The naval combat was easily the best feature in Assassin’s Creed III, Assassin’s Creed Rogue and, of course, Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Since that series has moved out of the age of high-seas piracy (for now), it was only fitting that Ubisoft repurpose that compulsively playable system elsewhere. Enter Skull & Bones, a piratical multiplayer extravaganza that uses Ubisoft’s tried-and-true maritime warfare to pit players against devious 18th-century governments–and each other.
Ubisoft revealed Skull & Bones at its E3 press conference, where it showed two cinematics, as well as a heated multiplayer match. It’s hard to tell whether the cinematics indicate the presence of a single-player campaign. The first demonstrated a female captain holding her own against two diabolical male foes while a much larger battle raged around them. The second showed a pirate ship sailing over the form of a gargantuan kraken, just barely visible beneath the waves.
What we do know for sure is that the game will offer you plenty of ways to challenge other players, and to prove yourself while doing so. Ubisoft showed some pre-alpha Skull & Bones gameplay in which two fleets of pirate ships fight each other to collect sunken treasure gathered around the map.
First and foremost, there are lots of ways to customize your ship. The point-of-view player in the demo controlled a sloop of war--a maneuverable ship with a reasonable amount of firepower. As it squared off against enemy vessels, the combatants made use of broadside cannons, chain shot, mortars, and ramming. For fans of Assassin’s Creed IV, it’s nothing new, but the combat looks as refined and intense as always; much moreso, in fact, because you’ll be playing against real opponents.
What’s somewhat different from the Assassin’s Creed games is that in Skull & Bones, there’s no melee combat. Boarding a ship is an automated process that simply increases your treasure reserves. Similarly, your primary purpose isn’t to fight off enemy ships; it’s to collect loot. If you decimate an enemy fleet, but its last survivor makes off with the lion’s share of the loot, you’ve lost.
What makes multiplayer matches interesting is that they have a time limit. After a while in the demo, a group of government ships appeared and hunted both the player’s team and the enemy team. Government ships are too powerful to fight off, meaning that the player captain had to beat a hasty retreat across a dangerous reef. It’s an interesting alternative to multiplayer matches that prioritize killing foes.
There’s still much we need to see in Skull & Bones. A single-player campaign would be nice, if nothing else. Still, if you enjoyed the naval combat in Ubisoft’s earlier efforts and wanted to test your skills against real people, it will afford you the opportunity to do so.