I had trouble wrapping my head around Skull & Bones until I finally went hands-on with it at this year’s E3. While the demo was some of the most fun I’ve had at the show thus far, it also exacerbated some of my greatest apprehensions surrounding the game. I genuinely believe gamers will have fun with Skull & Bones when it drops, but my concern is for how long that fun will last.
This year’s Ubisoft showcase demonstration of Skull & Bones revealed an open-world multiplayer mode called Hunting Grounds, which follows the Loot Hunt competitive mode that debuted at E3 2017. The team-based objective-focused gameplay of last year’s Loot Hunt PvP mode seemed to fit the game well, but the open-world opportunities of Hunting Grounds showed the broader gameplay scope of what Skull & Bones offers. Why, then, am I not yet declaring a pirate’s life for me?
There are two key features that Skull & Bones lacks which have me questioning the game’s lasting power: a story campaign, and the ability to take the adventure off of your ship (excluding walking around your personal hideout). The game’s Hunting Grounds mode makes a strong case for the breadth of its multiplayer, and the sailing seems extensive enough to mask its lack of onland gameplay, but the omission of both of these features together seems to leave the game with only one string to its bow (or sail to its ship?).
To emphasize again, the naval combat has the potential to be very exciting, with a variety of interesting weapons and strategies to employ, but it is ultimately limited by the inherent essence of what sailing is as an activity. Skull & Bones has unique ship abilities, unpredictable competitive and cooperative opportunities, and ample customization, but at the end of the day, you’re a boat, spending the majority of your time shooting metal balls at another boat. Without the option to take our pirate adventure onland or become immersed in a structured narrative, I have a feeling that even the most exciting naval battles may not keep players hooked for long.
Skull & Bones has me concerned for its longevity for now, but Ubisoft may very well turn my sails around as new details are announced, and I wholly look forward to the perspective shift. To that end, fans should stay optimistic about Skulls & Bones and its upcoming launch, expected for sometime in 2019 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.