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Skull & Bones gameplay is Sea of Thieves meets survival game

The first new Skull and Bones gameplay in several years reveals the current Assassin's Creed survival game state of the pirate game, here's our impressions

A pirate hunts a shark in Skull and Bones gameplay

It’s been a long time coming, but the first new Skull and Bones gameplay since 2018 has finally revealed just how Ubisoft’s live-service pirate game is turning out – and it’s far more of a survival game than some may have suspected, with influence from Rare’s Sea of Thieves too.

PCGamesN got to check out all the new gameplay and details for Skull & Bones, and while it’s still recognisable a lot has changed too – hopefully, for the better. The most important difference is that Ubisoft is now leaning heavily on Skull & Bones as a survival game experience. Players start the game washed up on shore with basically nothing except a small boat and a spear to fend off wildlife.

Players then stumble into the pirate town of Sainte-Anne, one of the safe “pirate dens” or outposts where players can explore on foot, and is probably the biggest influence from Sea of Thieves. Here, players can talk to various NPCs to get quests and contracts, craft ships and equipment, buy various provisions, socialise with players, and even work on treasure maps. It looks very like the hub island in Rare’s pirate game.

XP in Skull & Bones is called ‘Infamy’ and the main goal for players is to acquire it. The more infamous players get, the better contracts they have access to – which, in turn, can nab better blueprints to craft more advanced ships and equipment.

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It also puts a bigger target on their back from the NPC Privateer pirate hunters, which is just one of the dangers out on the open ocean. Much as previously reported, once you set foot on your ship you can’t get off until you reach a pirate den. The ship combat and sailing are highly reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, but actions like boarding ships and plunderin’ outposts are done entirely by your NPC crew. Make sure you keep an eye on your ship morale, though, otherwise they’re likely to mutiny.

While Ubisoft confirms that every part of the game can be played solo, at its heart Skull & Bones is still a multiplayer game. The PvP is opt-in on separate servers, but co-op game team-ups to undertake quests or go into battle are available. Furthermore, if anything happens to your ship, your character spawns at a nearby outpost but your hard-won cargo is left behind – easy pickings for any other player.

Character and ship customisation is still available and looks like it has a little more depth than just turning your vessel into a buoyant barnacle-covered beauty. Much like in Starfield, everything has a trade-off – build a heavily-armed warship with the strongest weapons and you’ll find yourself unable to move or manoeuvre properly, and you won’t have much room for cargo either. On the bright side, there are pirate cats.

Skull and Bones UI screenshot

We’re a little concerned with the UI, which looks to be the same over-the-top surfeit of information and icons clogging the screen that many Ubisoft games seem to have. Hopefully, these can be turned off – and that there are alternatives, so you don’t lose out on the vital info if you do turn them off. I’m looking at you, Far Cry objectives not simply fading instead of having them on-screen at all times.

Nevertheless, the re-reveal of Skull & Bones does look like Ubisoft has weathered the storm the game was stuck in. Assassin’s Creed ship combat is a lot of fun so Skull & Bones should be too, but it’s hard to tell how well the rest of the game will hold up without playing it. Hopefully, a Skull & Bones beta will answer any doubts, and if not – the full game has a release date of November, so there’s not long to wait.

For now, though, Skull & Bones looks a lot of fun and I personally can’t wait to play it when it releases in November. That’s the second-biggest comeback story I’ve ever seen.