Skull and Bones Review – Mostly seaworthy

Reviewed February 22, 2024 on Xbox Series X|S


PC, PS5, Xbox Series X|S


February 16, 2024




Ubisoft Singapore

The development of Skull and Bones has not exactly been smooth sailing; after multiple delays and reworks since its announcement back in 2017, it is kind of a miracle that Ubisoft Singapore’s seafaring pirate MMO has released at all. Now available to the public, the game is certainly better than it could have been, with plenty of fun co-op plundering to be had. However, its relatively shallow and repetitive missions and uninteresting world are not likely to keep many players sticking around without substantial new content and events in the future.

Set in the Indian Ocean during the golden age of piracy, you play as a pirate captain marooned on a small island with your crew following an attack by the British navy. After scrapping together what can generously be called a “boat”, you sail to the pirate haven of Sainte-Anne and are taken under the wing of the cantankerous pirate kingpin John Scurlock as you steadily amass your own power and influence.

Admittedly, I had low expectations of the plot, considering the game’s multiplayer focus, but I was still a bit disappointed with how light the game was on narrative and character development after that initial setup. While there are a few memorable NPCs, such as Scurlock, the black marketeer sisters Yanita and Houma and the scheming political dissident Admiral Rahma, the game is otherwise just a treadmill of doing odd jobs for these characters or anything else to increase your Infamy ranks, with occasional dialogue choices which don’t actually impact anything.

It is especially a shame due to the uncommon focus on the East Indies and coast of Africa, compared to the more well-known Caribbean settings of Assassin’s Creed 4 and Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean films. It is also particularly weird as many of the game’s factions are renamed stand-ins for real factions or organisations at the time, like the Dutch Merchant Company being the Dutch East India Company in all but name, resulting in an odd setting that feels sort of historical but also not. As such, if you were looking for a game that explores a cool historical setting and the lives of pirates at the time in great detail, you aren’t going to get that.

Regarding Skull and Bones’ gameplay, it is focused squarely on naval combat and navigation. While you do manually move around your player character on foot in towns and outposts to talk to merchants and dig up buried treasure, your main method of interaction is in your boat. The game controls more or less identically to the naval combat in Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag and its spin-off, Assassin’s Creed: Rogue, albeit with more stats and weapon types to keep track of.

With multiple different ways to blow your foes out of the water, from good old-fashioned cannonballs to flashier fare, such as torpedoes and mortars, there is a surprising amount of variety as to how to can kit out your pirate vessel. The ships you can craft have different special abilities and typing, whether they be focused on defense, DPS, or aiding their allies via healing cannonballs (however that works). While actually obtaining the blueprints and required materials to craft most of the higher-end items can sometimes take agonisingly long, the reward is often worth it. The new weapons that I crafted generally felt appreciably more powerful and enjoyable than what came before, with satisfying BOOMs as my cannonballs collided with enemy weak points.

A generous helping of cosmetic options also gave a decent amount of flexibility with customising the appearances of my pirate and crew. I dressed up my avatar in a tricorn hat, eyepatch and coat (because what ELSE am I going to wear in a game called Skull and Bones?), and was a fan of the myriad different sail varieties and stuff I could bolt onto the sides of my ships.

While I could hold my own pretty handily in the early hours as a mostly solo player, once Skull and Bones moved me beyond Sainte-Anne, I began to value the assistance of allies after the overpowered Dutch ships guarding the next hub area sent me to Davy Jones’ Locker one too many times. I participated in a few bounty hunting and scavenging quests, both with friends and random online players, and I would definitely say that it improved the experience, if only to have someone to draw aggro and give me a bit of breathing room in the tougher fights. Some way of balancing it for solo players, like recruitable AI ships, may be desirable.

“…as fun as the naval combat is, it isn’t quite enough to build a whole reportedly quadruple-A game around.”

That said, it becomes apparent before long that as fun as the naval combat is, it isn’t quite enough to build a whole reportedly quadruple-A game around. There is a decent variety of mission types, whether it be looting a certain number of a certain material, taking down a powerful bounty, hunting for buried treasure and some additional PvP-related activity types introduced later on. However, when you’re mostly fighting the same kinds of ships and forts in the same few ways, the tedium sets in before long.

The lack of any kind of on-foot combat particularly feels like a missed opportunity; while boarding a downed vessel is still a mechanic, it has been reduced to a disappointing quick-time event instead of a more involved controllable pirate melee. This feels particularly acute with Plunder missions, where you besiege a port town by shooting down its defences and fend off any other ships which come to its aid for a certain amount of time while your crew does all the actual plundering of the town offscreen.

Progress also feels glacial: nothing takes one step when it could otherwise take three. You cannot buy weapons and ships outright; you must locate and purchase the blueprint, then amass the required materials and silver, and THEN you can craft it and add it to your arsenal. This is even if you have a sufficient Infamy rank to purchase the item in the first place, which often won’t be the case. Gathering the materials requires either hunting or purchasing from specific merchants who have that material or slowly harvesting it from certain areas. The harvesting mechanic feels both awkward (because slowly maneuvering your ship towards a particular bank when in a narrow canal shared by other ships is surprisingly challenging) and dull (because every harvesting task, whether it be mining iron ore or breaking open a shipwreck, is done via a small pool of repetitive quick time events).

Even getting around feels arduous; while the wide open ocean certainly grants Skull and Bones’ world a certain sense of tangible vastness, landmasses feel too spaced apart for getting from one continent to another to feel like anything but a chore. This is exacerbated by the addition of a stamina meter limiting how long you can spend at travel speed. You can always fast travel, of course, but doing so is expensive and not a useful strategy if you’re endeavouring to save up for something.

Skull and Bones does open up somewhat if you can make it to its endgame, with more mission types revolving around holding territory against other players. These missions do a good job of encouraging a greater level of player interaction. This contrasts with the game’s first few hours where the other players mostly just hang around ports or occasionally jump in to assist with a raid.




  • Decent variety of weapons and ship types to allow you to plunder how you see fit
  • Large amount of enjoyable cosmetic options for your ship and crew
  • Rather fun naval combat, particularly with friends
  • Somewhat expansive endgame activities with fun PvP mechanics


  • Disappointingly shallow plot and setting
  • Process of acquiring new weapons and ships feels way too slow
  • Lack of on-foot combat or more detailed ship-boarding feels like a missed opportunity

Considering the game’s notoriously troubled development, Skull and Bones is definitely not as bad as it could have been. With many of its tweaks to the naval combat pioneered in Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, the game is often fun, particularly with a friend. However, those moments of fun are sometimes hard to find, and are buried under boring travel, glacially-paced harvesting and looting, and a rather shallow world to explore. If you’re a fan of other multiplayer live-service titles and are looking for a new kind of game to check out with friends, Skull and Bones certainly brings something new to the table that Destiny 2 and The Division 2 do not, but it is not all smooth sailing.