Platform: Xbox One
Skull and Bones Preview - E3 2018
We set sails for another E3 demo, this time of the cooperative nature
Skull & Bones was one of the stranger games that came out of my E3 experience last year - and I say that after seeing the latest version of a Japanese game where your aim was to wail on other characters so that their clothes fly off. Ubisoft’s pirating adventure game showcased its shared open world this time around in the Hunting Ground at E3 2018. In it, I had a chance to sample the life of a brigand, plundering and pillaging on the high seas with several other players.
Before you take the wheel and set off, we had a short intro cinematic, setting the tone for the game - pirates are banding together to take on and survive the bigger threat of various navies, such as Portugal and Britain. We were then given our Fortune, which works like an ability card. Our Fortune was for good weather, helping us navigate treacherous waters quicker.
I then could choose my vessel. Similar to the PvP mode I played last year, three ships were on offer: The Blackhorn, an all-round, moderately fast vessel;, The Jaeger, a nimble one with good speed and front-facing canons; and Royal Fortune, a big ‘ol ship that, while slow, boasted serious fire power. I went with the rapid vessel as I like to skirt around opponents and find my opening.
Ship selected and booty on the brain, I was dropped into open waters. Graphically, there’s a lot to appreciate in the water effects and those of the various islands dotted around. However, your ship is the pride of Skull & Bones, and it's rendered in lovely detail. Combined with the ability to customise your vessel, there is a wealth of options available to truly make it your own. Unfortunately, there was no time to spend ogling or upgrading my ship.
Controls are quite intuitive - you accelerate with the right trigger, and can also brake, and brace yourself for incoming damage. My quick ship had cannons along its broadside, rockets, good for flaming damage, and a special ability that unleashed a hail of cannon fire from the bow. If you’re on the receiving end of an encounter, you can repair your ship if it takes on too much damage, sending your crew hammering away to bring her back to shipshape condition. And if you’re looking for a little merriment on the waves, your crew can sing shanties, too.
After familiarizing myself with the controls, I had several objectives open for me to complete. First and foremost was gathering ivory. When you open up your map, you’ll see numerous trade routes snaking along the seas. Each of these provide different resources for you to collect. Aftering locating which one reaped ivory, I set off with the wind billowing my sails, and it wasn’t long until I encountered company.
Ships have levels when you find them in open waters and it’s up to you to determine whether it is worth attacking them. Getting into the pirate spirit, I went full ahead and let rip my cannons. The length of an encounter depends on how well you place your shots. Ideally, I was cycling through my different abilities until the enemy ship was ready to be boarded, netting me a chest with various supplies. What you have to be careful about is other enemy ships, especially if they are of a higher level. If one of those things sees you then you need to stick your mast between your legs and make for the horizon because, alone, you’re no match for them.
It’s best to hunt in packs, so I focused on finding some mates. You do this by looking through your spyglass atop the crow’s nest. Upon finding a friendly person, you can solicit their help and form a group, allowing you to chat. Thankfully, my newfound friend had already been busy collecting ivory, meaning he’d done the hard work for me. It was the beginning of a blossoming relationship. But in the back of my mind, I knew I had the option to turn on him at any moment and steal his loot.
For now, I played it safe. I was running low on repair kits so decided to visit a shipwreck close to an island. While here, I encountered another couple of enemy vessels. My pal was ready to help me out and we skirted around the enemy, turning them to driftwood and finally allowing me to get my crew back in working order.
Our next mission was to assault an enemy fort and rob them blind. There was an option to go in via the front, but you required some serious firepower for that. Our team was small, so we decided to don a disguise, changing our flag to that of Portugal after raiding a shipwreck. Our ruse underway, we sailed for the fort with treasure on our minds.
It seemed, however, that we had all spent a little too much time roaming the waters and blowing stuff up rather than getting with our mission. Our jaunt as pirates was up, just as we were about to reap the spoils of war.
From my session with Skull & Bones, and taking into account the PvP experience I had the previous year, my biggest realisation is a rather simple one - the seas are large and ships don’t move too quickly. As you can imagine, this means, even with my fast ship, it still takes time to sail the oceans. When you are “in irons”, meaning the wind is coming head on, you slow to a crawl. While it is realistic, it can be somewhat frustrating when your objective is so close but you are forced to go all the way round to reach it.
On the whole, combat is much more enjoyable when you are mired in a massive war with companions against the enemy. Ships are weaving in and out, you have to be mindful you don’t bombard your fellow pirates, and taking down a huge foe feels rewarding. However, I am still unsure whether Skull & Bones can truly offer a lasting, exciting experience in a world where some players want their fix of action from the get-go. Set to embark on PS4, Xbox One, and PC in 2019, it won’t be too long until we have our answer.