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Skull & Bones Review - Stormy Seas

The pirate RPG has its charm, but feels a little bare bones at times.

Emily Byrnes Updated: Posted:
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I had high expectations for Skull and Bones, anticipating a stellar “AAAA” pirate experience: peg legs, sliders—the whole nine yards. However, my hopes were quickly dashed as I emerged from a botched naval battle, coughing up sand on an unfamiliar island. Surveying my reflection in a broken barrel on the shoreline, I sifted through the limited presets available to customize my pirate avatar.

While I was relatively surprised to find options for altering her body type, being unable to see below the shoulders made it hard to pick. All pirates start in a potato sack, so it shouldn’t be that big of a deal, but I wanted to choose my own lumpy potato based on how it might look in that sack. It seemed a little bit like a missed opportunity to immerse players entirely in the pirate fantasy. The most customization I would get here was choosing a base, hairstyle, hair color, eye color, and tattoos. 

A Curious Tattoo

The one detail that immediately caught my attention during character creation was the inclusion of tattoos— particularly the Sak Yant. While not an expert on the intricate symbolism behind these tattoos, my recent immersion in Muay Thai definitely sparked an interest in their significance. Seeing these tattoos in Skull and Bones left me feeling both excited and slightly confused. How would these tattoos, deeply rooted in Thai culture and tradition, tie into a pirate-themed adventure? As far as I knew, Skull and Bones was based on real-world locations, so maybe that had implications for future areas of the map we would uncover or enemies we would fight. Naturally, I slapped that sick ink on my gal and hoisted her by her bootstraps. 

Luckily, a couple of my former crewmates arrived just in time to pull me aboard their small boat. With the British fleet wreaking havoc on our vessel and their 'no mercy for pirates' policy in full swing, joining them seemed the only viable choice. However, upon closer inspection, I couldn't shake the eerie feeling that something was off. While their eyelids blinked and their hands moved, their faces remained frozen, devoid of any emotion. Faced with the options of diving into shark-infested waters or accepting the company of these unsettlingly lifeless pirates, the latter seemed much more appealing. I could pretty plainly see where the budget hadn’t gone in the past several years of development for Skull and Bones.

Uncanny Pirates

If it wasn’t enough that they looked a little off, my two companions then began to tout the praises of “pirate paradise”, Sainte-Anne, and said I had a familiar “glint in my eye.” The longer I stayed with these two, the more it began to feel like an episode of One Piece. So, our past ship was done for, and we were going to start over as a new crew. To do that, we had to make it to pirate paradise. Fortunately, that didn’t take long—a few fetch missions and a double-crossing later, and we had our own map to Saint-Anne. Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum immediately start calling me “Captain.” Didn’t they want the loot and the glory for themselves? 

Skull and Bones

All I did was sift through some debris and fish out a map. It felt odd that they immediately handed the title to me without a fight, especially after the previous captain was the reason we were all marooned here in the atolls. It was becoming pretty clear to me early on that the story in Skull and Bones might not be its strongest point, and that was just going to be a pill I had to swallow.

With how much Saint-Anne had been built up as a pirate paradise, I was surprised to see that it was our next destination. No struggle, just smooth sailing. A small loading screen later, and I was standing at the docks of Saint-Anne, barefoot and intimidated, as the pirates with more established names and ships laughed and jeered at our crew.

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Seemed we’d have a long way to go to gain any of their respect, and that started with talking to all of the merchants and NPCs throughout the winding Pirates Den. I met up with the infamous John Scurlock and was floored at how much more care was put into his character than the supporting cast. Scurlock’s voice actor was passionate, and his facial expressions actually changed to emphasize his anger and frustration. I wanted and had initially expected this from the other characters.  

Creating the Mother of War

After building my first vessel, the Bedar, I wasted no time in heading to the docks to begin personalizing her. Inspired by my ship in Helldivers 2 (which I've been unable to play due to ongoing server issues) I christened my weathered starter ship the “Mother of War”.

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Despite feeling a little overwhelmed, I was exhilarated by the array of customization options available. While most cosmetics required silver, I noticed some available for purchase in the rotating shop, albeit for real currency. Tempted by the prospect of acquiring “First Mate” Whiskers, an adorable feline companion sporting an eyepatch and pegleg, I ultimately refrained from spending any real money. From sail color to trim, fireworks, paint, crew appearance, and more, I meticulously tailored every aspect of my vessel before embarking on my maiden voyage. With plunder awaiting and adventure beckoning, there was no time to waste.

Forever out of reach

As the salty breeze filled my sails and the waves crashed against the hull, I found myself immersed in the thrill of naval warfare. Engaging in skirmishes with rival NPC ships and navigating treacherous waters became second nature as I honed my skills as a captain. However, beneath the surface of exhilarating battles lay a few rough patches that threatened my experience. Skull and Bones is filled with breathtaking views, and islands littered with vistas just begging to be explored. 

As captain of my vessel, I would never be able to step foot on these islands. 

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With the exception of key story-specific scenarios and Pirate Dens, I never stepped foot off my boat. Even gathering resources is done from a bare-bones mini-game, right from behind the steering wheel. I could either scrape those resources off the coast, or steal them from the remains of an unfortunate passing ship after I gunned them down.

The inability to freely move around my ship or disembark significantly impacted my gameplay experience, and as a fan of Sea of Thieves, I found it particularly disappointing. I longed to actively participate in the seafaring lifestyle - hoisting sails, casting lines for fish, and exploring the diverse islands that dotted the horizon. 

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Despite the enticing details hidden within these environments, they remained frustratingly out of reach. Even the impressive Photo mode, available within Pirates Dens, offered no respite during sailing voyages. With vast expanses of open ocean stretching for hundreds of meters and no islands to explore, encounters with other ships often felt monotonous and lacking in excitement. 

The absence of combat mechanics for engaging in swashbuckling duels further detracted from the immersion. With no inclusion of these features on their roadmap, Skull and Bones appears to be focusing on content updates featuring new creatures and factions, as outlined in their Year 1 roadmap.

Journey to the North

After spending several hours playing solo, it was time to team up with my significant other, and it elevated my enjoyment of Skull and Bones to new heights. Our first adventure together took us to the northernmost reaches of the map, where a mysterious event had spawned. 

Despite our low levels, we were drawn to the brewing storm in that direction, loot-hungry and curious for adventure. As we sailed northward, we serenaded each other with sea shanties reminiscent of those heard in Assassin’s Creed IV.

Skull and Bones

Just kidding, they were the exact same sea shanties from Assassin’s Creed IV

Sailing through the tempest became one of the highlights of our journey, filled with tension and excitement as we braced ourselves against the elements. Upon reaching the eye of the storm, we encountered a distressed ship and approached apprehensively. Despite our initial panic, we rallied to assist the stranded sailor, fending off rogue pirates in the process. With our reward secured, we set a course back to Saint Anne (accompanied by a pod of dolphins) eager to rest and recuperate after our daring escapade.

Grind on the Horizon

After our adventure in the storm, reality set in as we returned to our home base in pirate paradise. There was a new grind to unlock our next ships and it felt daunting, hinting at a potentially repetitive and time-consuming journey ahead. While the variety of ships offered diverse playstyles, acquiring the necessary resources through repetitive missions and lackluster crafting left much to be desired.

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As PvP enthusiasts, both my partner and I also felt disappointed due to the glaring absence of player encounters on the high seas (apart from random world events). This became painfully clear during (what we thought) was a skirmish with a smaller vessel that dared to fire upon us before swiftly escaping. Unable to return fire, we did the equivalent of yelling at him from behind the rolled-up windows of our car before sailing away in frustration. 

Where’s the firework shaped like a middle-finger when you need it? 

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We only succeeded in hitting NPC ships and the occasional shark, which made for a fantastic crew meal. The lack of guilds only added to our disappointment, as we longed for the sense of community and customization opportunities that a comprehensive guild system could provide. I would have loved to have created a custom flag and colors that our friends could fly when we’re journeying together, but I suppose that wouldn’t make much sense when you can only sail around with two other pirates in a group.

A Hefty Price; Final Thoughts

Despite its shortcomings, Skull and Bones does boast stunning visuals and a few moments of thrilling naval warfare—the first time you encounter them. However, its lack of depth in gameplay mechanics and story left much to be desired. Even though it continues to evolve with a trove of promised content updates, I’m not entirely sure if I want to return to its turbulent waters. Personally, not being able to roam about my own ship or disembark on islands felt incredibly frustrating and limiting. Skull and Bones isn’t necessarily a bad game; it’s just not great. It feels like lots of pieces of rope strung together with loose knots, hastily fashioned and thrown together to show that they had a working net. Unfortunately, I don’t think that net is strong enough to be worth the $70 fish they’re trying to catch.

Full Disclosure: A copy was provided by PR for the purposes of this review. Reviewed on PC.

6.0 Okay
  • Beautiful graphics and scenery
  • Smooth sailing
  • Lovely sea shanties
  • Extensive ship customization
  • Storms and weather effects are immersive
  • Limited character customization
  • Grindy progression
  • No swashbuckling combat, limited disembarkation
  • Pricey for what it is
  • Dull "mini-game" for resource gathering


Emily Byrnes

An avid lover of all things fantasy, horror, and stylesheets, Emily spends her spare time trying to balance her affection for both technical and creative writing. One day she'll get there, but until then, she'd rather lose herself in the wonderful stories to be found within tabletop games and rpgs.