Regardless of what feelings you may hold in regards to Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, you have to admit it shook things up somewhat for the series. Not nearly as big of an impact as Assassin’s Creed Origins eventually made last year, Black Flag threw in elements that were first introduced in the deeply flawed Assassin’s Creed III and ended up being way more enjoyable than it had any right being as an unwelcome prequel to the very first Assassin’s Creed game set during the colonial age of the American continent.
Skull & Bones is an even bolder move by Ubisoft, stripping away the bloated and convoluted mythos that Assassin’s Creed drags around with each new iteration, leaving the great naval action that made the third and especially the fourth entries in that series so unique. While still unconfirmed whether or not it’ll feature any sort of story background, Skull & Bones impressed me with its demo during E3 on gameplay alone.
That chunky slice of gameplay took place over the course of about 20 minutes as a group of nine pirate-journalists took it to the sea in a free-for-all match against themselves and some A.I controller ships. I kept to myself throughout the entire ordeal, as I attempted to take down as many of the defenders that were protecting the Portuguese garrison that held that loot we all wanted to claim for ourselves. Out of the three ship types available in the demo, I started out with the rammer, a ship specialized in close combat and equipped with a special ramming attack that could be used to zoom in on the ship’s bow and allow for a precise and extremely powerful ship-to-ship attack.
Control-wise, I felt right at home playing Skull & Bones thanks to how similar it plays to the aforementioned sections in Black Flag and Assassin’s Creed III. Weapons are relegated to triggers, and can be fired as many times as their cooldowns allow. The special weapons that vary from each of the available ships, be it the ramming that I used to the sniping attack that another offered and last but not least, the absolute wreckfest that is the sail-tearer. These ones do take a little longer to become available, which I felt was pretty fair considering how strong the other weapons are.
Taking that into consideration and the fact that you can repair your ship at a whim as long as you have the tools looted from other vessels — all of which can either be captured, pillaged or downright destroyed — the gameplay loop in Skull & Bones is extremely fun and fast-paced. The best part of the demo in fact, was getting to navigate the seas of the Caribbean and locate enemies to try and take out, something that’s easier said than done, although locating other ships is only a matter of switching away from the helm and jumping to the crow’s nest at the touch of a button.
According to the devs at hand, all of the loot that you acquire is transferred to a hideout location where you’re able to spend your cash and upgrade your ship, crew equipment (for boarding other ships in combat) and such, but that bit was not present in the demo. I’m positive that that aspect of the game will have all the flair and minute details that are common in Ubisoft games, only that it seems that they’re playing their cards pretty close to their vests. From the short session that I got to play, all the crews I messed around with felt pretty different in visual style and in presentation.
Speaking of which, Skull & Bones is surprisingly musical game. Like in Black Flag, your crew is likely to start a chanty when out of battle, braving the seas, and also like that game, the sound design during combat is top-notch, as ships pelt each other with shells, fire off cannonballs and spin chains hoping to tear one another out. The water physics in the demo were also very impressive, but that’s one part of this game that’s not at all surprising, considering its pedigree, namely the work done in previous Assassin’s Creed games. Speaking of those, the newest entry, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, also at E3, rivaled Skull & Bones in that department!
Safe to say, I wasn’t anticipating being this interested in the game going into that appointment, but that demo really impressed me. Ubisoft reps mentioned that there will be some sort of open beta event soon, and I’m hopeful I’ll get another shot at the game then. Skull & Bones is expected to be released sometime next year for the current gen consoles and PC.