Nearly five years after its reveal, Ubisoft's Skull and Bones is back in the news - but it still seems no closer to release than it was before. The nautical adventure, which was inspired by the naval battles in Assassin's Creed: Black Flag, is in development at Ubisoft Singapore, but several roadblocks have resulted in major changes to the look and feel of Skull and Bones.
When it was announced at E3 2017, Skull and Bones was slated for a release in Q4 2018. It was then delayed multiple times, first to 2019, and then 2021. The most recent release date for Skull and Bones is some time during the 2022-2023 fiscal year. The reason behind these delays was a combination of production roadblocks and setbacks caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As of late 2020, development of the game had reportedly taken a new direction, with Ubisoft Berlin co-producing alongside Singapore.
The new direction was a fairly drastic one, and an anonymous source reportedly connected to Ubisoft told news site GameLuster that it completely restarted development a few months ago. This was apparently the second time since its conception that the game's development has completely restarted from the ground up. The current build of Skull and Bones more closely resembles Microsoft's multiplayer pirate-themed title Sea of Thieves, including a mix of first- and third-person POV segments depending on whether players are aboard their ships or on land.
The same source said that a number of Skull and Bones team members, including the managing director of Ubisoft Singapore, were let go as part of Ubisoft's response to multiple sexual harassment allegations. As a result, the team behind the game is short-staffed, likely making the difficult process of restarting from scratch even more tricky.
Little regarding Skull And Bones' plot, characters, or mechanics has been revealed in the years following the game's debut at E3. What is known is that players can choose between a single-player campaign and multiplayer "Disputed Waters" battles in which they can team up with up to five allies. The player's customizable pirate captain is opposed by antagonist Olivier "La Buse" Levasseur, a real-life pirate who, moments before his execution, revealed that he hid a still-undiscovered treasure behind a cipher puzzle.
Other revealed characters include the fortune teller Tajheed, the ship builder Cassandra, and a trio of unnamed pirate captains sailing the Indian Ocean. However, due to the game's total reboot, it is unknown whether any of these characters will appear in the final version of Skull and Bones.
The anonymous source does not believe that Skull and Bones will be released in 2021 or even 2022. They allege the game is still in an unstable, unfinished state due to the multiple restarts. However, if active development continues, a release sometime during 2023 may not be off the table.
Upcoming titles like Skull and Bones show the renewed popularity of the pirate game genre. The game is set to eventually launch as a refreshing alternative to popular skullduggery simulator Sea of Thieves. While Rare's most recent outing focusses on individual voyages and instances, Ubisoft's is set to bring a more persistent RPG-style approach to the genre, at least by last report. Unfortunately for fans of swashbuckling, Skull and Bones has once again been delayed, leaving the future of the pirate game uncertain in form and function. As such, the destiny of this daring genre might become defined by ambitious smaller games alongside triple-A giants.
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