Skull and Bones Review - Jolly Roger With a Peg Leg

Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was universally praised mostly because of its addition of sailing and ship combat to the main Assassin’s Creed gameplay loop. Everyone who played it thought that a sailing/piracy game built upon the AC Black Flag mechanics would be a great standalone product. Ubisoft has been trying to figure out how to make this a reality for the past eleven years. How do you convert something that is just an addendum into a major game? How to turn canapé into wagyu steak?

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From Dhow to Kingpin

You start as a pirate who had a nasty run-in with the British fleet and is lucky to be alive. After a rudimentary tutorial level, you’ll reach the pirate haven of Saint Anne and start learning the ropes on your way to being the nastiest creature to roam the seas. The game takes place in the Indian Ocean. It spans from the coast of Africa to East Indies. I loved how, at first, the initial islands felt like a huge area and how small they became later in the game when I reached the shores of Africa or the Indies.

The main story is your driving force of exploration and frankly, all your efforts here. Together with repeatable side quests you’ll meet every faction and visit every shore and island. You’ll use harvesting or plundering of resources for building better ships, guns, and equipment.

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You’ll also be able to trade commodities or solve treasure maps for extra silver and crafting materials. Occasionally, you’ll be alerted of special events and take on trading fleets or elite ships. There are even ghost ships and legendary animals to take down all in service of your quest for the most bounty and the best ship.

Sailing and fighting at sea feels and plays like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag felt, which is a praiseworthy thing. Generally, there are many places to explore, ships to sink and items to obtain. To help the mood there are also day/night cycles, fog patches, sudden storms and their rogue waves. You can, also, bring two buddies along for the adventure since the game takes place on a map populated with other human players. Things to do are constantly thrown your way and the screaming of sunken sailors makes it all even more fun. What’s the problem then?

Is It AI or Human?

The main story is also the source of some of the cringiest moments in the game. John Scurlock, the great pirate kingpin you’re supposed to do bidding for, is almost charming with how rudimentary his monologues, plans and motivations are. The first half of the game, in general, features some of the most juvenile writing and cliché characters ever seen in a video game. Competition in that field is extreme, so the heights reached here are impressive.

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The second half of the game became so much worse. The main quest giver in the East Indies is so badly and incoherently written that at one point I felt like all of it was written by AI. In all honesty, the person who wrote the screenplay for the main story should be barred for life from ever writing anything that could come in contact with Humans ever again. I pity the poor voice actors who had to breathe life into something intrinsically bad like this. The voice acting is rather weird and unpleasant as well, but I can’t decide whether it was because of the bad performance or the words they had to act out. The quests do teach you all the things you need to know for the endgame and, at least there, they fulfill their purpose.

The Endgame

Endgame sounds spectacular the first time you learn about it. You get to build your very own pirate enterprise comprised of producing and distributing various products of illicit nature. To be able to do so you’ll have to capture manufacturing outposts during takeover events that are PvP-enabled affairs. This means that other players will be trying to get the same outpost. The one that sinks the most ships, including player-controlled ones, succeeds in the takeover. Losers must wait another 20-30 minutes to try again.

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There are dozens of manufacturing sites to take over and they start producing special currency, called Pieces of Eight, that is spent on the best guns and cosmetics that you can get in the game. You can also do delivery contract runs and legendary heists to further increase the special currency generation.

The best thing about the endgame is that there’s a global player leaderboard. Players with the most earned smuggling currency get special rewards and cosmetics. Endgame intelligently intertwines concepts of controlled PvP and community interaction, thus fulfilling your fantasy of becoming a pirate kingpin of the Indian Ocean.

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Death Marked – You Have Crossed the Helm. Prepare to Be Hunted.

Unfortunately, the endgame is also spectacularly flawed. Taking over the manufacturing outpost is a lot of fun, but once you get enough of them their management becomes rather tedious. After capturing some 20 sites in the Red Isles I found myself spending about 45 minutes just picking up the pieces of eight from all sites. After a few runs of this, I was so bored that the prospect of having to do this day in and day out felt like a pure chore. Just plundering pieces of eight is not enough to keep your holds full enough to compete on the leaderboard, so I think there are very few people who will participate in the whole endgame after a few weeks of initial excitement.

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To spice things up even more is the message you see as the subheading of this section of the Skull and Bones review. It keeps popping up at random intervals once you start doing endgame activities. I had no idea whether something was really happening in the game, or it was a bug. During endgame activities you’ll be under waves of attacks from the Helm spawning out of nowhere, so it might be a feature? If it is a bug it was not possible for the developers to miss it and to ship the game with it is not very encouraging. In all honesty this was one of the few bugs in the game. Still, lack of simple polish and obviously not thoroughly thought out gameplay systems at launch do not instill confidence for the future.

Live Service Pirates

Skull and Bones is a live service game with seasonal pass and future additional content that should periodically appear. I’m sure devs will work on all the flaws and improve as much as possible. Still, at this point, the game fails to deliver an experience worth your time. It is filled with some great ideas and I can see that it could have been something exceptional. Unfortunately, there’s simply not much here apart from the calming effect of sailing through a rather pretty world and several thrills that can soon become chores.

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People looking to fulfill their pirate fantasy and that are going to skip every dialogue and turn a blind eye to strange game mechanics that make you wonder if they’re a bug or a feature, will be able to get a satisfying 30-50 hours out of the experience. It will not grab the attention of a wider audience though. It may even invoke their wrath. We did get a game that eliminated all of Assassin’s Creed core mechanics and put the accent on a full sailing pirate experience to the best of its abilities, but Wagyu Steak it is not.

It is a great thing to try with a Ubisoft Plus subscription if you have a pirate or sailing itch you’d like to scratch. There’s even a free trial offer available. Everything beyond that is a waste at this point.



  • Lots of things to explore, do and loot.
  • Calming sailing through a pretty world.
  • Some exciting and hectic battles in both PvP and PvE.


  • Horrible storytelling.
  • Poorly thought out or executed gameplay systems than turn fun to chores.
  • Great ideas that don’t come to satisfying fruition.
Author Serge profile picture
Having games be part of his life since Commodore 64 it was only natural that Serge co-founded With every new game he travels from being the Noob to being Gosu. Whether he does coding or editorial work on the website he is still amazed by the fact that gaming is what he does for living.