The much-delayed and sometimes maligned development of Ubisoft’s “Skull and Bones” finally seems to have a solid release now being set for February 16, 2024.
For perspective, the game was first announced by Ubisoft at E3 in 2017, the original release date was scheduled for “Fall 2018” so the new date is some five and a half years later than expected.
The February release date falls towards the very far end of the release window announced in January 2023 when Ubisoft said that the March 2023 date they were targeting would be pushed back until “late 2023 or early 2024.”
The title has struggled with developing an engaging game loop and long-term replayability mechanic, a problem no doubt highlighted by the initial mediocre response to Sea of Thieves from Microsoft’s Rare studio.
Originally, Sea of Thieves and Skull and Bones were meant to usher in a new era of open-world pirate-themed MMORPG titles and while Sea of Thieves released in its anticipated window, Skull and Bones became consistently delayed.
A Fresh Take on Pirate Action-RPGs?
Somewhat ironically, the delays and reworks have allowed Ubisoft’s Singapore studio to retool vast parts of the game and gather lessons not just from Sea of Thieves (which has improved significantly over the years of continued development) but from other games in the Action-RPG, MMORPG, and broadly open-world gaming genres.
The nut that Ubisoft Singapore were trying to crack initially with Skull and Bones was hard, so kudos to Ubisoft for giving them the time to work on the game and hone the product.
And that’s exactly what’s being promised – a “fresh take” on the genre.
Skull and Bones promised a focus on thrilling nautical combat and immersive RPG elements with a high level of ongoing playability. Players can expect striking visuals, customizable ships catering to different playstyles, and a dynamic open world that responds to their decisions.
The developers suggest that players must strategically employ naval combat, exploration, alliances, and economic planning to establish their pirate dominance. Mastery of ship battles and discovering valuable secrets can make captains into feared rulers of the seas.
We’ll also be treated to crossplay between consoles and PC which is now pretty much a standard feature, but to be fair, when the game was first announced in 2017, was still something that was a “highlight feature”.
This all sounds very promising… so what’s next?
Closed Beta and Early Access for Ubisoft+ Subscribers
Skull and Bones will be made available in a Closed Beta from December 15-18, 2023 which one would assume is a shakedown test of servers and connectivity more than anything. Three days isn’t a lot of time to test the game systems and mechanics for something that looks to be as comprehensive as Skull and Bones.
Without trying to be overly cynical, one can likely assume that the game will release and undergo the now “normal” round of Day Zero, Day One, and Week One patches as obvious bugs get caught and fixed – this has become so “standard” for live service style games that you generally expect it now.
As with other companies that have a subscription service, Ubisoft+ subscribers (of which I am one) will get access to the game three days early on February 13th, 2024. This is actually a nice little bonus that I enjoy as part of my subscriptions for things like Xbox Live, EA Pro+, and now Ubisoft+.
Long-Term Future of Skull and Bones
With the investment of time and no doubt money that Ubisoft has made into this game, unless it fails miserably, you should be pretty confident that Ubisoft Singapore will be pushing out fairly regular content updates and undoubtedly DLCs and purchasable content packs.
Ubisoft has committed to seasonal content updates via a “Smuggler’s Pass” and if you buy the Premium Edition, you’ll get the first token for that pass included alone with additional bonus content upfront. Again, if you’re a Ubisoft+ subscriber, this is all included in your subscription.
I’m not going to lie here, I’m pretty excited for this game – I remember watching E3 live back in 2017 when it was announced and thinking that in comparison to Sea of Thieves, I was more interested in Skull and Bones.
The endless string of delays have made me somewhat jaded and the whispers that the gameplay loop was struggling tempered my expectations, but now that it’s definitely coming out, I’m pretty excited.
You can find out more on Ubisoft’s site for the Skull and Bones if you’re interested.