Ah, Skull and Bones– you truly are the flag bearer for what have been some of Ubisoft’s worst and most incompetent tendencies over the last half decade. Spinning off from Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag, Skull and Bones was announced as a separate title focused on pirates and naval combat and exploration way back in 2017, but though that reveal was met wide widespread excitement, things have only gotten worse and worse since then.
In the case of Skull and Bones, Murphy’s Law is king- seemingly everything that could have gone wrong with its development has gone wrong. The game has suffered multiple reboots, and the identity crisis that goes along with that; it has spent prolonged periods in development hell, where updates on its development have been non-existent; it has seen significant behind-the-scenes issues, from questionably work practices to the constant shuffling around of people in leadership positions; and, of course, it has been delayed more times than some might care to count.
It was, in fact, delayed once again just recently. Since the time it was unveiled over five years ago, Skull and Bones has been delayed from 2018 to 2019, then to 2020, then to 2021, and then to 2021, before finally being given a firm release date earlier this year at long last. And just when it seemed like Skull and Bones would finally be in the hands of players on November 8, Ubisoft recently decided to push its launch back again, saying that it needs additional time to make it the best game it can be and setting a launch date for March 9 next year.
But is that additional time going to be enough to bringing it to the level of quality that would justify all of its prolonged development troubles? Hell, is any amount of time going to be sufficient for that? At this point, it certainly feels like there’s no feasible outcome where Skull and Bones actually turns out good from a critical and commercial perspective. Of course, you can never truly be sure until you’ve played the game for yourself and seen what it’s about with your own eyes, but so far, the signs have been far from encouraging.
Everything that Ubisoft has shown of Skull and Bones in the last few months – and it’s shown a lot – has been widely met with skepticism at worst and apathy at best (though many might argue that that’s worse). While back in 2017, the game that was shown off looked like an exciting and ambitious game that would blend Black Flag’s pirate setting and naval gameplay with online integration, the form the game has taken now seems much more rote and by-the-numbers. Partly, that’s down to the fact that that’s become Ubisoft’s central strategy as a developer in recent years, but there’s also the fact that the ambitious features that Skull and Bones was alluding to over half a decade ago upon first being unveiled are now almost staples for most live service games with a multiplayer focus.
Especially at a time when you have something like Sea of Thieves, a game with a similar conceit but with a massive, massive head starts in more ways than one, it seems foolish that Ubisoft is deciding to launch a game that feels so much more barebones, with very little to set it apart. And of course, it’s not just Sea of Thieves that’s a consideration (even though it’s probably the closest competitor for Skull and Bones)- there’s no shortage of live service games out there that are constantly vying for people’s attention, from Destiny 2 to No Man’s Sky, from Apex Legends to Rainbow Six Siege, from Genshin Impact to Final Fantasy 14.
These are games that demand multiple-hundred hour investments, so for a new title to come along and supplant even a single one of them as the main live service experience players repeatedly come back to, it has to be a home run right off the bat. From what we’ve seen of it so far, does Skull and Bones seem like a game that might do that? To put it bluntly, no- not even close. Ubisoft says that it plans on supporting the open world pirate title for several years after launch- but not only will it have to actually stick to its word (which, let’s face it, isn’t always a guarantee with failed live service launches, which Skull and Bones might have the misfortune of becoming), Ubisoft would also have to make sure that the game’s post-launch support is as good as it is plentiful. Again, it’s hard to be optimistic on that front either.
Something else that doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence is the fact that, if reports are to be believed, the game’s own developers don’t seem awfully thrilled about how it’s turning out. A Kotaku reports earlier this year claimed that Skull and Bones’ own developers think that it’s a shallow experience, and the sub-par quality of the experience is likely to result in a bad launch- which, in turn, might end up changing the company’s plans for post-launch support as well (it’s been known to happen, to say the very least). Of course, no Ubisoft developer has publicly said anything along those lines, and that report may not necessarily reflect the views of the entire (sizeable) development team- but it’s not encouraging to hear even a single developer being this skeptical of a game’s success that they’ve worked on.
Another Kotaku report last year claimed that over the course of eight years of development, Ubisoft had poured $120 million into the game’s production, and that it had gotten to a point where it was deemed too big to fail, where, by hook or by crook, the company would finish working on the title and make sure it releases. In June, meanwhile, Kotaku senior reporter Ethan Gach said that Ubisoft was pushing Skull and Bones’ launch in spite of its very troubled development and the unimpressive state of the project itself due to an existing subsidy agreement with the government of Singapore (which is where the game’s development team is based). And if that is primary driver behind a game’s launch – if the only reason that Ubisoft hasn’t cancelled Skull and Bones is that it is contractually obligated to make sure it releases – then that certainly rings alarm bells.
On top of all of that, when you add other, smaller factors – like how the game will be monetized (especially given Ubisoft’s less-than-stellar reputation on that front) – you can’t help but feel like Ubisoft is sending Skull and Bones out to die- that the company knows that it’s a game that’s unlikely to succeed, and one that it wants to get out of the way. Is there a chance that this is all proven to be woefully wrong, or that Skull and Bones does manage to make a recovery in spite of a disappointing launch? Hell, anything’s possible. We live in a world where Final Fantasy 14 went from being one of the worst games ever made to becoming one of the best games ever made. So no, Skull and Bones certainly isn’t a hundred percent doomed to fail- but right now, it’s very hard to see a way back for the game. That might seem like a harsh thing to say for something that hasn’t even released yet- but that’s just where we are with Skull and Bones at this point in time.
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.