Skull and Bones doesn't make a good first impression. Given its troubled development, this isn't the least bit surprising; it's tough to approach Ubisoft's latest without a heavy dose of trepidation. Nonetheless, after six separate delays, several scrapped concepts, and 11 years in development hell, the game's opening hours fail to put Skull and Bones' best foot forward, instead indulging in its very worst aspects. The gradual prevalence of combat does marginally improve things, particularly once your options open up and you're able to tinker with your ship and its various weaponry, but this isn't enough to save it from the dregs of mediocrity. Forget about scurvy; this swashbuckling adventure is beset with a severe case of live-service insipidity.
Skull and Bones' tutorial preamble kicks things off by making sure you know how to talk to NPCs and cut down trees. If your idea of pirating on the high seas revolves around the kind of resource-gathering found in most survival games, then you're in luck. In truth, this aspect isn't quite as egregious as it sounds, even if mining rocks and chopping down trees makes little sense when you're confined to the deck of a pirate ship. The main issue is that this is the first example of the game's insistence on making you perform menial busywork. There is some on-foot stuff, but landlubbers be damned, this simply amounts to chatting to vendors and quest-givers, with the occasional buried treasure thrown in for good measure. Skull and Bones might exist because of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, but the only similarities between the two pirating games occur in their naval combat.
It's difficult to discuss this aspect of the game without delving into comparisons with Black Flag, despite the 11-year gap between the two titles. Unleashing a volley of cannonballs into the starboard of an enemy ship is the strongest part of Skull and Bones' seafaring ventures, but it still strips away much of what made Black Flag such a fantastic experience. That game was a power fantasy with a kinetic rhythm to its combat. There was never a moment of downtime as you utilized your ship's broadside cannons, mortar, flaming barrels, and swivel cannons to pepper the enemy with a constant barrage of naval fireworks, outmaneuvering towering Man O' Wars by dropping and raising the sails on a dime to produce some exhilarating moments. Skull and Bones contains more depth than Black Flag, with multiple ships to sail and a bevy of customization options letting you outfit your vessel with rockets, ballistas, fire-spewing contraptions, and more, but it's nowhere near as fun.Continue Reading at GameSpot