When Skull & Bones debuted at E3 2017, fans heralded it as the full pirate experience of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag without taking any breaks from the naval action. As Joe Juba pointed out when he played it last E3, it’s more than just Black Flag without the assassination bits.
The core concept is the same: Captain your ship as you take on enemy vessels and loot debris. More mechanics come into play with Skull & Bones, however. From choosing different ship classes to enhanced wind effects, Skull & Bones requires players to think more about their approaches when setting sail. Spotting and assessing enemies on the horizon is crucial, as you learn what valuable resources they’re hauling, as well as how dangerous they are.
The demo I played features ships ranging from level 14 to level 18. Knowing this, I target some of the lower level ships and loot them. Much to my surprise, some of them put up a good fight. The battle intensifies as the lowly level 14 I’m picking on calls his buddies to help out. Before long, I’m cannon fodder as three ships swarm me. I turn the direction of the wind, open my sails, and do the one thing I can do: flee.
After my narrow escape, I take some time to use one of my consumable repair kits. A short cutscene shows my crew repairing the ship and my HP raises once more. However, this leaves me in a precarious situation with no safety net for another rough fight. Using my lookout, I find a shipwreck to scavenge from. Upon arrival, I’m given the choice to loot for treasure, steal the ship’s flags as disguise, or take materials to build a repair kit. I’m intrigued by the disguise option, but I’m in dire need of a repair kit, so I choose that.
However, I want to see how the disguise option works, so I seek out another shipwreck. This time, I take up an opposing fleet’s sails and flags. When in disguise, their allies will be friendly to me, and their enemies won’t hesitate to open fire. Knowing this, I decide to use my disguise to get a drop on a high-level ship. I sneak up on an unsuspecting enemy and obliterate it with my cannons.
I’ve raised enough trouble to attract some unwanted attention: bounty hunters. These high-level ships are powerful, fast, and unrelenting. To combat them, I join up with another player in my session. This disables friendly fire, so I don’t have to worry about getting caught in their crossfire or the sting of betrayal.
Even with our combined forces, we struggle in the battle. The bounty hunter ships begin by ganging up on me, knocking my health to dangerous depths. My teammate swoops in for the rescue, but I’m in no position to stay in the battle. I speed away toward the nearest shipwreck and retrieve another repair kit. I build my ship back up and rush back into battle.
The cycle of maintaining your ship while fighting off enemies and looting everything possible is exciting, and adds fun layers to the enjoyable naval combat.