After experiencing the first few hours of Skull & Bones in a couple of different variants last year, I was naturally keen to bypass the humble beginnings of my pirate captain getting washed ashore in rags and begin the plundering. Thankfully, Ubisoft fulfilled my wishes by allowing me to get hands-on with their upcoming ship-based piracy RPG for over four hours to sample their endgame and seasonal content. Although the unfinished product I played was not always the most user-friendly or refined experience, it’s evident the developers have invested a lot of thought and effort into offering numerous opportunities for players to continue expanding their pirate legacy far beyond rolling credits, including battles with enormous sea creatures and an ambitious seasonal content roadmap. I, personally, am excited to play more.
My initial impression when delving into Skull & Bones’ endgame content was just how intricate the ship building can get. While I had a good sampling of the early customization options during the beta weekends last year, witnessing the array of cannons, ship hulls, mortar guns, and more, each with its own unique effects and passive bonuses, was overwhelming. One ship I constructed was optimized for inflicting continuous damage with every weapon dousing the enemy with oil and flame, while another was designed to assist my teammates by having the ability to heal allied ships with cannonfire. There wasn’t enough time to try all the options, but seeing all the alternatives laid out before me has convinced me that Ubisoft is resolute in their commitment to customization.
Skull and Bones – The Complete Timeline
With my selection of powerhouse vessels assembled, I ventured into some of the more demanding world activities packed with high-end rewards. Hostile Takeover, an activity similar to the Plunder encounters from the beta, had me and my fellow pirates fend off waves of increasingly powerful ships and were generously compensated for our wanton destruction. Meanwhile, Legendary Heists sent us after a powerful ship carrying valuable cargo and surrounded by half a dozen heavily armed allies. While both of these activities offered the same exciting pirating fun I’d already experienced during low-level play, I’ll admit I was pretty disappointed with just how similar they felt to everything else I’ve already played. I mean, sinking waves of enemy vessels isn’t exactly boring, but I found myself waiting for some kind of twist that never really arrived.
During Legendary Heists, for instance, after you eliminate the pirate captain and take the loot, you have a limited amount of time to transport the cargo to an outpost, presumably providing others the opportunity to steal the loot. However, Skull & Bones does not indicate that this PvP opportunity has begun or encourage others to pursue you in any way, resulting in nothing more than a quiet journey through the Indian Ocean to deliver the bounty with little fanfare. It’s also odd that these big world activities, which annoy you with big popup alerts every few minutes when one becomes available, only allow three players into the activity, making them feel rather anticlimactic and smaller scale than I expected. Even worse, if you’re in a party of three players like I was, joining one of these activities doesn’t automatically sign your party members up along with you, leading to awkward moments where the world event’s seats filled up before the whole crew was able to join. Consequently, one or two of us just had to sit back and wait for the event to end, sadly unable to profit from the affair.
Thankfully, these disappointing encounters weren’t the extent of Skull & Bones’ endgame, as my crew and I discovered when we accepted a bounty to confront a massive sea creature that had been plaguing the waters. Watching this colossal serpent-like creature submerge itself and then reappear to swallow my friend’s ship whole left me feeling far more positive about the prospects of the endgame. It was also great that once we vanquished the beast, we were able to use its rare and valuable remains to create potent consumables and equipment to further empower ourselves.
I also gained insight into Ubisoft’s plans for the initial full year of support for Skull & Bones, which comprises four seasons, each with its own theme and new enemy to contend with. The first season, called Raging Tides, pitted us against a deadly, poison-obsessed pirate named La Peste, who bombarded the ocean with incredibly deadly toxic clouds and sent tiny suicide-bombing dinghies after us to explode in our faces. How much content each of these seasons will deliver remains to be seen, but with this epic fight as a sampling, I could see myself adding Skull & Bones to my live-service rotation.
Travis Northup is a writer for IGN. You can follow him on Twitter @TieGuyTravis and read his games coverage here.