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The Student News Site of St. Edward's University

Hilltop Views

The Student News Site of St. Edward's University

Hilltop Views

REVIEW: “Skull and Bones” is all pirate, no swashbuckling

Scarlett Houser / Hilltop Views
“Skull and Bones” is an online live service game released on Feb. 16 by Ubisoft.

If there was a studio that should make a pirate game, it would be Ubisoft. They made arguably one of the best pirate games of all time in 2013, “Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag,” which practically defined what makes a good pirate game with its immersive combat and engaging story. When I sat down to play “Skull and Bones,” I felt pretty confident. How can Ubisoft mess this up?

Somehow, but they did.

“Skull and Bones” is an online live service game released on Feb. 16 by Ubisoft. The game had been in development for 11 years and cost around $200 million dollars to produce. It is currently listed at $59.99 on PC and $69.99 on console platforms. In an interview via Video Games Chronicle, Ubisoft’s CEO Yves Guillemot called the game a “AAAA” title, indicating the game is supposed to be bigger and of higher quality than modern AAA titles.

In “Skull and Bones,” I found myself very underwhelmed by what the game had to offer, especially by the naval combat. Of course, as a pirate, you want to go out and plunder! Swing swords, smash skulls, steal silver — you get the idea. To do that, surely you have to risk life and limb to leap aboard another vessel, defeat its crew in an intense battle and have at the treasure your adversaries held so dear. But in “Skull and Bones,” you get a cutscene. No, I’m not kidding. You cannot physically board the vessel at all beyond what the premade cutscene shows you.

This took all of the excitement from the boarding process. There was no risk or thrilling battle beyond the cannonfire I had just been exchanging with the enemy vessel. Sure, even if the majority of the ships pirates looted in real life were merchants who surrendered, at least I could walk the deck of a captured vessel, right? Nope. The other vessel simply vanishes after the cutscene and you’re left wondering who managed to invent teleportation in the 17th century.

The worst offense of the game, however, is the exploration. A major part of the game is going to islands and harvesting resources for a variety of needs. Surely you are able to anchor offshore of any old island, go ashore and explore the island to your heart’s content as you harvest the resources you need? Nope. You sit in your boat, sail up to an island and play a short quick time mini game to harvest your resources. 

At this point they should have called the game “boat simulator.” At least it would be fitting. But hey, the game’s a live service. At least you can hop on with your friends and suffer together. 

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention that the game also has microtransactions, primarily through the “Smuggler Pass,” which provides limited rewards to players only available for a duration, and through an in-game store where cosmetics and other items can be bought for either currency earned while playing the game or currency purchased with real money. This Smuggler Pass has multiple paths to take, with each one supporting a different playstyle. This is a nice change compared to other battle passes, which tend to force players into a certain playstyle. Now, you do not need to buy the premium version of this pass, called the “Premium Pass,” to play the game, as this exclusive version only offers special cosmetics.

In summary, I found Skull and Bones to be a rather disappointing experience. I walked into this game expecting an experience like “Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag” but found what felt like a generic AAA live service game but with pirates and boats instead. For me, a pirate game is held up by its exploration and combat mechanics and to me the exploration was limited and the combat was underwhelming and ultimately lacked the immersion and experience I was looking for. 

On the goat scale, I hereby award “Skull and Bones” two out of five goats. As a game, it’s not bad but not super special either, and after 11 years of development, I was hoping for something truly special. Instead, I left this lackluster game both disappointed and wondering what could have been.

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About the Contributor
Alec Campa
Alec Campa, Staff Writer
Alec is a senior at St. Edward’s University majoring in Video Game Development. This is his first bout as a Staff Writer and was previously an intern for Hilltop Views in the fall of 2023. When Alec’s not developing games, he enjoys writing fantasy and science fiction novels.

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