Skull and Bones Test Results: Hit, but Not Sunk

After ten years of development as complex as it was eventful, Skull and Bones finally risks casting off to sail towards our consoles and PC. Only one question now arises: what the hell are we going to do in this mess?

Born in the wake of Black Flagthe pirate episode ofAssassin's Creed released at the end of 2013, Skull and Bones is the first major project from Ubisoft Singapore, a major maritime specialist who offered his famous naval battles to the saga as early as Assassin's Creed III. To say that the project was complicated seems like an ugly understatement, especially cruel for the developers who have succeeded one another on it over time. A reboot of the project, half a dozen postponements… Skull and Bones has accumulated all the bad shots of the Arlesienne for a final result which is, unfortunately, nothing miraculous.

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He carries the ten years of his chaotic development on him like glowing scars with a dated production that smacks of the PlayStation 4/Xbox One era. To summarize, the trailer of gameplay unveiled at E3 2018 (yes, 2018!) is more beautiful than the current game which, alongside it, passes for an alpha version. Let's be clear, it's as watchable as it is playable (even if it's better to squint at the NPCs), but far from “AAAA” next gen promised. If the very vast open world inspired by the Indian Ocean tries to display a little variety in its environments, the lack of texture details, the copy/pasted appearance of certain locations and the distant perspective induced by the placement of the camera do not really help to feel dazzled and, de facto, to motivate us to explore again and again.

Skull and Bones // Source: Ubisoft

At the approachaaa… Ah well, no.

Beyond these aesthetic considerations, Skull and Bones is based on a strange concept: making a complete game from a subsidiary element of an otherwise very varied and generous title – a bit as if Kojima had decided to make a racing game with the trucks of Death Stranding. Of course there is a heart of gameplay completely functional basically. Sailing the seas at the helm of these imposing ships smashing the waves, launching into explosive games with a (small) touch of strategy, customizing your boat… After the first two or three hours are very linear and heavily didactic, Skull and Bones opens and reveals a pleasant side that brings back some good memories.

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Source: PlayStation 5 CaptureSource: PlayStation 5 Capture
Too bad we can't swim… // Source: Capture PlayStation 5

Yes but there you go, the game doesn't add anything noticeably interesting to these mechanics already worn out by Assassin's Creed (Snape and even Odyssey in turn copiously exploited these naval sequences). On the contrary, it tended to become lighter. Once again, if we are attentive to this stubborn trailer from 2018, we can see fairly advanced wind management, a more comprehensive combat system, even a touch of infiltration (by changing the color of its sails to try to go unnoticed and attack the enemy by surprise) and battles , it seems, more epic and spectacular.

Skull and Bones quickly locks us into a boring routine

Staying only on the scale of an entire ship, Skull and Bones What’s more, it deprives itself of crucial elements. We first think of the boardings which here boil down to a click at the right time and a vulgar menu revealing the contents of the holds of our prey – an aberration for a pirate game. We don't even dare to mention possible underwater diving in search of buried treasures or battles on the ground to capture this or that fortress. There are some walking sequences, but with rudimentary animations and only for the purpose of exploring tiny areas in search of possible treasures (shown with a small lighting effect). We can also chat with three guys and do some shopping. Without these almost essential variations, Skull and Bones quickly locks us into a boring routine.

Source: PlayStation 5 CaptureSource: PlayStation 5 Capture
What a thrilling boarding sequence! You can not find ? // Source: PlayStation 5 Capture

Would you like to add a little layer of overcoat?

To compensate for this and seek to expand, the game capsizes into a fairly basic spiral of collection and accumulation: finding an endless array of increasingly valuable raw materials to build increasingly valuable boats and equipment. effective in helping us find increasingly valuable raw materials to build… You get the idea. You can do a little smuggling, roam the trade routes looking for particular cargo, attack forts, trade… But it all revolves around the same levers, over and over again.

Another problem: neither the scenario (frankly, uninteresting), nor the direction (there is no real effort from this point of view) shake us up to make us want to move forward. Ugly NPCs are more likely to throw around grotesque pirate slang expressions than to try to tell a story in which one could feel involved. We are therefore only holding on through this awful capitalist reflex of enrichment. It works for the first few hours before running out of steam after the umpteenth ten-minute round trip across an ocean whose waves of similar content no longer arouse the slightest enthusiasm.

Source: PlayStation 5 CaptureSource: PlayStation 5 Capture
Yes yes, the textures have finished loading, there… // Source: Capture PlayStation 5

The prospect of playing with others in what dreams of as an MMO/service game will perhaps arouse the curiosity of players, who knows? It must be recognized that the ambient agitation that this implies and the sudden appearance of a human comrade, in deus ex machina mode during a tough battle, awakens our naval voyages a little. However, in multiplayer too, Skull and Bones will be threatened by the same pitfalls against which its very fragile hull will give way sooner or later…

The verdict

Skull and Bones ironically bears its name aptly as it resembles an emaciated skeleton. Ten years of development for a video game is a long, very long time, and the Ubisoft Singapore title bears all the scars of this ordeal, starting with its dated production. Locked in a loop of gameplay boring in the long run, the game does everything possible to keep us busy with variations of missions ad nauseam and an accumulation of layers and overlays of craftimprovements and customizations which end up causing a lot of seasickness.

If it is not ultimately this catastrophic shipwreck so feared, Skull and Bones All the same, it is more of a raft cobbled together and tossed around by uncertain waves, than of a proud galleon which should have taken us on an epic adventure. In short, unless you have an irrepressible desire for sea spray and video game capitalism, perhaps it is better to stay in port.


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