What the Skull and Bones gameplay tells us about its eventual PS5 release

By Kes Eylers-Stephenson,

Skull and Bones is sailing to your PS5 in the early 2023-24 fiscal year after a delay. To compensate Ubisoft released 30 minutes of gameplay. With boats, pirates, and treasure hunting, what does it say about the eventual release?

You were going to start the treasure hunt for Skull and Bones trophies on March 9th, 2023, until Ubisoft buried that date along with 6 other games in the sand. Amongst the lineup of upcoming PS5 games in 2023, Skull and Bones is now scheduled for the early fiscal year 2023-24 somewhere between April 2023 and March 2024. Before we get there, though, the latest Skull and Bones gameplay has at least revealed five things about the finished game.

Skull and Bones gameplay reveals more about the 2023 PS5 gameSkull and Bones gameplay reveals more about the 2023 PS5 game

The Skull and Bones story is minimal

The portion of gameplay embedded below is supposed to showcase some of the narrative; however, we would be inclined to say that the story is sparse from what we have seen. The world that the team has built seems really interesting, with an entire background offered to explain seemingly minimal details by narrative director Joel Janisse. He speaks of old egalitarian pirate kingdoms that rose up in the face of the corporate shipping companies, before shattering into hundreds of violent pieces across the Indian Ocean. This angry rebirth myth sounds fascinating.

The method by which this is told (in this gameplay segment, at least) are letters you find that direct you towards somewhere else in the world map. It looks like they are narrated when you are in the menus — pray that they can be narrated as you play, too — and there are hunks of text dedicated to explaining character arcs. While we are excited by the likes of the fictional Captain Freeman and company, if this is the primary method of telling storytelling for what sounds like compelling lore, we suspect that it won't be engaging enough for many players.

Just Adewale and Edward Kenway's talks aboard the Jackdaw in Assassin's Creed VI Black Flag were enough to help build the world there, along with some Nassau republic building and quality cutscenes. Let's hope that's what's coming to Skull and Bones, too: just some nice chatting, cutscenes, a bit of diegetic storytelling on the islands, and a few points of interest to visit and hey ho, off we go.

Shanties are back from Assassin's Creed Black Flag

"We have your classic pirate shanties," says narrative director Joel Janisse, confirming that the sing-a-long pirate adventure will make a return. They were obviously the most important part of ACIV, so that leaves us pretty pumped about hanging out on the oceans after the game finally releases. "We also have language-specific shanties some that are not translated and are kept in the language of the local fractions," he adds. "we also have shanties that are really specific to the world lore of our games, so shanties about some of the characters in our game — the legendary kingpins — about some of the myths and overall fantasy."

skull and bonesSkull and Bones looking to the horizon for a release date

The sea and the Indian Ocean setting is gorgeous

The best Assassin's Creed games have a setting that is more than a match for everything else that Ubisoft could throw at a game. That trend looks set to continue with Skull and Bones as the lands of the African coast look superb. The water looks deliciously changeable and rippling, particularly in the sunset. The two developers' narrative of the gameplay describes plenty of variation that will be available as you tour the coasts, from acrid plains to more jungle stuff. We even see some waterfalls dripping straight into the sea and some of the sands that you can explore on foot. It all looks like the perfect image of a seafaring holiday (but with more cannons, cutlasses, and violence).

skull and bonesSkull and Bones' oceans looks fantastic

Clunky screen space usage, ahoy

We have already spoken about the story potentially being relegated to menus, but we really hope that before the game releases on PS5, some of this UI is cleaned up. The map interface shown at one point looks cluttered and the text pop-ups on the screen seem like they need to be stripped out entirely. The amount of text wedged into tiny boxes here is frankly absurd. To be fair, though, once you start actually sailing it seems there's little else going on — it's just you, the boat, and the sea with no interruptions. It looks clunky and circa 2010 sometimes though, and then needs some fixing or some accessibility toggles.

Something horrible happened to a simple-seeming game

This game looks like it's got a pretty simple concept. You are a pirate. You will upgrade your ship. You will gain the trust of Fractions dotted around the islands. Your aim is to be the best. However, the journey to get to this point has taken nigh on 10 years and seven delays, with a report previously outlining endless development woes. Perhaps this context has ruined us, but it looks like there are several games jammed in here — a non-Assassin's Creed follow-up to Black Flag, a Riders Republic-like free progression player arc, some Division PvP and single player stuff, as well as another brave (probably pointless) attempt at the live-service market.

Skull & Bones live serviceSkull & Bones will be a live-service game

What Skull and Bones are trying to do seems simple, but its method of getting there has been complicated and it still shows those complications on-screen. We hope that it can find its own identity, rather than raiding the tired ships of other Ubisoft vessels in the hope of stumbling into treasure. The game has a few months until it releases on PS5 (further delays pending) and we hope that the developers find time to finetune some of its unique ship combat and pirate elements, rather than build another dimension that looks like another Ubisoft title.

What have you thought of the gameplay so far? Is there something in the gameplay trailer than impressed or disappointed you? Does this game have a shot at the best PS5 games when it releases? Let us know in the comments below!
Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Written by Kes Eylers-Stephenson
Editor Kes is our resident expert in PlayStation and other gaming news. He writes about PS5 exclusives like The Last of Us and Horizon, PS Plus news, and his favorite games — The Witcher, Assassin’s Creed, and God of War — before an evening swim.
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