Skull and Bones Bedar
Screenshot by Prima Games

Skull and Bones Review | Deep as a Puddle

As wide as an ocean but as deep as a puddle.

Following the success of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, like many others, I found myself eagerly awaiting a standalone release where we could take on the role of a pirate and sail the seas. When Skull and Bones was initially announced, it felt like Ubisoft listened and answered many prayers. And yet, almost a decade later, does it live up to the hype? Is this the pirate game we were all eagerly waiting to play? Find out in our Skull and Bones review.

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Sailing the High Seas is Fun

First and foremost, before we sail too deep into this pirate-laden experience, I’d like to point out one of the most important aspects of video games: to have fun. And you know what? I’m having fun with Skull and Bones. Is it the most enjoyable game I’ve ever played? No. Does it have lasting power? Also, no. There is a lot wrong with this game, and I will point out most, if not all, of it in this review.

Despite enjoying and wanting more from Black Flag, I didn’t jump into Skull and Bones expecting an exact recreation. It’s been far too long, with much of the development team behind the fourth Assassin’s Creed game likely long gone from the studio or working on other projects entirely, and that’s okay. I wanted a pirate experience, and to some extent, I received precisely that. You can plunder entire settlements, sink or board ships, customize your captain and ship right on down to the crew and the animal companion that sits beside the wheel, and even duke it out with sea monsters. It’s fun. But only for a time.

A buddy and I partied up for a few missions, and the first thing we did was sail into the open ocean area, where a perpetual storm caused a flurry of situations for us to contend with. Not only were we fighting with enemy vessels, many of which were three to four times our player level, but the constant rampage of the storm and the looming threat of a rogue wave kept us on our toes. The rogue wave hit with devastating effect, destroying my buddy’s ship almost entirely while I was left unscathed. Such situations guarantee memorable stories that I enjoy retelling to those who will listen.

But for the many emergent gameplay moments that erupted over the past week of playing, plenty were overshadowed by the few handcrafted stories. John Scurlock, for instance, is a fantastic character. He’s well-designed, and his voice actor threw himself into the role with gusto. I would love to see a prequel story of Scurlock and his rise to power, along with his reason for disliking the French so egregiously. The quests you tackle for Scurlock as part of the game’s main story, or what passes for one here, were occasionally thrilling and visually appealing. Spotting a ship in the distance popping off fireworks in celebration just to have my small vessel pull up and blast into their port side with a full flank of cannons proves memorable.

But these moments were, unfortunately, few and far between. There’s a lot of busy work and idle sailing from point A to point B with nothing happening.

Headfirst Into a Puddle

For all the good mechanics and fun times in Skull of Bones, there is so much soulless, bland content to fill in the gaps.

First and foremost, because it’s on everyone’s mind, let’s talk about the microtransactions. While I have not seen anything that would constitute pay-to-win, the number of available cosmetics is egregious. You can customize everything, from tip to tail, on your player character and ship, including the crew. Many of these cosmetic items will be obtained through regular gameplay and by using the in-game currency of Silver. However, there’s plenty that cost real money—a lot. I guess we should feel lucky that they’re only cosmetics, right? It’s a lot to swallow for a quadruple-A game.

As for stepping foot off your ship, which many(?) wanted, it feels tacked on. Like, it’s a last minute addition that Ubisoft felt pressured to include. Your character moves like a tank, with a wind-up and slow-down period anytime you wish to shift from a still position. If you want to speak with a vendor, you can’t simply run up to them. You must run up to their stall, stop, and reposition yourself until the interaction button appears, then tap the corresponding button to speak to the merchant. It’s a hassle and noticeably odd.

And lastly, perhaps the greatest grievance of them all is the longevity of the gameplay itself. Despite having fun with Skull and Bones in short bursts, I never felt the urge to continue playing. I didn’t think about the game in my spare time, like so many other fantastic releases in the past few months. I have zero desire to grind out the top-tier ships, improve my weapons any further than necessary, or spend a single dime in the cosmetics shop. I’ve seen some people talk about “build variety” with the ships, and I can’t help but think, “What’s the point?” What good is a unique build when the PvP is locked behind a single game mode, and the rest is PvE, and it’s simplified and bland?

It feels as if Ubisoft grew weary of its development and didn’t want to lose out on the years spent working in the background, so they pushed it through the door in the hopes of it becoming a live-service title that would draw people away from Sea of Thieves. It won’t happen.

I can recommend Skull and Bones on sale or as part of Ubisoft+, but to pay full price would feel like an error.

5
Skull and Bones
A shallow and soulless game of pirates and plunder that, while fun in short bursts, doesn't offer the same lasting power as the studio's other franchises.
Pros
  • Beautifully detailed ships.
  • Ship combat is fun.
  • A few memorable characters and quests.
Cons
  • Way too many purchasable cosmetics.
  • Bland and boring game world.
  • Too few quests and events to tackle.
  • Limited PvP.
A copy of this game was provided for review. Reviewed on PC.

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Author
Brandon Morgan
Brandon began writing in 2012, for websites such as OnlySP, before transitioning to digital marketing in 2016 to learn the ins and outs of SEO. In mid-2023, Brandon returned to write strategy guides for Prima Games, IGN, DualShockers, and more, with a focus on ARPGs, RPGs, and Survival games. His past coverage includes Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty, Starfield, Skull and Bones, and many more!
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