Alongside some waterborne travel and combat in Assassin’s Creed Origins, Ubisoft also announced a brand new swashbuckling title at E3 2017: Skull and Bones. Drawing on some of the most well-received gameplay from Assassins’ Creed IV: Black Flag and adding some competitive multiplayer elements, the new piratical game has stunning visuals and a variety of ships to captain, but you better get used to the spray of salty water, as you won’t be heading inland in this upcoming title.
Set in the early 18th century, you and your fellow privateers and pirates have left the Caribbean and set up sailing shop in the Indian Ocean, where new and rich plunder awaits, without quite such a strong presence from colonial powers. While busy shipping lanes make for rich plunder, however, there are East India Trading Company warships to look out for, as well as your fellow pirates and even the suggestion of mythical sea beasts lurking below the waves.
The open ocean has never looked better
What is immediately apparent from gameplay footage of Skull and Bones, is that it looks stunning. Visually more detailed and polished than the ship-based gameplay of Black Flag, it has exceedingly busy decks with lots going on at all times and stunning vistas of open ocean and sandy beaches alike. Although the CGI debut trailer of the game gives Skull and Bones a rather dark and foreboding look, the gameplay itself is bright and colorful, with rich, deep-looking oceans and an expansive horizon that gives a real sense of scale to the sea-bound world Ubisoft Singapore has created.
Although with a heavily multiplayer focus, Skull and Bones is set in an open-ocean-world. Players will be able to sail around in their chosen vessel(s) sacking shipping lanes and fighting pirates to their hearts’ content. Cooperative and competitive multiplayer game modes are set within the confines of Disputed Waters.
While Ubisoft has been clear that the game can be played as a single-player, as GameSpot points out, Skull and Bones is a game focused on the intricacies of sailing and ship-based combat, rather than exploring over the next horizon.
Skull and Bones will offer a number of ships to play as in what IGN describes as a class-based system with hints of For Honor in it. We’ve seen three distinct vessels so far: The Frigate, Brigantine, and Sloop of War, each with their own unique playstyles, armaments, and maneuverability. The Frigate features a reinforced hull and the largest number of cannons, but is slower to turn, while the Brigantine comes fitted with a powerful battering ram for smashing hulls to smithereens.
In comparison, the Sloop of War is far more nimble and with its mortar and long ranged armaments is meant to harry the enemy from a distance, raining death from above and trying to steer clear of the heavy broadsides of the larger vessels.
As you build up your fleet in Skull and Bones, you’ll gain access to new ships and will be able customize their look, feel, and armaments. There will be flags and colors to pick from, different types of guns and other accessories which will make your ships not only look unique, but play to your preferred style, too.
That will be important as well, as you’ll face distinctly different challenges in fighting off enemy pirates, than you do with capturing rather helpless merchant vessels who are just passing through.
Will boarding be boring?
With a heavy focus on combat, how the actual ship-to-ship-battles work in Skull and Bones is important. Early hands-on previews suggest it’s as exhilarating firing off cannons at a distance, as it is ramming into the enemy. You’ll need to work together with your teammates in multiplayer modes to coordinate attacks to take down larger vessels, and sail with the wind as often as possible so you don’t end up dead in the water.
Damage to enemy ships is health-bar-based as it stands, with bright, colorful indicators for a ship’s condition. Useful information for sure, but it stands in stark contrast with more physics-driven systems like those found in indie titles like Black Wake.
One question that does remain, however, is how boarding in the game will work. While Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag featured mechanics for boarding an enemy vessel, the multiplayer demonstrations of doing so with Skull and Bones makes it seem automated. It’s possible that whatever sequence takes place was sped up for the demonstration purposes, or is something that will be expanded later.
However, PCGamesN confirmed with game producer Arnaud Vaudour that players won’t be leaving their ship, regardless of circumstance. That could simply mean you can’t go for a swim or visit the game’s desert islands, but it could also equally apply to leaving the ship for a boarding action. You may have to leave that aspect of piracy down to your capable crew.
It’s all about the loot
Whether you gain your victories by slaughtering the enemy sailors, or blasting their ship out from underneath them, the main purpose of Skull and Bones is gathering loot and gaining prestige for doing so. The core component of the game’s RPG-like progression will be amassing a fortune and making a name for yourself in the open ocean. You’ll build a fleet of your own ships and can then partner up with other players for larger pitched battles and game modes.
The one multiplayer mode we’ve seen so far is called Loot Hunt, which sees two teams of five competing to collect the most treasure before the local pirate hunters show up. When they do, they’ll immediately target the team with the most treasure and attempt to gun them down as everyone makes a break for freedom.
Ubisoft has made it clear that there will be a variety of game modes in the final game, though what those are or how many there will be remains to be seen.
When can we play it?
Skull and bones is slated for release in the fall of 2018, so should show up in either Q3 or Q4. When it does, it will debut on Windows PCs, Xbox One, and PS4. If you can’t wait until then, Ubisoft will be holding beta events at some point in the future and is currently accepting sign-ups for those interested.
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