Privateering as a community experience: naval battles are the core of "Skull and Bones"Image: Ubisoft
After years of delay, the first game scenes from Ubisoft's pirate epic can finally be seen.
A memorable scene unfolded during the launch of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag at E3 in Los Angeles in 2013. Behind closed doors, a Ubisoft Montreal employee demonstrated something that had never happened before: naval battles. One of the journalists present raised his hand and asked whether the sails would adapt to different wind conditions.
That was the moment when the developer lost his composure. Can you even begin to imagine what it means to program a turbulent sea with different types of waves on which even huge ships are supposed to rock in a physically correct manner? And then someone has the audacity to ask about the damn sails! At least in this session, no more questions were asked afterwards.
Pirate games are not a sure-fire success
And that's just one of the cliffs that "Skull and Bones", into which Ubisoft Singapore has now provided a deeper insight for the first time, has to circumnavigate. Announced almost five years ago and certainly in development for a lot longer, the game is now scheduled to be launched on November 8th. In the beginning, the idea was actually quite simple: convert the naval battles of "Black Flag" into a complete multiplayer game that mainly takes place at sea. The fourth "Assassin's Creed" is considered by many gamers to be the best pirate game of all time. But when it comes to Open World, a lot has happened in the last ten years. At some point it must have dawned on those responsible for Ubisoft that pure sea battle PvP is simply not enough these days.
Most of it will take place on the open sea. There is little to do on land.Image: Ubisoft
The new captain should fix it
About a year ago, Ryan Barnard was brought on board as game director. He knows, among other things, from his experiences with “The Division”, which was published in 2016, how to stage PvP battles in an exciting way. But isn't the open sea something completely different from the urban canyons of New York? "Excellent question," replies Barnard. "In fact, pretty much everything is different, the bottom line is that they are two very different games. Ultimately, however, it is always about creating a good framework for battles. With 625 square kilometers of open world, or rather open sea, we are creating so much space that what type of ship you are traveling with and how it is equipped plays a decisive role. But when it comes to fierce, fast, and great naval combat, it's not that different from third-person combat like we did in The Division."
Raise your infamy: whoever spreads the most fear and terror becomes the pirate king.Image: Ubisoft
The comparison with «The Division» also comes to mind in other respects. “Skull and Bones” is primarily intended to be a community experience. Each player controls their own ship and commands their own crew. But in order not to quickly become cannon fodder at sea, you should team up with other players. "In open combat, you'll definitely want others to have your back," Barnard laughs. When you go ashore, you not only equip your ship and take supplies on board, but also get in touch with possible fellow combatants. If you don't feel like the competitive element, you can bypass the PvP servers completely and sail off alone. Nevertheless, the Ubisoft people never tire of repeating the motto "Piracy is more fun with friends".
"We're all big fans of Sea of Thieves."
Game director Ryan Barnard
Despite the game scenes shown in advance, it is still unclear what incentives one wants to create for longer stays in the "Open Sea". Shore excursions tend to be the exception and are largely limited to the "Pirate Dens", which are reminiscent of the home village of "Monster Hunter World" both visually and functionally. The trips to the sea could be too repetitive in the long run, the upgrading of the ships is not flexible enough and not detailed enough to satisfy tinkerers.
Prepare for a "year-long" sea voyage
So the shoal for Ubisoft's pirate epic remains close to another online pirate game that is already many nautical miles ahead: "Sea of Thieves". The parallels to the Microsoft factory are clear. Barnard primarily highlights differences in world design. “We want to break away from the Johnny Depp Pirates of the Caribbean cartoon storyline path. We show what real pirates looked like when they roamed the seas in the 17th century. They came with nothing and risked their lives to become kings." Playfully, too, a more serious, realistic approach is taken.
PvP naval battles are optional but provide the most fun.Image: Ubisoft
It remains to be seen whether that will be enough to ensure long-term success. Quest Director Terry Han has already announced free content that will be released "for many years". And finally, there were similar reservations about "Sea of Thieves" after its release, as they are now loud about "Skull and Bones". It is to be hoped that the on-board supplies provided by the Ubisoft command center will be sufficient for such a long journey. The sails, one can say that, are already billowing impressively in the wind.
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