Review – Skull and Bones

Sailing a sea of controversy, the development of Skull and Bones was as treacherous as the Indian Ocean players’ have finally been able to seize control of. Beginning development in 2013 before being officially announced in 2017, it would be seven more years before ultimately releasing to wild expectations and hopes of being the pirate experience we’ve long sought since Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag.

Skull and Bones throws players in control of a customisable Captain tasked with rising from the bottom to becoming one of the most notorious pirates to ever sail the seas. Diverse ship customisation allows players to amass a variety of ships to craft and switch between, each with varying loadout options dependent on the size and capability of the ship. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of each ship, both the ones players can craft and those sailed by NPCs in the open world, is paramount to knowing which ship is best for each type of mission and encounter. Players can focus on damage output, speed and more, as they inherit notoriety by taking down ships and thwarting the plans of infamous Kingpins on their journey to become one themselves.

Playable solo or co-operatively with up to two other players, Skull and Bones is primarily a PvE based experience with pockets of PvP encounters. PvP encounters are initiated by accepting specific mission types, with new modes to be added throughout the live service nature of the title for years to come. Upon completing the main story and being introduced to the end game elements, Skull and Bones is impressively tailored to allow players to do what they want when they want. This may be through a casual ‘take what the ocean gives you approach” or through a more focused approach seeing the player maximise profits through end-game activities. The biggest takeaway of Skull and Bones after such a rocky development is that is a lot of fun, and emphasises action and management over exploration in a way that showcases the spectacular naval combat gameplay.

Skull and Bones campaign essentially serves as a large tutorial for the various types of skirmishes, game modes and customisation that sets players up for the broader live service aspect of the title. The narrative aspect is limited to dialogue exchanges with pirate lords, referred to as ‘Kingpins’, and a handful of other characters.

The absence of any cinematic sequences does restrict the storytelling but prevents the story from really feeling like an actual story. Some two-dozen odd main missions do educate the player on the game’s Infamy ranking system which ultimately leads to Kingpin status, with each tier allowing the player to purchase and craft higher quality ships and ship modifications which are essential to reaching the endgame content of establishing an empire amidst the super secret smuggling organisation known as the Helm.

Via the Helm players need to capture manufactories scattered across the Red Isles, Coast of Africa, East Indie and Open Seas regions that populate Skull and Bones’ Indian Ocean open-world. These outposts can be used to generate Pieces of Eight via the production of various contraband such as opium and rum, and can be spent on an assortment of ship modification and weapon blueprints to craft, and Helm exclusive captain cosmetics from two available Dens that play home to your Helm base of operations.

The Pieces of Eight currency is only obtainable via the helm operations and the quantity earned can be increased by spending them on further upgrades that enhance the output, reduce production time and by completing order missions by delivering contraband. It essentially falls into the rhythm of a resource management experience in this regard, with all Pieces of Eight generated needing to be collected by sailing to the outposts once it’s hold has been filled with the currency, and fast travel is disabled while they are in the ship’s cargo hold until delivered to one of the two Dens. Earning certain amounts of Pieces of Eight also awards the player Sovereigns, yet another endgame currency that can be spent on end-game and currency exclusive items.

Manufactories require funding that only lasts one real-time hour and this is done by manually allocating funding in the form of silver, an extremely common currency that can be earned by completing missions, bounties, dropped as loot by sinking or boarding ships and by selling unwanted loot at the many merchants that populate the Indian Ocean.

While managing an empire by claiming manufactories via PvP and PvE world events and going on to manage contraband production and fulfilling orders may sound like an odd inclusion to Skull and Bones it is rather satisfying and offers means to generating passive income to unlock exciting rewards and upgrades that encourage player attention to maximise the strength of their ship and be able to survive harder missions, PvP and the world events among other mission types that will be regularly added via content drops. It also adds an extra dynamic to the true title of Kingpin, and expands on the control the player has which doesn’t fall back to just captaining a bigger ship.

When it comes to gameplay players take control of their very own ship, with a handful of ship types available at launch, and others to be added over time, players can freely switch between any of the ships they have crafted while docked at any outpost or Den. Dependent on the size of the ship the player is able to customise and allocate weapons to a combination of the left, right, front, rear and auxiliary slots available on the ships. Smaller ships lack rear and auxiliary slots and only have one cannon on the left or right for instance, while larger ships can have multiple cannons on the left and right which still only take up one slot.

The depth of the arsenal in Skull and Bones is surprisingly impressive with a variety of cannons and auxiliary weapons that each have differing stats such as damage, range, reload time and other effects like burning and flooding damage over time that will continue to harm enemy vessels after the shots have landed. Understanding the value of each cannon is paramount to taking down certain types of ships, destroying structures during outpost Plunder events that offer rare resources and surviving PvP encounters. In terms of PvP, a handful of game modes are available at launch and for players worried that PvP may lead to grieving or ruining their experience, PvP is completely optional.

Encountering other players that populate the server in the wild is not an experience to dread. You can shoot each other but no damage will be done outside of designated PvP missions that have to be accepted to engage. Upon accepting a PvP mission, all bets are off, and only the strongest captains will survive. Once the PvP mission ends, players return to being unable to damage each other. This consent to PvP approach is incredibly welcome and alleviates the concerns of players looking to simply enjoy Skull and Bones by themselves or co-operatively with up to two other players.

As players complete missions, contracts, Helm orders and sink ships they will gain Infamy, which acts as the XP system equivalent in Skull and Bones. Each tier offers new blueprints to craft in the form of new ships, weapons and furniture than can be assigned to the ship that provides various passive perks. Reaching the Infamy rank of Kingpin will open up the entire range of items to be crafted by the player, and it is only by reaching this rank that players will be able to stand a chance in the ongoing live-service nature of the game.

As could be expected from a pirate title, ghost ships and sea monsters play a part in the mythological and supernatural allure of pirate tales dating back centuries. At launch there is one ghost ship that can be found and defeated repeatedly to farm a unique resource to unlock special blueprints and items such as a spectral, blue flamed flamethrower. There is also a sea monster to conquer that also drops a pair of resources to spend on unique items that can only be obtained by farming these targets. New ghost ships and sea monsters are already confirmed to continue to come to Skull and Bones in the future and these, along with other historical, original or possibly even collaborative pirate characters are an exciting prospect for future additional content.

Naval combat is the primary focus of Skull and Bones and players of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag will find the experience very similar to the naval combat found there, though Skull and Bones offers significantly greater flexibility and combat prowess with its deep customisation and ship loadouts. Any NPC ship can be attacked from any faction, only other players are off the table for combat outside of the PvP encounters mentioned earlier. Enemy ships come in differing levels of difficulty, as indicated by the level number next to the health bar above the ship. The damage dealt and received is significantly influenced by the players ship level that is determined by the type of ship the player is sailing and its loadout. Launching torpedos, volleys of mortars or rockets as well as dense cannon fire and flamethrowers are just a few of the combat options available to players, and with such a diverse arsenal to experiment with combat never feels stagnant.

Enemy ships can be inspected with spyglass prior to engagement to see what loot they have on board, what type of ship they are, its level and which faction it is affiliated with. Sinking multiple ships from the same faction will draw aggressive attention that makes the player’s hunter become the hunted, luring the loot straight to your cargo if your ship is well equipped to deal with multiple enemy encounters, either simultaneously or gauntlet style one after the other. When enemy ships have been hit in critical weak points a variety of crew attacks can be performed that cause significant damage. As an enemy ship is nearly defeated the option to board becomes available, requiring the player to get close and initiate, triggering a brief scene and awarding additional loot than what would otherwise be obtained via sinking it.

Consumables are an important part of gameplay and will help keep the players ship afloat, and moving. During combat the player can repair their ship with repair kits which restore the ships health after taking damage, requiring a brief cooldown before using again. Maintaining the crews stamina is also essential to allow the ship to travel at maximum speed by consuming food that can be bought, looted and even cooked to increase their effects. Food items, repair kits, ship fireworks, ship perspective change toggles and sea shanties can be allocated to a three-page weapon wheel system for quick access. Sailing from the first and third-person perspective is fun to switch between, the fireworks are the equivalent of emotes and the quick selection of food and repair items are well implemented with this system that is simple to execute and eliminates cumbersome menus and tabbing through pages looking for the desired action.

As well as ship encounters player scan initiate plunders at outposts that drop rare resources if completed successfully. Plunders are multi-wave encounters that task the player with destroying guard towers that shower the player with cannonballs, destroying walls at larger outposts and fending off enemy ships that are attempting to stop the player.

While Skull and Bones largely takes place on the sea there is third person exploration at the pair of dens and countless outposts. These small areas offer little more than merchants and characters to interact with and potentially treasure to uncover if a treasure map has been found at sea as loot drops. There is no melee combat, on land or at sea with boarding for instance, and while this feels like a missed opportunity, it is a feature that is nice to have but was never revealed as a feature for the title. Disappointment in its absence is not a fault of Ubisoft’s very clear roadmap of what Skull and Bones was designed to be.

Ships are highly customisable, both cosmetically and from a functional standpoint. Cosmetically, the ships hull, flag border, colours and emblem can be switched out when docked anywhere between any that have been unlocked or purchased from the myriad of sets available to discover. Hull armour can also be equipped as can furniture, the latter having a fixed number of slots available based on the size of the shop. The furniture acts similar to mods in that they each have perks that increase various stats such as rate of fire for different cannon types, range, sailing speed and countless other options that truly allow the player to build to their preferred play-style.

The real fun with ship customisation is in its armaments, with many different types of cannons and auxillary weapons to experiment with and tailor to specific combat encounters such as plunders or taking down high level ships. New cannons are awarded via story progression and occasionally as mission rewards though most need to be crafted after first obtaining the blueprints. Blueprints are also awarded for completing missions or can be purchased from specific merchants and vendors throughout the Indian Ocean.

Obtaining the blueprints is the easy part, searching and stockpiling the appropriate crafting materials is the real work involved. Most materials can be found fairly easily, some obtained as loot for sinking ships, completing plunders, buying from merchants or harvesting with a crowbar, sickle or saw when pulling the ship up next to a shipwreck or plantations respectively. Pinning a blueprint as the active quest tracks the resources required and shows on the map where they are located, removing the frustration and guesswork of hoping to just stumble across the right materials after endless exploration. It’s simple, crafting is instant at a blacksmith or shipwright in a den and encourages players to experiment with new types of gear to maximise their damage output, repair and support capabilities or focus on defence on speed.

As well as the ship, players can also customise their Captain with cosmetics for tattoos, piercings, shirts/jackets, jewellery, hats, trousers and boots. Pets can also be unlocked or purchased that sit perched next to the wheel on the ship that offer little more than a fun visual counterpart to take on every adventure. Customisation options are fair, though there aren’t many outfits that allow players to create truly fearsome appearances or formal attire. The variety on offer is likely to continue to expand with fun options to keep pirates playing dress up as they design an image to match the reputation they establish on the seas.

Skull and Bones offers up an entire ocean of adventure, danger and opportunities to become one of the most feared pirates of its in-game history, and the backdrop to these escapades are stunning. Striking sunsets and sunrises, chaotic storms and rain animate the world in a manner that accentuates its beauty while maintaining the constant and ever changing threats at sea, be it the weather or the well designed variety of enemy ships that ominously sail in the distance. The detail of the players’ ship is incredibly well realised, especially when toggling between the first and third-person perspectives. The crew are all hard at work, especially during combat situations as they scramble to fire cannons and reload them. Their war cries add a layer of depth to the immersion of these life or death encounters that is most welcome and lends to a more authentic feel to what must have been incredibly terrifying experiences from the dawn of piracy through until its explosive end.

The joy of combat and the beauty of the world are definitely better explored as part of a fleet with the player able to add up to 2 friendly captains to plunder the world with, and it comes with its benefits. The co-op online combat brings with it an increased difficultly, but also increased rewards and larger crews will notice the difference. The other positive is that sailing together does not hold each player to the quests of the party leader.

While this game brings the joys of piracy at its finest, it doesn’t bring the blood and gore of the pirate life, and any one of your young ones could watch or play along with you, it will just need to be solo as this is online co-op only.

An epic score and heavy hitting, yet punchy sound effects keep the action and sailing feeling anything but calm. The tension and atmosphere of Skull and Bones flourishes when the audio presentation brings all the moving pieces into one dramatic, cohesive audio-visual experience.

Review by Games of DAYNE

Games of DAYNE’s written works can also be found at his website HERE.

* A digital code for Skull and Bones was kindly provided by Ubisoft ANZ for the purpose of this review. *


8 Score

Skull and Bones is ambitious in its scope, offering vast regions to explore, conquer and survive while populating them with enough missions, outposts, treasure and loot opportunities to justify the travel, either by sailing or utilising fast travel while docked at outposts. There is so much to do, so much to discover and so much customisation to encourage further exploration and build experimentation that it doesn’t feel like a chore to tackle a chain of small missions or sail aimlessly and simply see what haul can be obtained from a voyage of destruction. The wait is finally over and the pirate experience on offer is one that feels like the wait has been worthwhile. The promise of continued free updates and seasonal content drops offer an exciting future and guarantee an ever-changing landscape that will flourish with new threats, new opportunities and new ways to become the ultimate threat to all who sail on YOUR ocean.


  • Deep Customisation
  • Stunning World
  • Broad mission and resource options
  • Fun endgame loop
  • Co-op is a blast
  • Free ongoing content


  • Story feels more like a tutorial and lacks resolution
  • Limited third-person exploration could have been done away with

Review Breakdown

  • Score 0

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