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Skull & Bones

Skull & Bones - Hands-On Impressions

Raise the black flag and put on your best peg leg, matey, because Ubisoft wants us to sail the seven seas in pursuit of booty in their upcoming multiplayer piracy game...

Skull & Bones won't be about exploring deserted islands or digging up treasure, like Sea of Thieves. Instead, Ubisoft's upcoming piracy game will be all about naval battles. It's a bold move, and there's no denying that their vision for the game is grand. Skull & Bones is being marketed as a pirate game with a shared open-world, set in the Indian Ocean. Players will be able to customise their captain and their ship, and then set sail by themselves or in a group of six privateers. The game world will be inhabited by other players as well as computer-controlled enemies, and there'll be different activities to partake in such as entering Disputed Waters to fight other players. If we're to believe Ubisoft, there'll also be a story campaign which will be integrated into the same game world as the multiplayer experience, but the publisher isn't ready to talk about the narrative just yet.

There are a lot of questions that remain unanswered, and the release is still far off, but we've at least be able to acquaint ourselves with the core gameplay of Skull & Bones. You'll know what to expect if you've ever played Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, since all the naval gameplay in that game was handled by the developers of Skull & Bones, Ubisoft Singapore. While controlling your craft from a third-person perspective, you'll be able to raise your sails when the wind's in your favour, anchor to slow down, and yell orders to your navigator.

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Dozens of crewmates will be running around on deck, swabbing floorboards, loading up cannons and shouting at each other - and it looked amazing in the demo we got to play during E3. The attention to detail was incredible. All ships also had crow's nests that could be used as a lookout points to spot enemies, and fighting was all about positioning yourself correctly and firing away.

All players in Skull & Bones will have separate health bars for port and starboard sides, and if one of them is fully depleted the whole galleon will sink. Since all vessels will use broadside cannons, players will have to balance positioning themselves to get some hits in while at the same time avoiding incoming attacks. Furthermore, if either side has taken heavy damage the ship will be open for boarding. This was presented in the demo through a swift cutscene filled with death and pillaging, where our captain ordered his group of swashbuckling misfits over to the enemy vessel.

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While the full game will let players customise their weapons and roles on the team, we got to choose between three predetermined classes during our play session. There was the nimble Sloop-of-War, acting as a sniper on the map with its long-range mortars, and the medium sized Brigantine that could ram into enemies head-on with its front. Finally, the enormous Frigate had a stronger hull and many powerful cannons.

We still haven't gotten to see this open-world in action, but what we did get to play at E3 was a five-versus-five competitive multiplayer mode called Loot Hunt, where two bands of pirates got to roam the waters surrounding a group of islands. The goal was simple: seek and destroy other vessels in the area and load up with booty.

There were a lot of computer controlled merchant ships on the map as well that got caught up in the naval warfare, and towards the end of the match a group of high-level pirate hunters appeared with their sights set on all players. Defeating these bots would have been impossible, and with respawning suddenly disabled the goal shifted to escaping the area with as much gold as possible. Players who perished during this endgame sequence lost all of their booty, and the winning team was determined solely on the loot gathered by those who managed to get away in time.

The combat actually felt pretty good, and everything had a weight to it. We'll be controlling galleons weighing hundreds of tons after all. Ubisoft has our full attention with Skull & Bones, but with so much that still remains uncertain we're still very cautious about our optimism. We still haven't heard anything about the campaign, nor have we gotten to see the customisation or the shared open-world. There's a lot of potential here, but will the final product offer enough for a game about naval battles to succeed? Only time will tell, as Ubisoft's pirating endeavors is set to reach the seven seas during the second half of 2018.

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