Skull & Bones Hands-on Preview: Terrorising the seas

I wasn’t a PvP guy until Skull & Bones changed the term from ‘Player versus Player’ to ‘Pirate versus Pirate’. There’s something amazing about blowing a ship out of the water, swooping in to steal its loot and then sailing to freedom to blow your doubloons on rum and eye patches.

Behind closed doors at Ubisoft’s E3 booth, I shuffled into a room adorned with skulls behind nine other potential pirates. I took in the sights with a troubled frown as empty eye sockets followed me around the room. I’ll admit it: I was worried. I’ve been to enough of these events to know how PvP matches go down. Nobody talks to each other on the mics, eliminating any chance of teamwork or strategy. Those same players walk away, murmuring, “I guess that could be fun with some friends” — nobody gets any kind of taste for how things will really play on release.

Thankfully, this hands-on session was completely different. Skull & Bones drops the usual seriousness and pressure that comes part and parcel with competitive shooters; replaced with exploding galleys full of gold, the mood becomes far lighter. People were actually chatting and having fun, no easy feat for so late in the E3’s busy second day. I breathed a huge sigh of relief at the raised spirits in the room as the tutorial ended and the our first real match began.

Of the three ships available, I picked the slower, sturdier frigate to start things off. It was a perfect selection — the thing is a tank! I began the match firing my cannons at the smaller NPC ships littered about the ocean, snagging their precious loot. I then noticed one of the enemy teams’ ships was separated from the pack; I switched my game plan and began leading the offensive. I called out to my two nearest friendly ships and the three of us bombarded the poor pirate into oblivion within seconds.

By the time we reached the next rival ship, our two other friendlies had finished looting the NPC and joined the fleet. With the wind behind us, we sped into the enemy’s ranks and rained down lead on ship after ship, swooping in and stealing their hard-earned gold. A fleet of Pirate Hunter ships signaled the end of the match and we all sailed safely off into the horizon with full cargo holds.

In the next match I wanted to try something different. The other team was wise to our tactics and surely wouldn’t fall for the same tricks again. I chose the Sloops-of-War ship for round two. It’s small and fast, with a lot of range. Think of it as an enormous wooden aqua-sniper filled with questionable sea folk.

Just as I expected, our rival pirates grouped up for the beginning of the second round. I called to my team to follow me and approached the enemy fleet head on. Once I within range I launched my long-distance mortars at the smallest ship in the group and veered off to my left — or port, as we pirates call it — towards a rocky outcrop as they began firing on me. As expected, the smaller ship was faster than the others; as it chased me it broke away from its friends. Just as it came within range of my own ship, my salty chums arrived and obliterated it.

In all the confusion, two of the enemy ships crashed into the rocks and couldn’t see through the flaming hull of their friend’s sinking ship. As I circled back to help take out the remaining ships, my team’s entire fleet assembled and mangled our foes with little trouble. We hooted and hollered as we once again made our way to safety, victorious. I went from frown town to being the Jolliest Roger around.

You shouldn’t think of this as a subsection of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, but something entirely its own. I urge anyone who ever wanted to be a pirate for a day to keep an eye out for Skull & Bones‘ upcoming beta. Get a bunch of friends together and take over the seas in spring 2018 on Windows PC, Xbox One and PS4.

Stevivor was flown to E3 2017 as a guest of Ubisoft to cover the entire event. This relationship does not prevent Stevivor from covering other publishers’ titles, nor does it impact the opinions of any other of our authors covering E3 2017.

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About the author

Shane Wall

I'm just a simple man trying to make my way in the universe. A game geek turned audio engineer/musician. Shane's life is a delicate balance of video games, music and science fiction.