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 back in 2018, for press only, the game has undergone major, if not complete, overhauls to the point where some don’t even know what it is anymore.
Promised as a kind of fully fleshed out game built around the incredibly popular ship combat features 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 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 for development, that only pushed the release date further back. What we do know about when Skull and Bones might raise its flag and set sail comes from a Ubisoft financial update. They said, to their investors, that Skull and Bones would come out in either 2022 or 2023. Based on how the game’s development has gone thus far, 2023 seems like the more likely time frame.
Speaking of the development team, the last time we heard from them was in an update posted on Ubisoft’s website back in September of 2020 where they said “We dreamt something bigger for Skull & Bones, and these ambitions naturally came with bigger challenges. These difficulties resulted in necessary delays for our game. Critical questions needed to be addressed over the past several months such as: how do we modernize the classic pirate fantasy? How do we ensure a more immersive and visceral experience? How do we create cool and memorable moments in-game? For most of these questions to be answered, it was clear that we needed more development time.”
Considering the game has supposedly passed $120 million in development costs, Ubisoft likely won’t let this ship sink.
When originally announced, Skull and Bones was said to be launching on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Naturally, things have changed with current-gen consoles on the market, and the tides shifting more in their favor every year. If Skull and Bones really won’t come until 2022 at the earliest, at the very least we expect the game to be cross-generational, but at the same time we wouldn’t be surprised if they decided to cut out the old consoles and focus on PS5, Xbox Series X/S, and PC only to try and speed up development a little bit.
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.
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 as 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, crafting, accept quests, and interact with other players before heading out to sea.
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 said 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.
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 to 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 ship, and possibly 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.
Even if pre-orders were available, we’d suggest holding off until an actual date is given for Skull and Bones before putting money down on it. The track record for delays on this game is just too concerning to invest in it just yet. However, once the game is brought back from the depths of the ocean and proven to be real, we will give you all the details on the different editions, prices, and platforms you can pre-order it for.
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