E3 2017 proved to be a huge show for pirate based video gaming. Microsoft has had Rare working away on Sea of Thieves for quite a bit and finally released some gameplay during their conference. Not to be outdone, Ubisoft announced that the team behind Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag's famous ship combat was back with their own swashbuckling take on online multiplayer. Dubbed Skull & Bones, the game looks to take everything you loved about the best part of Black Flag and combine it with a For Honor style progression system. While those out on the show floor weren't able to get their hands on the game, I was able to stow aboard the SS Rabbid and play a few rounds with my fellow scurvy journalists.
The most important thing to know about Skull & Bones is that the game will feel familiar to anyone who played Black Flag. Using only a controller map to confirm button placements, I was able to master my vessel's movement and weapons with relative ease. In each round, my crew of four seadogs went up against an equal force of opposing scallywags. Your goal is to sail into loot zones to accrue treasure, sink opposing boats and neutral parties, and then sail off into the sunset before military forces come to ruin your fun. Grabbing a lot of loot in important, but you don't score if you fail to escape by the end of a round, meaning that you'll want to stick with your team and always have a backup plan. Either that or you can go headfirst into battle and focus on decimating the opposing forces while your teammates pick up the scraps.
Thankfully, no matter how you want to play, there should be a class for you. The build I sampled had three different types of ship and they all felt significantly different in both maneuverability and firepower. I leaned towards the Frigate-style boats, as I wanted to take a beating and plow through enemies. I got the sense that the developers really knew what to put into a game like this. There were considerations for ramming opponents, you could use your lookout in the crows nest to survey the battlefield at the push of a button, you can snipe opponents from afar with mortar-esque weaponry, and wind plays a huge factor in getting around the lagoon arenas. It's a mechanically dense game, but none of it seemed overwhelming in the slightest, and I was able to pick it up before our first fight was over.
In a way, this feels like the perfect follow-up to For Honor as much as it feels like a return to Black Flag. The novelty of For Honor's melee combat was what drew people to that game, and Skull & Bones is presenting another completely out there multiplayer experience. Once more, this game feels like it has the (sea) legs to stay in the conversation in a way that For Honor hasn't in the last few months. It's still early on, but one fact above all else lets me know that it's on the right track. The game already has a post game screen where you look at all the ships of the winning team, and I confirmed with a developer that this was in place to show off cosmetics.
Skull & Bones will have boat hats. GOTY 2018.
Skull & Bones was demoed behind closed doors at Ubisoft's booth at E3 2017. It is currently aiming for a 2018 release on Console and PC via UPlay and Steam.