E3 2017: Hands On: Skull and Bones (Xbox One, 2017)

I don’t think I’m alone in saying that I still think of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag‘s naval combat as being of the greatest things to ever come out of that series. Taking part in roaring battles on the high seas, plundering ruined vessels and discovering tiny islands filled with treasure — it was kind of a dream. It made sense that Ubisoft would want to split that facet of the game off into something entirely self-contained and with Skull and Bones, they’ve done exactly that.

While Skull and Bones features its share of single player missions, it is the game’s brand new multiplayer offerings that Ubi is excited to show off. During my tour of the E3 2017 Ubisoft booth, I took part in two rounds of the game’s much talked about 5v5 PvP mode. This mode relies on solid co-ordination and smart team make up. Players can choose between one of three vessels — medium-weight up-close-and-personal blockade runners, long-range maneuverable snipers and heavy duty Man o’ Wars that patrol the mid range providing crowd control and delivering high impact damage. Victory means not only choosing the right ships to deal with your enemy but also deploying them effectively. If any one of you is out of position it could mean a devastating loss when you can afford it least.

The point of the 5v5 mode is that both you and the enemy fleet have discovered a flotilla of merchant vessels just ripe for the picking. in trying to knock them down and take their loot, you find yourselves scrapping over each kill like the sea rats you are. As the battle reaches its crescendo, a fleet of Pirate Hunters will appear on the horizon, sailing in to mop up any survivors and so the race to escape into the open sea is on. You all immediately divert course and hoist the mainsails to catch the wind, throwing elbows and trying to sink each other on the way to safety. It’s down, dirty and I loved every minute of it.

The controls haven’t changed overmuch since Black Flag which is good. This meant that coming back to the game felt familiar and easy to get to grips with. Each round only runs for around 10 minutes a piece as well which makes it very easy to get a game in before moving onto another.

This is easily one of my highlights of E3 2017. A pleasant surprise and a game I’ll be keeping my eye on as it edges closer to release.

Skull and Bones will release in PS4, Xbox One and Windows PC in 2018.

The author is reporting from E3 at the Los Angeles Convention Centre. Accommodation in Los Angeles provided by The Farmer’s Daughter Hotel. For rates and booking, click here.