the context of the last few years in gaming in our mind, older titles often feel, well, terrible.

We had this experience in Knights of the Old Republic which we highly recommend you don’t go back and play lest you want your fond memories of the game tainted forever.

Despite hitting shelves on Friday, Ubisoft’s Skull and Bones feels like a game that was released in 2013. Skull and Bones entered development as an MMO spinoff of Assassin’s Creed Black Flag but it then went through development hell. Development on the game began in 2013, but it wasn’t revealed as a standalone game until 2017 at E3. During that time we have had release dates delayed, several trailers and very little idea about how this game was going to play out.

Now, seven years later Skull and Bones has finally been released and one would hope that all this time spent developing the game would make it at the very least enjoyable.

There are moments where Skull and Bones can be fun. Accelerating into an enemy at full speed with cannons primed to fire lobs a dose of dopamine right into your brain. Battling it out with a high-power ship and just managing to eke out a win in battle, is fun. Unfortunately, there are so many problems with Skull and Bones that it’s hard to focus solely on the fun because after an hour or two, the fun disappears into the drink.

Skull and Bones is, at its heart a survival game. Players will spend their early time in the game gathering resources that are used to craft new equipment and complete quests. The problem here is that all of the resource gathering happens from your ship. Players need to get close to land and then begin a series of timed button prompts. Upon completion, you get a reward and carry on your merry way.

There are also areas where the Captain of your ship goes on land but the silent protagonist seemingly never picked up a cutlass or a blunderbuss in their lives as there is no combat or anything aside from mission collection that happens on foot.

So the gameplay loop in the early stages is as follows:

  1. Leave port and follow the map marker,
  2. Arrive at the map marker to harvest resources,
  3. Finish harvest and return to port,
  4. Leave ship to deposit resources with quest giver and potentially get more quests,
  5. Return to ship.

If you replace “harvest resources” with “complete mission objective” you just about have the entire loop of Skull and Bones. As you progress through the game, the resource gathering shifts towards ship combat, and while this can be fun, it does lose its appeal after the umpteenth battle.

But boring gameplay doesn’t make Skull and Bones bad in and of itself, its the combination of all of the bug bears.

What makes the game feel dated are things that shouldn’t be happening in a live game. For example, an early mission employs the Ubisoft staple of escorting another ship through treacherous waters. However, these waters include griefers who will chase down the escort and gun them down, failing the mission. This happened to us twice and we promptly quit the game.

How in 2024 is another player able to outright block progression for others by interfering with their game? In both instances, we attempted to fight back but we were up against a player with a higher level and a bigger ship rendering our wasted ammunition as effective as peas falling on a car during a hailstorm.

This coupled with the laborious upgrade system, and the fact that early ships handle like an elephant in mud also just makes the game painful to navigate. Add to this the fact that you need to constantly travel back to port to manage your cargo and you have a game that feels like a poorly thought-out survival game from the early days of the genre.

And these are just the early hours of the game. From what we’ve seen the only thing waiting for us in Skull and Bones is more of the same albeit in a larger ship with more ammunition and hopefully more space for cargo.

It all just feels very confusing and for a game that is lauded as AAAA, we expected more direction from Ubisoft. Of course, the game was shuffled from pillar to post during its development so this confusion makes a small degree of sense.

Our full review will be arriving shortly, but right now, the only thing Skull and Bones has done is make us want to replay Black Flag which both nailed the ship combat and tasked us with more than just pressing a button to gather coconuts.


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