Ubisoft has a few notoriously troubled games in development that have left fans scratching their heads for years now. Aside from Beyond Good and Evil 2, the most curious game that has managed to avoid cancellation despite years of delays, restarts, and who knows what else behind the scenes is the pirate game Skull and Bones. It was first announced in 2017, and we’ve gotten almost nothing but bad news regarding this title in the years since. Despite having a playable build in 2018, for press only, the game has undergone major, if not complete overhauls.
Promised as a fully fleshed-out game built around the incredibly popular ship combat featured in Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, Skull and Bones was poised to make a big splash following that game’s success. Gamers loved all the pirate activities seen in that game, so expanding on that should’ve been an easy move. However, public statements about the game have almost completely vanished, leaving many gamers high and dry regarding the status of this pirate epic. We pulled out our compass, plotted our course, and dug up all the details on Skull and Bones that you need to know.
As we all know, Skull and Bones hasn’t had a smooth development. We don’t know exactly what happened behind the scenes, except that the game has undergone at least one major overhaul in which the vision of the game had changed. What that means remains to be seen in terms of the game itself, but in terms of development, that only pushed the release date further back.
Skull and Bones has been pushed back almost too many times to count, and most recently was given a launch window of “early 2023 to 2024.”
When originally announced, Skull and Bones was said to be launching on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Naturally, things have changed with current-generation consoles on the market, and Skull and Bones has fully shifted to current-gen only. This means you will need a PS5, Xbox Series X/S, or PC to play.
Here’s your blast from the past, since the only official trailer for Skull and Bones is the original reveal trailer from way back at E3 2017. This announcement trailer sets the game in 1721 on the Indian Ocean, which is both the prime time period and location for historical pirate activities. We see some beautiful, although obviously pre-rendered, shots of pirate and cargo ships engaging on rough seas. Cannonballs rip through the hulls, splintering wood and shattering masts as the pirates cripple the target ship. However, when two new pirate crews show up, the real battle begins.
The trailer ends, as a crew is hauling up their loot from the waters, with the foreboding threat of a Kraken-type creature of incredible size just below the surface.
In terms of plot, story, and characters, there’s nothing to really go on. Since Skull and Bones is supposedly an online experience, it may be the case that there isn’t a story in a traditional sense. Perhaps taking a cue from Sea of Thieves, there won’t be an overarching main plot, but rather just smaller missions and mission chains, as well as dynamic events, that fill in the gaps between PvP naval combat. Again, that’s just speculation, especially since the game has undergone many changes since this brief announcement trailer.
We finally got an official look at Skull and Bones via a dedicated Ubisoft Forward. In it, we do get an idea of what plot there will be.
Awakening alone on the shore after a shipwreck, we will be playing as a pirate going from nothing to a legendary captain of a crew and entire fleet. It isn’t much, but that is somewhat to be expected for a mostly multiplayer experience.
Again going way back, this time to E3 2018, we have one source for a gameplay overview. Now, take this trailer with a grain of salt since we have no idea how much of what was shown off here still remains part of the game in its current form. From this trailer, though, we can see some gameplay mechanics and systems that look very interesting. Oh, and you can obviously ignore the “releasing in 2019” bit at the end, too.
On the base level, it looks a lot like the naval combat from Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, which makes perfect sense. You will captain your ship and target your weapons with colored indicators showing where your cannons will fire. You can see the level of the opposing ship, as well as a health bar. The boarding system also feels ripped right out of that Assassin’s Creed game, although the trailer completely forgoes showing us how close-quarters combat will look, if it is even in the game at all.
Based on the narration, it seems like there will be some sort of reputation or wanted system as well, where larger, more dangerous ships may track you down if you pillage and sink enough other ships. This is where the multiplayer component is shown off — you can request help in bringing down or just surviving these massive ships attacking you. Of course, as the trailer is quick to point out, pirate alliances are fleeting when loot is on the line, and any ally can just as easily turn into a foe.
While not official, new footage of gameplay for Skull and Bones leaked online in April. Originally put online by a Reddit user (the original post no longer exists, unfortunately), this footage quickly spread online. The footage lasts six minutes and shows off a number of mechanics and systems. The first one detailed is something called the infamy system, where your actions as a pirate will impact your reputation. Infamy can be increased by taking on quests from NPCs, exploring, and completing events around the open world, with ranks such as Outcast, Swashbuckler, and Cutthroat shown. The higher your infamy, the more options open up to the player, including new ship upgrades. Crafting, another mechanic, will also open up new ship upgrades.
Skull and Bones will feature both on-foot and naval exploration, as well as some survival elements. You will need to make sure you have enough supplies to complete your voyages, for example, or otherwise plunder and steal them from other ships on the way. If your crew isn’t well taken care of, they can apparently mutiny and attempt to kill you. On-foot exploration is slightly limited. You can only dock at specified points to explore different islands rather than disembark anywhere you please.
The main loop will be focused on starting in a hub area called Sainte-Anne, where you can do your shopping, craft, accept quests, and interact with other players before heading out to sea.
In the official gameplay reveal, we learned about many natural dangers, including animals like hippos and crocodiles, plus storms and even pirate hunters. Your own crew can even turn against you.
Starting off, you will only have access to the smallest ship, called a Dhow, and a spear. As you build up materials and money by doing quests, or contracts, your Infamy level will grow. The higher your Infamy, the more blueprints you can access to build new, better ships, weapons, and armor. Infamy can also be increased by doing other activities like exploring, plundering, hunting treasure, and investigating, plus dynamic events around the world.
Your ship will have just as many weapon options, or perhaps more, than the player, including cannons, mortars, and Greek Fire. There will also be a variety of ship types with different strengths and weaknesses, such as speed, hull space, and combat capabilities. If your ship should sink, you will lose a portion of your cargo as a penalty.
Another gameplay trailer was shown off during Ubisoft Forward 2022.
This trailer shows off a ton of the different options you have for outfitting your hips, such as cannons and ballistas, as well as the design of the ship itself. We get a look at many of these tools in action, however, not from the perspective of what we will actually see while playing.
The gameplay trailer showed off some of how multiplayer will work, but a lot still remains uncharted. It seems like you will be able to encounter other players’ ships in the world naturally and decide on-the-fly whether you want to team up or attack one another. It also appears like alliances are by no means binding, and you or your ally can betray the other at a moment’s notice. What other options there are, including dedicated modes or other ways you and other captains can interact, have not been shown off yet.
Based on the leaks, it seems like Skull and Bones is meant to be an always-online game. In the leak, players were placed in a shared hub area where you had the option to team up with up to three other captains before heading out. Many mission descriptions also offer a recommendation for how many players you should have with you to take it on.
PvP is something that will be relegated to their own servers to prevent people from ganging up and interrupting other players’ progress. The main thrust of multiplayer remains on teaming up with friends rather than fighting against each other.
Nothing is set in stone just yet, but all signs currently point to DLC being a major part of Skull and Bones. We already know that there will be plenty of customization options included in the game, at least the version of it we’ve seen. Changing up your ship looks (or at least looked) like a major component of the game. You are able to apply different figureheads, wheels, helms, and sails at the very least. If this game is intended to be ongoing, you can expect there to be paid cosmetic options for the ship and possibly the captain and crew as well.
Assuming this is going to be a standard $70 game, we just hope Ubisoft isn’t so greedy that they make these items exclusive to DLC purchases and can be obtained through gameplay as well. If it were a free-to-play game, it could be forgiven, but we’ll have to see how it all shakes out on that front.
At the reveal, it was explained that new content will be brought to the game for years to come that will be free for all players. World events, weapons, challenges, and more were listed as post-launch content.
After so much waiting, we now have a release date and pre-orders for Skull and Bones, which you can see on their official site. There are two editions to pick from as of now: Standard and Premium.
The Standard Edition is simply the game Skull and Bones for $70 on your platform of choice.
The Premium Edition costs $100 and adds in the following bonuses:
- The Ballad of Bloody Bones Collection
- Two additional missions
- The official digital artbook and soundtrack