Skull and Bones

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Skull and Bones review
William Thompson


Hitting the high seas

Against which all others are judged

The game that got me hooked into my gaming career was the original Sid Meier's Pirates! on the Commodore 64. It was a game that had it all – ship-to-ship combat, sword-fighting, treasure maps, and the occasional marriage to a beautiful governor's daughter. And so, each time a new pirate themed game comes out, there is always a comparison to that game. And few games have come close to the enjoyment I had when I was younger, despite the massive improvement in technology since. So, when Skull and Bones finally sailed into port, I had to jump on board and see how well she handled.

A little bit of mischief

In Skull and Bones, players take control of a pirate-wannabe, with the aim of being the most infamous pirate in the Indian Ocean. Starting with a small three-man boat known as a Dhow, players will gain infamy by sinking ships, killing wildlife, plundering points of interest, and completing quests from a range of inhabitants across the isles.

To be perfectly honest, there is not much of a story in Skull and Bones, with most of the initial story being presented to players by pirate kingpin, John Scurlock. This lack of an interesting story does allow players free reign on how they play though. Like Sid Meier's Pirates, the game is quite open world, leaving the entire area open for players to explore, attack and trade as they see fit.


The main gameplay element of Skull and Bones – as you would expect from a pirate game – is the ship-to-ship combat. And the mechanics are extremely simple, with players only required to steer their ship, occasionally raise and lower their sails, and fire off cannonballs and weapons of various types at passing enemy ships. Each ship that you take on has different weak points, highlighted in red. Hitting the ship will damage it to a degree, but focussing on these weak points will significantly damage the ship. Once players damage the ship enough, they can get close and board the ship, which grants slightly better rewards than simply sinking the ship.

Unfortunately, if you are after some swashbuckling sword combat, then Skull and Bones may not be for you. Boarding ships or plundering settlements only results in a short cutscene of you and your crew. This shortage of melee combat came as a bit of a surprise, as I would have thought that this would be a major feature. And coming from a studio that has sword-fighting as a stable feature in the last few Assassin’s Creed titles, this is somewhat disappointing. Players will however spend some time on land, but this is for visiting merchants and for looking for buried treasure.

Upgrading your ship

Whilst on land, gamers will visit various merchants to buy and sell their wares and visit the shipbuilder and the blacksmith to construct new upgrades and equipment for their ships. Of course, much of the equipment will require resources as well as coin, and of course, it is up to the player to collect these resources. This can often feel like a bit of a chore as you will need to visit different settlements to find the various blueprints, and hunt down the required resources. Basic resources can be collected by working the land – by chopping down trees, capturing wildlife, and mining with a pickaxe or even pillaged from captured ships. These primary resources will often need to be refined to create the better equipment – like a sea based Fallout, and can lead to some great equipment to aid in the ship-to-ship combat.

Supply and demand

Of course, the goal in Skull and Bones is to collect gold and other valuable treasure. As well as plundering ships and settlements, players have several other options for becoming wealthy. Along the way, they can stumble upon treasure maps that will give clues to the whereabouts of buried treasure. There are visual and written clues for each treasure chest, and most are relatively easy to find once you have deciphered the clues and explored the area. Players can also trade goods at various settlements and could even gain wealth (albeit slower than plundering ships) by primarily on trading alone if they see fit. At each merchant, commodities can be purchased or sold, with small indicators showing players whether the prices are higher or lower than average, easily enabling players to buy goods at low prices at one location and selling for a margin at another trade centre. Sure, it’s not as fun as ransacking a settlement, but it is not nearly as dangerous.

Sailing across the Indian Ocean in Skull and Bones is a visual delight. Waves crash over your ship, birds circle overhead, and various sea creatures can be seen frolicking next to your ship or close to shore. And most of the settlements that you will visit have a tropical getaway vibe, complete with coconuts. The day and night cycles as you sail from one settlement to another also provide for different combat strategies in the fading light.

Walking the plank?

Skull and Bones was more of an arcade style game than I was expecting when it comes to the gameplay – but this makes the game more accessible to players of all ages. Being able to leave port, target a passing ship, and then aim down the sights and fire away is a breeze. However, this can become stale until you come across a new blueprint which enable you to take on tougher opponents and settlements. Skull and Bones looks gorgeous as you sail from one settlement to the next, and despite the lack of an interesting storyline, the open-world nature of Skull and Bones allows players to play however they want. Skull and Bones is a sleek and sturdy vessel, but the lack of some sword-based combat means that it trails well behind the original Sid Meier's Pirates! which still remains my favourite – even after all this time.

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fun score


Ship combat is very basic and easy to pick up, lovely open-world sailing experience


Next to no story, no sword-fighting