Ubisoft’s long-expected, oft-delayed multiplayer pirate game Skull & Bones just sprung a leak. Footage of a six minute introductory video appeared on Reddit (though it was taken down just as I was writing this) and it’s the type of narrated primer shown to testers or preview players before they get to try the game, rather than raw footage of someone just playing.
Since I actually played a bit of Skull & Bones back in 2018 at a preview event (and probably watched the same sort of video first), I was curious to see how much of it looked familiar and what had changed. My session took place after Skull & Bones had been delayed to 2019, but before it was delayed to 2020, and then delayed again into 2022-2023.
The footage does look fairly close to what I remember playing. Unlike Sea of Thieves, where combat can take quite a while due to ships only having a few cannons that players need to reload themselves, and a lot of time has to be spent managing sails to get into the right position, combat in Skull & Bones is much speedier and ship-to-ship skirmishes are almost non-stop. Most ships are positively bristling with cannons, with an NPC crew handling the reloading and repairs, and the sails go up and down in mere seconds to allow for quick maneuvering. As captain, you mostly just steer, shoot, and give orders to your crew.
While it’s nice to have NPC crews doing all the grunt work, you can’t take them for granted. According to the video, you’ll need to keep your ship stocked with food and supplies or your AI-controlled minions will lose morale and eventually mutiny, bonking you on the head and removing you from power. It’s not stated what the repercussions of a mutiny are, but I assume it’s similar to what happens when your ship sinks: you respawn at a nearby outpost with a progress penalty.
In the preview I played, ships had something like the ultimate abilities you see in hero shooters, and the ship I commanded had a ramming ability I could trigger between cooldowns. There’s no mention of ults in this new footage, though that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t still in there. One disappointing part of my preview was the act of boarding enemy ships after weakening them with cannonfire. Boarding was just a quick cutscene of combat, rather than an actual chance to use a musket or sword. It’s hard to tell for sure, but that seems to be the case in the new footage, too.
The reputation system in Skull & Bones is based on Infamy, which can be raised by completing contracts, and the higher your Infamy the more contracts become available. According to the video, contracts can be shared between groups of up to three players, and Infamy can also be raised by exploring, treasure hunts, and other activities.
Player customization is also shown, with a variety of outfits and accessories to set yourself apart from other players. The world is filled with NPC ships to prey upon, NPC controlled pirate hunters patrol the seas, and players can naturally engage one another in combat, too, or invite each other to team up for group missions.
While the high-speed action is more comparable to Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag than Sea of Thieves, and while the art styles are different (SoT has a cartoony, cuddly look and S&B is more realistic) the gameplay loop feels similar to Rare’s open world pirate game: get jobs at outposts, head out onto the sea for combat, return with treasure, try on clothing. Skull & Bones also has crafting, however, where resources like lumber and ore can be gathered from islands and turned into upgrades to make your ships faster or more durable.
Keep in mind, we don’t know how recent this leaked video even is, so features may have changed since it was made. It sounds like we’ll get an official look at Skull & Bones sometime soon, as the official Skull & Bones account just suggested this morning that you should keep your eyes peeled. June would be our guess for getting a real look at the upcoming pirate game: while there’s no E3 this year, there will be plenty of E3-like reveals this summer.
Keep your eyes on the horizon… 🏝️ pic.twitter.com/BWaH9QfYUbApril 29, 2022