Skip to content

After years of whispers and speculation, Skull and Bones has finally set sail.  Can it weather the storm of high expectations after an eleven-year development journey?  Players who’ve experienced innovative features in newer releases might anticipate similar advancements in Skull and Bones.  The main question is does the game deliver on those hopes, or is it more of a shipwreck than a smooth sail?  Read our Skull and Bones review to find out!

Skull and Bones environment

A journey begins

You begin your journey in the bustling port of Sainte-Anne, a den full to the brim with pirates and merchants.  The story is surprisingly light, almost too light, acting as more of a springboard for your piratical exploits than anything else.  For example, you are offered contracts (missions) from several of the merchants and workers there who require you to go off and do pirate-y things.  Typically, you are required to go and steal something from other ships or ports or to go and blow up other ships or ports.

There isn’t much in the way of character progression.  The main focus in terms of your character is on their reputation, namely fame and infamy (which is essentially negative fame).  Your actions determine how these levels adjust and your fame and infamy levels will adjust accordingly.

Skull and Bones screenshot


You’ll also receive contracts from various factions, leading you on missions that range from plundering merchant ships to establishing trade routes and assassinating rivals.  Despite there still not being much in the way of a story, it does in fact allow for a more open-ended experience, letting you carve your own saga across the Indian Ocean.

The core gameplay mechanics revolve around three main foundations: ship customisation, exploration and (solely ship-based) combat.  The first boat that you receive – if you could even call it that – is what you would expect a fledgling pirate to have.  It looks like it is made out of used matches and sails how you would expect a matchstick boat to sail.  Slow, almost lethargic, and not very powerful in terms of firepower.  However, as you progress and become a better (or is it worse?) pirate, you reap the associated rewards.  They include a better ship, better weapons, better furniture, a better crew – you get the idea.  As such, if you dedicate enough time to exploring, battling and pirating, you will become an oceanic force to be reckoned with before you know it!

Skull and Bones screenshot

Make it your own

You can customise your ship to an almost unbelievable degree, even to the point of choosing from a selection of available pets for your ship (I like the lemur best)!  Out of all of the available customisation features, your ship’s firepower will probably be your main focus.  This is because your ship’s firepower is of the utmost importance.  After all, fighting other ships and/or boats will probably make up the majority of your in-game activities, so you should prepare accordingly.  As such, you can customise your ship’s cannons – and eventually mortars – immensely, making use of the blacksmith at Sainte-Anne to help develop your new arsenal for you.

Exploration varies from player to player because procedural generation is at play.  It is important to note that the map, key locations and story are not procedurally generated, however.  Instead, the location(s) of loot, enemy ships and the weather all make use of procedural generation.  This means that no two players will have the same experience even if they explore the exact same part of the map as their encounters will vary.

Skull and Bones screenshot


As one would expect with a pirate game, combat is the star of the show and quite rightly so.  Could you imagine a docile pirate?  Nope, neither can I.  As such, battles against other ships and settlements are intense, fast-paced and breathtaking.  You need to pay attention to all manner of things whilst in the middle of a literal bombardment of explosions.  You need to ensure that your ship’s health doesn’t drop too low before you repair it on the fly, otherwise you risk sinking.  You need to ensure that enemy ships don’t get too close to you because you risk being boarded (and subsequently robbed of everything you have).  You also need to ensure that you haven’t bitten off more than you can chew.  Just because a ship is smaller than you doesn’t mean that you have the advantage.  Far from it.  Certain ships are built to be small, fast and incredibly powerful, and will take you out quicker than you would ever expect.

Boarding enemy (victim) ships looks and feels great…at least at first.  You draw closer to the vessel that you are bombarding and command the crew to board it.  They hoist their grappling hooks off of your ship, up into the air, towards the target vessel.  Depending on your positioning and proximity, they sometimes miss, but when you are in the right place and proximity, they land and your crew begins hauling them closer to us!  You receive a message informing you that boarding was successful, which is great!  The next screen you see, however, is a summary of what your crew took from the other vessel.

Skull and Bones screenshot

What just happened?

There was no battle, no fighting, not even any footage of your crew actually being on the other vessel!  Skull and Bones simply skips the process entirely, guaranteeing you a victory every time those grappling hooks land.  Unfortunately, I found this to be one of the most immersion-breaking aspects of the game, because simply boarding an enemy vessel doesn’t guarantee a victory.  The crew aboard it might be some of the best swashbucklers to have ever lived and subsequently could have given you the beating of a lifetime.  It would have been great to actually engage in character-based combat with them to see if you manage to pull it off or not.

That brings me to the larger problem: the only combat you will engage in is when you are aboard your ship.  I know.  You can only fight when you are playing as a boat and not as a human.  In fact, it’s impossible to interact with any other human characters in a way that isn’t scripted and because of this, it really takes away from the overall experience.  That’s not to say that it isn’t fun fighting ships whilst playing as a ship – it really is.  It feels great and rarely gets old.  However, pirates are renowned for being cruel to other humans also, but this isn’t displayed at all in-game.  Perhaps a future update will bring such fighting mechanics in because it would make the game so much better for having it.  For now, being restricted to ship-only fighting feels…well, restrictive, and that’s a huge shame.

Skull and Bones screenshot

Gather your crew

You’ll be able to recruit sailors at various ports and settlements scattered across the Indian Ocean.  Each sailor will have their own unique skills and attributes, which will be relevant for different roles on your ship, such as gunners, navigators, or boarders.  Each role requires specific skills and will directly impact the performance of your ship in different areas.  You can also train the sailors and will even be directly responsible for the level of morale on board.  If you’re a poor captain, then your sailors will be unhappy and won’t perform as well as they would have if morale was better.

Skull and Bones is a live service game, with multiplayer naturally being at the heart of it.  Whenever you venture out into the Indian Ocean, you will encounter numerous other players on their respective sea vessels.  Most of them will try to attack you for no reason whatsoever, however, but they are pirates after all so don’t be surprised!  There is also the fact, however, that it’s great fun and feels invigorating to blast a ship to smithereens!

Privateering together

You can call for help when planning on plundering a base, which is great as there is always strength in numbers, as the saying goes.  The trouble is that after calling for help no less than 15 times, not one other player stepped in to help me.  As such, I had to plunder alone and although it was fun, it was almost overwhelming due to the frequency of enemy ships and settlement fire.  However, I did persevere but what that experience has taught me is to not plunder unless I absolutely cannot avoid it and that’s a shame.

Skull and Bones poses itself as a live service game, meaning that there will be a constant flow of updates, features and things to do in the future.  This means that Skull and Bones should always have new content, and thus new reasons to return.  However, given the current format of the single-player campaign, with basic missions, limited side missions and a weak story, there isn’t much that draws people back in.  However, the battles that you take part in are always nothing short of epic and almost always draw you in.  In fact, the battles are probably Skull and Bones’s star feature.  They are invigoratingly fast-paced, require quick thinking and could even end in an instant for you if you aren’t careful.

Skull and Bones Screenshot

Open world exploration

The open world – which is one of the best features of Skull and Bones – holds potential for further exploration and activities like treasure hunting and expanding your fleet.  However, repetitive mission structures and a lack of diverse activities can make this feel repetitive and even tedious after a while.

Ultimately, how Ubisoft decides to approach future content updates will determine how likely players are to return frequently.  If Ubisoft perhaps includes more varied PvP battles and/or missions, or perhaps limited-time in-game-reward-heavy competitions to take part in, then the returning player base could keep growing indefinitely!  Overall, execution is key here so all we can do is watch this space and see where it goes!

Skull and Bones Screenshot

Ships go boom!

The world of Skull and Bones is at-once visually striking, featuring rich, vivid colours and every element almost pops off of the screen.  The environments look genuine and incredibly authentic to their genre.  The water – of which there is plenty! – looks stunning and even moves realistically, gently lapping at the shore or smashing into the side of your ship.  Explosions are probably the best visual aspect of Skull and Bones, always providing us with a truly epic display every single time.

The audio is also on par with the visuals.  Whilst out at sea, there is the constant sound of water doing lots of different things, from splashing around loudly in bad weather to gently trickling past you as you sail across it.  If you listen closely, you will also hear the wood of your ship creak and moan as you move around, and you will have to admit that the immersion in that respect is most certainly there.

Skull and Bones Screenshot

Lackluster dialogue

NPC vocals, although authentic in their timbre, are marred by a very limited script.  After overhearing an NPC tell their companion the same thing four times simply in passing, the effect is almost immediately lost.  This is because, despite sounding good, the NPCs’ repetition is immediately immersion-breaking and, if anything, makes you want to hurry past as quickly as possible rather than take the impressive scenery in.

Skull and Bones Screenshot


In its current state, Skull and Bones is far from perfect, but it is certainly a good game with plenty to do in the form of activities and contracts to carry out.  However, those activities begin to get fairly repetitive after a time and despite the gorgeous graphics, it’s difficult to remain engaged for long periods.  One of the most thrilling activities, however, has to be battling other ships out on the open sea.  The constant bombardment of explosives, cannon balls and missiles slamming into ships with utterly stunning firework-esque explosive damage is invigorating.  The fact that the weather can sometimes be terrible during these encounters only adds to the experience.  Not only will you be defending, bracing, shooting and evading, but you will also have to account for the fact that you and your opponents are literally bouncing up and down on the angry waters!

One of the main factors holding Skull and Bones back, at least according to me, is the fact that you can’t fight anybody as a pirate.  You can only fight boats (or settlements) whilst playing as a boat.  This is especially true when boarding others’ boats.  At present, you can’t actually board their boats – you just get a summary screen telling you what you managed to loot and this is a shame as it would merge the two worlds perfectly – ship-based combat and sword-based combat. Yet, swordplay in any form remains to be seen in Skull and Bones.  Given that Ubisoft is going to support this game with Year 1 content, one can only hope that they will listen to the community and hopefully improve the story as well as include more immersive features in future updates. For now, have fun sailing on the open sea, partaking in epic battles and enjoying the view whilst keeping your fingers crossed for an improved story and more features!


  • Stunning visuals.
  • The ocean moves how an ocean should!
  • Ship-on-ship fights are almost always epic.
  • Great sound.
  • Huge map to explore and unlock.


  • No swordplay.
  • Boarding isn’t actually boarding!
  • Vague, weak story.
  • Poor character creation.
  • Limited NPC scripts.

Grade: 7

Skull and Bones is currently available through Amazon Luna and GeForce Now. This review was made by Mus from PapaBear Gaming. You can check out his channel right here. You can follow him on Twitter by going here. That was it for our Skull and Bones review.

Skull and Bones logo