Ubisoft’s Skull and Bones is an upcoming pirate game which hopes to take a successful element of Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, naval battles, and expand those principles into a full game set in the Indian Ocean. However, updates about the game since its reveal at E3 2017 have been few and far between.
Sea of Thieves has set the standard for modern multiplayer pirate games, and there will likely be more than a few similarities between Sea of Thieves and the way Skull and Bones handles ships and multiplayer. However, one difference already hinted at in Skull and Bones’ promotional material could make or break Ubisoft’s swashbuckling adventure game.
When designing Sea of Thieves’ multiplayer, developer Rare made a key decision regarding the game’s balancing. Sea of Thieves players can use gold to upgrade their ships aesthetically, but there’s no way for players to spend their in-game booty to make their ships faster, cannons more powerful, or otherwise upgrade their ship for combat in any way.
The only stat differences between ships in Sea of Thieves are found between the different types of ships themselves, all of which are available to players from the get-go. A galleon, for example, has a stronger hull and has more cannons, but this comes at the cost of speed and generally requires a larger crew to operate. On the other end of the spectrum, a smaller ship like a sloop is able to move far quicker and be operated by a smaller crew, but has far less firepower and resilience than its larger counterparts.
One of the reasons this works so well is that it has likely helped Sea of Thieves’ multiplayer community sustain itself with a steady stream of new arrivals. If long-time players were able to upgrade their ships’ weapons and armor, there would be a risk that new players would find themselves completely outmatched and unable to attain the treasure needed for those upgrades even if they tried, especially several years after the game’s initial release. Instead, the success of a crew in Sea of Thieves is mostly determined by its coordination and skill at handling its ship, making the game far more accessible to new players once they’ve been shown the ropes.
Based on some of the Skull and Bones gameplay videos released so far, it looks like players will be able to upgrade their ship aesthetically, but also statistically. One part of the 2018 gameplay video shows the many different cannons that players will have access to. The fact that the menu those variants are selected from includes some that are locked off implies that some cannons will only be available to players who have progressed further through the game, likely making those options more powerful.
It’s possible that the different upgrade types in Skull and Bones will simply complement different playstyles while still being roughly balanced. This could be very difficult to pull off, and could be one of the biggest differences between Sea of Thieves and Skull and Bones beside the fact that the latter game will be third-person as opposed to Sea of Thieves’ first-person perspective.