Tuesday, February 13, 2024
Today buyers of the premium edition of Skull and Bones (€90) can start playing, while buyers of the standard edition (€60) will have to wait until Friday. While I would generally say that the subscription service Ubisoft+ is a bad deal for €18 per month (Game Pass has more games for less money), you do get access to Skull and Bones with that today as well, so if you plan to play the game for less than 5 months, it might be the cheaper option. My plan? None of the above. I played the open beta for a few hours, and decided to skip this game.
Now I do believe that Assassin's Creed: Black Flag is probably the best Assassin's Creed game in the long series (I say "probably", because I haven't played all of them). But other than the ship combat, Skull and Bones is no Black Flag. Skull and Bones is a live service game, and thus ultimately resembles a game like The Division more than it resembles a single-player Assassin's Creed game. Now Ubisoft drew some ridicule by claiming Skull and Bones was a quadruple-A game, as in better than a triple-A game. But what it really is, is a quadruple Ubisoft game: If AI technology could be fed with gameplay from all Ubisoft open world and live service games, and be prompted to "create me a pirate game", the result would probably look a lot like Skull and Bones. Now if you want a live service game, and you want to sail a ship and shoot instead of running around and shoot, this might be the game for you. But I don't especially like live service games, and for me Skull and Bones doesn't have enough depth.
The basic game loop of Skull and Bones is easy to understand: You sail around with a ship, and can do a range of activities from collecting resources, doing quests, and sinking other ships. That gives you infamy, which gives you higher pirate levels, and that allows you to unlock bigger ships and cannons, which you can then pay for with the resources you collected. Beyond that, there isn't much, although a bit more is presumably added in the release version through seasons and the related monetization options, like battle passes. Sid Meier's Pirates!, from 2004, has more story than Skull and Bones. Surprisingly Pirates! also has more hand-to-hand combat than Skull and Bones, as this aspect is completely missing. You only control your character in the hubs to visit merchants or talk to quest NPCs, there is no cutlass combat. When you use the boarding function in Skull and Bones, there is no resulting combat, you immediately get to loot the boarded ship.
To me, Skull and Bones isn't really a special game in any way. It is exactly the quality and gameplay that I would expect when being told that it is a Ubisoft live service pirate game (minus the melee combat). I might have played it free to play and bought a battle pass for a month, but I'm not going to pay €60 or €90 for it. Sailing around with a ship and doing arcade-like cannon shooting combat only kept me entertained for a few hours. The more interesting encounters like ghost ships and sea monsters necessitate playing for longer to get a much bigger ship, and then playing together with other players.