Yo-ho-ho mateys! I be coming back from E3 with all sorts of plunder! Including some hands-on time with Ubisoft’s latest IP, Skull and Bones. If you hadn’t guessed from my painfully trope-infused intro this is a game about pirates and plunder. It has nothing to do with any Ivy League secret societies (I think???). We got some hands-on time with what looks to be one of many PvP modes for some of our own high seas antics.
If you’ve played Assassin’s Creed III or Black Flag at all you’ll be familiar with the game’s core sailing and combat mechanics. Moving your sight port, starboard, or forward allows you to aim the cannons on that side of the ship. Hoisting your sails will speed you and lowering them will slow you down. You’ll be able to get a speed boost if you can hit the wind at the right angle. The differences in the games controls and concept to those of sailing a ship in the AC series felt subtle and nuanced.
The goals of the game seem straightforward enough: pirate stuff. Attack ships, plunder their loot, and lay waste to anyone who gets in your way. You’ll have to avoid being caught by the local authorities along the way. But any raider worth their salt should be able to lose the authorities.
For our game play session we tried out a 5v5 PvP mode in which our team had to attack and plunder the opposing team and make off with more gold than them before time ran out. The countdown to zero would be started by the arrival of the authorities, so we just had to do our best to out maneuver our opponents as we aimed to take down their most valuable ships. As a team we had several options for ship types such as smaller and faster sloop-of-war ships for sniping at a distance or the giant frigate that could come barreling down hard and heavy on anything near it. Finding ways to balance the long range with the short range combat and making sure everyone on your team could escape in time made for combat that was much more intense than anything seen in the Assassin’s Creed titles.
What lies beyond the PvP mode waits to be seen. But personally, I’m extremely glad that Ubi chose to parlay what was essentially a mini-game into a full blown new IP. I spent a ridiculous amount of time out at sea in Black Flag and was completely enthralled by it. If you like pirates and sailing, you’re going to want to keep an eye on Skull and Bones. And while raiding ships seems too relegated to a cut scene rather than an all-out brawl, I think it will help focus on the core action rather than trying to be too many things at once. But I also feel there should be more to it by the time we see it launch in 2018 or it may come off as a bit shallow.