I have not followed the evolution of Skull and bones too closely over the years; I saw the pirate game emerging at a show with a new trailer or demo, then sinking back beneath the waves, delay after delay. So when Ubisoft recently opened the game to the public with an open beta, I was intrigued to see what the close-to-final product looked like. I’m known for enjoying hacking, and Ubisoft has the incredible Assassin’s Creed Black Flag in his back catalog, after all.
The open beta weekend was a surprising experience, as I didn’t realize there was a whole MMO-style game besides fighting a pirate ship. The MMO stuff isn’t great either; from seeing everyone’s gamertag above their ship, to poorly implemented mechanisms, we have the impression that the boat part of Skull and bones carries a ton of extra mechanics as baggage.
Skull and bones opens with the player embroiled in battle against a British fleet, at the helm of a respectable pirate galleon. Unfortunately for the buccaneers on board, the British brought overwhelming force and sank the ship with cannon fire. The player wakes up after failing and problems immediately begin with character creation.
The player’s pirate looks at his reflection in a body of water, which shows his face and shoulders. This means that some categories of character creation remain a mystery. For example, I can change my body type by choosing one of four options… but I can’t see my body. Same thing with tattoos; There are options that clearly add some sort of scar or ink to my hacker’s body, but I can’t see what they look like until I confirm. Even basic things, like whether a hairstyle has a ponytail, remain a mystery. Character creation seems hacked with incomplete tools; I choose a starting face, which only has three skin tones assigned to it, and then I come across the rest of the options.
Things don’t get any easier once I board my new ship, which is a much humbler vessel than the mighty galleon from the tutorial. I head to a small island and disembark. Getting around the terrain is slow and plodding, and the characters I encounter don’t do much to engage me. Some of them speak of the death of the captain of the last galleon, and I am led to believe that I am just a mere swab who survived the carnage. Other people refer to Me as the last captain and despise me for our defeat. It’s unclear who I am and what’s at stake, but shortly after, I’m sent back to my ship to collect supplies.
Once I get all my quests from the land NPCs, I return to my ship – no land combat for me. I was surprised to see classic MMO quests in Skull and bones – especially because the game lacks some of the built-in safeties that other developers have long implemented. Let’s say I’m waiting to collect supplies from the ocean when a more agile ship arrives and takes them first. This spawn is now gone and I have to look for a new one. It’s a minor inconvenience, but one that adds up, especially since it’s a fixed issue in games like World of Warcraft.
There’s a lot of dirt in there Skull and bones it just hurts, especially because of the pleasant feeling of being in the open sea. This is a game in which you are the captain and you don’t get your hands dirty by cutting the sails or shooting with the cannons. Instead, you have people to manage it. I used the controller to play and every movement made me feel like I was the conductor of an orchestra.
There is no boarding, but otherwise I have access to a whole range of combat options: cannons, ramming, evasive maneuvers. This is not a tactical game of strategy and positioning; It’s more like a shooter, but instead of a gun you have a boat. I concentrate on aiming the boat, allowing automatic fire from my crews’ cannons and avoiding the ideal firing angle of my enemies. If necessary, I order the ship to advance on my enemies in a ramming maneuver. The reliance on positioning and easily accessible damage injection is familiar to me, and the combat is forgiving – it doesn’t require trigonometry to find the best approach angles.
If you are looking for a Master and CommanderIn a series of tense naval battles played out like a chess match, you might be disappointed. If you like the fantasy of being a pirate ship captain, with all the difficult parts of the story carefully polished, you’ll probably have a great time on the high seas.
There is also the world itself as a dramatic backdrop. Sailing in a storm seems downright dangerous and cinematic, with rough waters causing the boat to rock and dive. Failing to sail through turbulent seas will damage your ship, and going through a difficult situation made me feel like an accomplished captain. There’s also a fair bit of ship customization, from the class of the ship to the cute companion that hangs around my ship to keep the crew company.
It was a long journey through development for Skull and bones, and I feel like some parts of the game – like land movement and character creation – are less carefully designed additions, crudely tacked on to the mechanics that work. It’s a journey through uneven waters, marred by odd glitches and inconsistent gameplay. But when the stars align and a big ship scenario happens, I can see the vision of Skull and bones. These previews were just too few and far between for me to really enjoy my time in the open beta.
Gn En tech