Hands-on: Ubisoft's Skull and Bones' Closed Beta left me terribly bored

Firing cannons at ships has never been so dull.

The game is gorgeous. (Photo: Ubisoft)
The game is gorgeous. (Photo: Ubisoft)

For a game ten years in the making, Ubisoft's Skull and Bones is honestly not that fun to play. I've been trying the Closed Beta, and while I came in with lots of hope, the slow playstyle and tedious gameplay loop left me hanging.

Originally meant to be a spin-off of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag's naval battles, Skull and Bones has undergone multiple changes — at one point even becoming land-based — before returning to its roots. The game has reportedly cost Ubisoft US$120 million and has had multiple delays, though it is finally set for a launch sometime this year or the next.

Like in AC4, you get to captain a ship, and sail around the seas looking for targets to pirate. Combat is similar, you sail close to a ship, fire off cannons, mortars, and your crew can board other ships once you've damaged them enough.

I also dislike how clunky and slow the combat feels, it was fun 10 years ago, but this is 2023 now, and faster, fluid combat is how we prefer to play — or at least I do. But, hey, if you like repetitive ship sinking, you do you.

You can also loot shipwrecks, harvest plants, or mine resources. If you find a treasure map, great, because then you go on land to an outpost and dig up the chest. But land exploration is pretty minimal. Besides the main pirate island with its vendors, other outposts are mostly empty.

You can explore a small space and maybe meet a quest giver or vendor, but that's about it. Maybe that's a good thing, since the core of the game should still be piracy. That said, outposts are still useful, as you need it for fast travel. This lets you skip the tedious aspect of traveling from place to place.

That's not to say there's nothing to do while you sail. As mentioned, you can gather resources, or attack other ships. But attacking other ships get really boring once you've done it a few times, because it's mostly the same thing.

Fire cannons, sink or board it, loot and move on. But if you're trying to get from point A to B and avoid combat, then it's just like watching paint dry, only it's just numbers counting down to your destination.

This is the only populated town in the Closed Beta. (Photo: Ubisoft)
This is the only populated town in the Closed Beta. (Photo: Ubisoft)

You can plunder settlements, looting their stuff to get richer and earn infamy. Infamy is also how you get stronger, as higher levels of infamy gives you access to new ships and weapons.

The beta's progression seems generous enough you can actually skip quests and just destroy lots of ships, but that's really, really, really, tedious.

Speaking of quests, they aren't the most fun either. Most of them are fetch quests, which then leads to the same problem I mentioned earlier about how mind-numbing it is to go from point A to B. Bounty quests are a little more challenging, but once you figured out NPC combat, it plays out the same almost every time.

If you're planning to be a trader, don't bother, because it's really much easier to just plunder, most merchants only have very limited quantities of goods.

It's not like you can control a vast fleet of merchant ships, too. As a pirate though, you'll have manage your inventory quite a bit, mostly dumping out the vast quantities of cannonballs you will get before your ship becomes encumbered.

You can also play in first-person view. (Photo: Ubisoft)
You can also play in first-person view. (Photo: Ubisoft)

The game is a lot more fun if you partner with someone. I joined random strangers on their quests to hunt down harder bosses, and loot gets split equally.

There's also PVP events, where players wipe each other out to steal a map. I tried taking part and got my ass kicked since the people battling it out were of much higher levels.

Still, it honestly isn't enough to keep me engaged.

And I have doubts if Ubisoft will put in anymore time to make the game fun. It's already delayed as it is, and the bare bones of the game is already there, but I wouldn't be surprised if they decide if it's better to just release it and call it a day.

Skull and Bones is set to be released sometime in the fiscal year 2023-2024, which is any time between now and the end of March 2024. The game will be released on the PC, Xbox Series X/S, and PS5.

Aloysius Low is an ex-CNET editor with more than 15 years of experience. He's really into cats and is currently reviewing products at canbuyornot.com

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