1: Combat Is Limited to Naval/Ship Battles
Let’s not beat around the bush here. Skull and Bones’ naval combat is very similar to what we got in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. You’ll steer your ship around in the open seas, you’ll aim your cannons and fire at your enemies, and you can also hold down a button to brace for incoming damage. Once you’ve done enough damage to an enemy ship, you can steer towards them and hold down a button to board them and steal all their treasure. All the regular stuff you’d come to expect if you’ve already played Black Flag. Which is good, because Black Flag’s naval combat was tactical and very fun – something that’s being emphasized even more with Skull and Bones being a PvP/PvE hybrid game.
However, that’s the extent of the combat. Unlike in Black Flag, holding down A to board a ship simply rewards you with a short cutscene of your crew swinging across to the enemy ship. There’s no actual melee combat to be had here. Once you’re done with the boarding, it’s off to your next objective.
2: There Is Very Little Land Exploration
Similarly, there’s also little to no land exploration in Skull and Bones, despite there being objectives directing you towards buried treasure on an island or taking down a fort. For the former, it’s a matter of swimming up to the island, holding down a button, and watching another short cutscene of your crew walking on shore to find the loot. When you’re attacking a fort, it’s more of the same naval combat where you’re firing cannons at the building until it finally falls and you can take it over. Unlike in Black Flag or even the more recent Sea of Thieves, there’s no way to physically jump off your ship and try to take over the fort from the inside.
To be fair, it does look like you can walk around on land when you’re back at your hideout. This wasn’t playable in the demo, but from what I could gather talking with the Ubisoft reps, you’ll be able to interact with a couple of NPCs to customize your ship with new cosmetic items, or purchase upgrades for the vessel.
3: Is There Any End Game Content?
Perhaps the most worrying part of Skull and Bones is that there just doesn’t seem to be enough to do in the game. From what I played, you will occasionally get prompts for co-op events, where you and other players in the vicinity can team up to take down a Portuguese fleet. When your ship is stacked with loot, bounty hunters might also appear to try to attack you. These can be exciting, but outside of that, the naval/ship combat is really the only big thing to look forward to. Is that enough to keep you invested for a long time? That’s going to depend heavily on how much you enjoy the core gameplay.
The main loop in Skull and Bones involves you starting out at your hideout, customizing your ship, heading out to sea to pursue objectives (these can range from blowing up ships for ivory or attacking a fort), then coming back to your hideout to check your loot. It’s still not clear whether there’ll be high-level PvP or PvE content. And if there is, it needs to be very compelling to keep people playing for a long time.