Skull and Bones Review

February 25, 2024

It’s been a very, very long journey for Skull and Bones, which I can remember seeing at E3 seven years ago when it was first revealed as a semi-successor to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag‘s popular pirate ship combat. That ship gameplay already had proved it mettle from its origins in Assassin’s Creed III, and was fun enough to also buoy entries like Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry and Assassin’s Creed Rogue. However, somewhere along the way Skull and Bones fell through multiple changes in direction, setting and gameplay, resulting in a near-decade long development which has finally seen a release, led by Ubisoft Singapore although with a huge number of other Ubisoft studios also listed among the credits. While I’m sure it’s a relief for its makers that the game is finally out the door, the resulting pirate online RPG never quite captures the magic of its ancestors from a decade ago, although it can at times be a beautiful journey.

Things don’t exactly start well in the introductory stages of Skull and Bones, which are meant to invite the player into its grand world of piracy with a spectacular and epic fight between their heavily-gunned ship and encroaching British forces. Immediately, you’re presented with the basic naval warfare mechanics, which are essentially the same as any first person shooter only with slower reload times – aiming with the left trigger and firing with the right. You don’t really feel the weight or power of the cannons, nor their accurate firing arcs, only mild annoyance at the slow reload time, with your only real option for quick firing being to rotate your ship constantly around to try and get some shots off with other cannons. You can ram other ships if you pick up enough speed, but your ship does have a stamina bar which will run out if you try to go too fast for too long, something else that becomes a problem later in the game on longer voyages. The big battle comes down to more of a mediocre shooting gallery, and while it is satisfying to see enemy ships blown to smithereens, it’s not long before your ship is eventually overrun and the crew shipwrecked.

Your player-created character is among the crew washed up after this battle, who make it their mission to become a better captain than the last one, through working with local pirate lords and taking on missions to gain infamy (experience) and treasure to realise their fortunes on the seven seas. Really, everything in Skull and Bones revolves around your ship and ship combat, as the rest of the elements which make up the game are fairly threadbare. On land, you’re limited to taking your pirate captain, who controls very loosely and sluggishly themselves, to explore select settlements where you can only interact with characters or shops. Harvesting resources along the shoreline is either done via a simple button press as you sail along in your vessel, or via a laughable ‘sawing’ QTE. When plundering enemy strongholds, you’ll set your crew down in a cutscene, and then have to defend the area with your ship. Even when boarding ships, your crew will launch themselves over, again via cutscene, and then do the actual takeover without any input from you. I understand that we’re a long way removed from the inspiration of those original Assassin’s Creed games, but comparing the interactivity of the two really is night and day.

Most of your time will be spent taking on missions from a variety of characters, either to progress the main questline or to grind enough infamy that your ship is up to snuff to take on those main missions. These usually take the form of taking out specific ships, recovering resources and bringing them back, visiting various locations to bribe or trade for resources, then returning to your point of origin. You can fast travel on land between already-discovered ports, but it still makes most of your time in Skull and Bones feel like busywork. Which is unfortunate, since in theory everything you do should be feeding back into what should be the game’s strength – wheeling around on a pirate ship, raiding other vessels and loot and plundering. Unfortunately, since the core gameplay fails to feel satisfying outside of the visceral reward of exploding enemies, that just means you’re really engaging in busywork for the majority of your time in the game, even when harder mission types like ‘Helm’ missions become available later on in the campaign.

Your experience should be made more interesting by the fact that Skull and Bones is an always-online game, even though I had several server dropout issues especially in my more recent playing hours where that side of the game didn’t seem to function correctly, and slowed down actions taken everywhere else (like talking to mission providers). While you can meet up with and sail with others, what’s more likely to happen early in the game is coming across a gang of higher-level players who camp at earlier game objectives looking to sink any starters. Later on, you’ll learn to just pass by others going about their own campaign missions and rarely interact.

One area where Skull and Bones does impress, albeit with a choppy framerate on PS5, is in its visuals. Weather effects are particularly impressive, with far-off storms appearing like curtains over the sky, until they eventually envelop your ship and throw you around. The sunset peaking over tropical islands and reflecting off the ocean is often beautiful. There’s actually quite a lot of customisation options available for both your captain and your ship, along with a fair number of ship types, meaning you can get quite invested in decking out your ship as creatively as you want to. Some of the more interesting options, like pets, are locked behind purchases and there’s plenty of opportunities to spend real-world money for in-game rewards that honestly don’t seem worth it in the long run.

I really did enjoy the ship sections in those old Assassin’s Creed games, and maybe I would have really enjoyed Skull and Bones too, if it had come out much sooner, on the heels of those games, expanding their basic premise with some new features and more pirate-y adventure. However, what Skull and Bones has eventually morphed into is an unfortunately often boring online RPG. It’s not without spots of fun, but the busywork combined with slow reloading, slow ship speeds, slow progress in a storyline that never really takes off, makes Skull and Bones never come alive the way a game with its premise should. Perhaps updates will transform the game into something more fun, but after a decade of work already, it may be time to let this one remain adrift.

This review is based on code provided by the publisher for PS5.


-At times gorgeous graphics with impressive weather effects and lighting
-There is a visceral satisfaction that comes out of sinking ships with your cannons


-Land segments are loose controlling and tedious
-Never feels as addictive or cohesive as the Assassin's Creed games the original idea spawned from
-Slow combat, slow traversal and bland storyline

Overall Score: