Preview: Ubisoft's naval PvP in Skull and Bones is really fun if one of your team is dressed as a pirate

I’m going to tell you what everyone else has said about Skull and Bones: it’s basically the naval combat bit of Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, but if that was the whole game. If another company had made it they’d probably be getting sued by Ubisoft, but I’m pretty sure you can’t sue yourself. That doesn’t necessarily mean Skull and Bones won’t be fun, though. It helps if there’s a man on your team dressed as a pirate, shouting pirate appropriate battle cries into the mic.

The game I played was a 5v5 match, where the aim was simple: steal more booty than the rival team (or rival flotilla, more accurately), and escape with it when the pirate hunters arrive. Before the game you get to pick your ship class. There’s genuinely a long range gunner, a massive heavy, and a smaller, nippier high damage dealer. Or ranged, tank, and DPS. All that’s missing is a healer class.

So, at the helm of my DPS tall ship, I set out. Our group swiftly cut down a group of merchant vessels for their plunder, and then almost immediately set about attacking the rival team, in defiance of the actual point of the game. Sinking enemies was a good way to get their gold, but apparently if you ram the largest enemy vessel you’ll be sunk yourself, and they get all your loot. The trouble is that pitched battles are more fun than tactical ones, so I imagine ‘Keep the loot!’ will be the Skull and Bones equivalent of ‘Stay on the goddamn payload!’

The nature of the game means that Skull and Bones moves a little slower than other team multiplayer games out, or on the edge of coming out, right now. The ships in Skull and Bones creak, ponderously, and move exactly as fast as they can, depending on how you’ve positioned them against the wind. It made everything feel more oddly tense, because the ship took a few seconds to start responding on hard turns, and you might suddenly find yourself open to the full side of enemy guns but wheeling ‘round ever. So. Slowly. The Titanic trying to turn away from an iceberg of cannonballs.

skull and bones screens

When getting impressions of multiplayer games, though, you’re often not sure if you had fun because the game was fun, or because your team was fun. Our buccaneer comrade kept shouting things like ‘Ahar!’ and ‘Give ’em the broadsides!’ which was infectiously piratical; it also helped that we won by the skin of our teeth (those that hadn’t fallen out from the scurvy, of course), though I was sunk almost at the last moment and lost all my loot to the enemy.

Multiplayer games don’t have to be fun in single-player, but they do have to be fun even if you’re playing with strangers, or strangers who aren’t cosplaying as pirates. Ubi has proven it can provide good tools for that, what with the long tail on the popularity of Rainbow Six Siege — but from just one match, I can’t tell you if Skull and Bones has all that yet. 

I can say that it’ll definitely find an audience, because everyone kind of likes the idea of pirates, and there’s something thrilling about passing perilously close to a huge 74 gunner, but how large an audience I’m not sure. It’ll be interesting to see how much game is in this game. And how it’s priced. My instincts are that Skull and Bones coming out as a full price title won’t get an overwhelming response.

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