Skull and Bones has resurfaced after years in the development Bermuda Triangle and presents itself stuffed to the masthead with game systems designed to simulate a buccaneer’s life. The cut-off date was chosen to be November 8, the day before God of War Ragnarok. I’ll admit, I wasn’t sure what to make of this after the preview presentation the press was allowed to attend last week. One thing is already certain for me: Skull and Bones is not only visually an anti-Sea-of-Thieves.
But by that I don’t mean that Ubisoft’s buccaneer quasi-MMO is necessarily more realistic. Of course, the visuals are decidedly more grounded (aside from some island formations in this fantasy version of the Indian Ocean, which are simply impossible statically), more authentically lit, and its pirates more naturally sized. People who don’t care for the comic book style of Sea of Thieves should be very happy about that. But overall, Skull & Bones looks insanely mechanical at first glance and less concerned with immersion in the fantasy of being a pirate yourself.
The MMO really hits home visually in this pirate simulator, which can optionally be played purely as (co-op) PvE. Skull and Bones rolls out its game rules with many, many HUD elements and displays as well as visible limitations above the game environment, for example, if you have to stay near a fortress to be captured, openly in front of the player at all times. You don’t forget for a second that you’re experiencing a system-loving fighting, collecting and crafting video game here, and at times you look more at the visual aids than anything else. I have to say, this pulled me out atmospherically and somewhat crushed the buccaneer romance that the press images awakened and continue to awaken. At least, as far as I can tell after watching a video presentation
Perhaps this is also due to the fact that you can individualize your pirate in an insanely small way, but actually only control him in the settlements themselves. As soon as you enter your ship (also highly customizable), you merge with the barge and are no longer allowed to move freely. To keep an eye out for enemies, you switch through your ship’s various stations until you’re looking over the shoulders of a sailor in the masthead (where I really liked the aggressive whooshing of the wind in my ears) instead of climbing up there yourself.
And that’s just the way it is: When procuring resources, you approach coastal palms and order the crew to cut them down. If you are boarded or have boarded or attack a fortress, you don’t fight yourself. Your crew will do it for you, or fight their way along a success bar at the top of the screen through various phases of the confrontation until it reaches one of two ends. Of course, you can influence the course of the confrontation by the composition of your crew, but also by using your ship’s armament well, for example by taking defensive installations and sensitive infrastructure under fire. But it still all feels a bit hands-off and indirect, whereas I’ve almost gotten seasick myself at times with swells on Rare’s Sea of Thieves. Skull and Bones, on the other hand, seems less eager to sell you its waters as a real world
Now this is probably the part in the article where I should say that Skull & Bones at the same time gives no indication that any of this is poorly done or fun-free – I simply can’t make a statement about that after a presentation. It’s just a question of whether what Skull and Bones wants to be sounds fun to you? Do you mind games in which you look more at displays than at the world, or do you love these aids and the systemic unraveling of what’s happening on the screen? Do you like that you play the ship, so to speak, as soon as it goes to sea, or would you rather intervene more directly with your character?
These are the questions that everyone must answer for themselves when choosing their personal pirate simulator. For now, my impression is that Skull and Bones is a game that thought its way out of development hell. One that has been made seaworthy again via mechanics and systems to find its way back into the safe waters of the public. I’d rather it had taken a sip or two of grog along the way and listened to its gut a bit
But this is still Ubisoft. We have already seen several times how this company pulled its live service games after a moderate start with comprehensive updates strongly in the track. It’s to be wished for Skull and Bones, because the “Anti-Sea-of-Thieves” is true in another respect: Not everyone likes their pirates as silly and playful as at Rare, and not everyone wants to have to haul their treasure chests themselves. Some just want to be captain and let others do the dirty work. There is more than enough room for such a game in the virtual buccaneering segment. Whether Skull and Bones can be this game, however, will only become clear after a play date
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One Reply to “Skull and Bones comes out on November 8”
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