The latest Skull and Bones closed beta gave me a chance to check out Ubisoft’s seafaring pirate game. I wasn’t sure what to expect since we all know it’s been in development for a while alongside many delays. I mean hell, it was announced at E3 six years ago which as of a week ago no longer exists.
Fortunately, I’m not here to talk about the Skull and Bones’ development but rather how much I enjoyed the closed beta. It immediately threw me into the action with a massive sea battle. This gave a good idea of how intense the action could get as I was being fired at from all sides. While simultaneously attempting to use all your cannons.
If you want to fight efficiently you constantly have to maneuver so each cannon has a chance to fire. This is due to each one having a limited radius. Such as the side cannons, the front-facing one, and the back, if you’re fortunate enough to have that many. Which forces you to fight the waves as you’re trying to set up the perfect angle to use them all.
While the Skull and Bones intro focuses purely on chaotic action, the game opens up further once you complete the intro. It starts to develop a story as you meet the Kingpin John Scurlock and begin working with him. As you go from your dinky Dhow ship to a Rammer with cannons, you start to make a name for yourself and can help him chase riches.
It’s too early for me to say how the story is since the beta was limited to six hours of playtime. So I’m curious to see how deep it goes or if it’s just a way to give you something to do. With that said, one part of Skull and Bones that feels off is docking at islands and running around. The movement doesn’t feel smooth and this can throw off your pacing when you leave your ship each time.
The main port lets you craft ships, weapons, consumables, and take on new quests as essentially a quest hub. So I understand its purpose even though there are times when I wish I could cycle through a menu quickly. Instead of running around to each merchant before returning to the seas.
This is where I wonder if the many different Ubisoft studios working on Skull and Bones once had a stronger focus on land gameplay. Perhaps in the same vein as Sea of Thieves where you can fight enemies and complete puzzles to find treasure. Especially since certain islands let you explore a good amount where you can find items like cannonballs and coconuts to collect.
I’m curious how much variety there will be in Skull and Bones since I immediately think of pirate games with a sandbox vibe. From my limited time, I noticed gathering resources for crafting by playing little minigames. Or even throwing spears at sharks with my first ship, the Dhow.
I’d love to focus on trading since I noticed there is some sort of an economy with commodities to sell. However, one of the first quests I got from a trader was to go blow up merchants to get commodities. This makes me think the gameplay loop still revolves around combat which is perfectly fine. I don’t necessarily need a complex MMORPG.
Even though Skull and Bones does require internet which makes me assume there won’t be an offline option. This led to one of the silly incidents where I disconnected due to the host no longer existing. I can only imagine this happening to someone during a battle.
Despite Skull and Bones having a focus on multiplayer, it’s sort of like Diablo 4 or Lost Ark where you can play solo, but you’ll see others running around. While I can see some people not like this, it actually added to my immersion. It’s satisfying to be at a port or undocking and hear cannon explosions in the distance.
You have the option of continuing on your way doing whatever or sailing over and taking part in the action. Despite disabling chat, I frequently teamed up with random sailors in large battles. And since the loot is shared, there’s no reason not to.
Even with player-controlled ships sailing around, I had a good chunk of solo content as well. My favorite moment from the Skull and Bones beta was a quest that sent me to destroy a large ship. Unlike most ships that I attack, this one fled into a sea of fog that felt like an ambush. The next thing I knew, I was in a massive battle with a fleet.
It reminded me of that intro hours ago where I had ships to fight on all sides. This time it was on my own ship that I customized with cannons and accessories I crafted. But, my favorite part was as I focused on the large ship and gradually heard the sound of yelling get louder. Without realizing it, a ship was charging full speed at me to ram.
This was a memorable moment where that chaos made me want more of Skull and Bones. Now I need people to play with so I can take on world events that I’m sure are more hectic. Especially since each ship has a role like DPS, Tank, and Support. I’m curious how well they fit together even though it seems you can equip any cannon regardless of your ship role.
Overall, the closed beta was a good slice of what Skull and Bones has to offer so far. I’d like to see what the final product will be and how much content we’ll have. Whether this is a game you’ll put in 20 or over 100 hours as you raise your infamy.
Jeff is a journalist with over 10 years of experience writing, streaming, and making content about video games. With an associate degree in journalism, he’s a sucker for RPGs, survival games, roguelikes, and more.