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Skull and Bones sailing into 2022, but Ubisoft announces new production milestone

Skull and Bones sailing into 2022
(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Avast, me hearties! Skull and Bones, Ubisoft's online pirate game still doesn't have a release date, but it does have a new developmental milestone. At this point, we aspiring swashbucklers will take all the good news we can. 

It's been a long time since the game was announced in 2017, and it's currently delayed until at least 2022. That wouldn't be so unusual for a blockbuster game, but Skull and Bones was playable for the press in 2018, before sliding back into stealth mode. The only update from the Ubisoft Singapore development team has been that it had a "new vision" for the game. Latest reports suggest that the game has so far cost more than $120 million to make, and has now passed the Alpha production milestone of development. 

When we last saw the game, it was all the naval warfare of Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag with plenty of added extras like different pirate factions and loot to plunder. Three years later, it's hard to know which of those elements remain.

For now, find out why we refuse to give up on Skull and Bones with everything we know about the game so far, from that recent update to how it actually feels to play. 

Skull and Bones release date - when is it coming?

Skull and Bones release date

Skull and Bones now won't be released until at least 2022. The news was revealed via the most recent Ubisoft financial update to investors. "Skull and Bones will now be released in 2022-23," it said in its earnings report.

Skull and Bones has had more trouble with release dates than a galleon has with barnacles. At last mention, also during an earnings call, the game was scheduled for a 2020/2021 fiscal year release, which was a pretty big window even by game developer standards. 

The video posted to Skull & Bones' official Twitter in 2019 seems designed to stem the tide of any disappoints as Ubisoft continues to work on the game. "Rest assured that we are working as hard to ever to make sure the game is going to be as great as possible, and quality remains our number one focus," says producer Karl Luhe. "We will be back as soon as we can with exciting new updates." 

A September 2020 update from Ubisoft Singapore creative director Elisabeth Pelle, gave an update on production, but it looks like we'll be waiting a lot longer to sail the seven seas. 

Skull and Bones development issues

A new report from Kotaku gave us an insight into issues behind the scenes that have caused the development process to drag on so long and could jeopardize the future of the piratical project.

The article, which includes input from current and former developers on Skull and Bones, reveals constant changes to the game's direction - like switching between naval combat and survival as the core concepts - and culture clashes on the development team. Three different sources put the cost of Skull and Bones at more than $120 million, and it's not even finished yet.

In response, Ubisoft put out a statement updating Kotaku on the game's progress and recent Alpha production milestone. 

"The Skull and Bones team are proud of the work they’ve accomplished on the project since their last update with production just passing Alpha, and are excited to share more details when the time is right. That being said, any unfounded speculation about the game or decisions being made only works to demoralize the team who are working very hard to develop an ambitious new franchise that lives up to the expectations of our players.

Over the past year, we’ve made significant changes to our policies and processes to create a safe and more inclusive workplace and empower our teams to create games that reflect the diversity of the world we live in."

Skull and Bones 2021 update

During the Ubisoft 2020-21 earnings call, chief financial officer Frédérick Duguet had this to say about the game. 

"We strongly believe in the team’s creative vision and they have been given an increasingly ambitious mandate for the game,"

"Production led by Singapore has been advancing well over the past 12 months and the promise is better than ever. The additional time will allow the team to fully deliver on its vision."

Skull and Bones 2021 update

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Skull and Bones 2020 update

Ubisoft Singapore creative director Elisabeth Pellen updated fans on progress in September with the following statement

"Production on Skull and Bones has been in full swing with a new vision. Our teams at Ubisoft Singapore are fully committed to launching the game, as well as supporting it for many years to come," she wrote.

"Many of you have been wondering why we’ve had to postpone our launch. The answer is that we simply needed more time. We dreamt something bigger for Skull and Bones, and these ambitions naturally came with bigger challenges."

"These difficulties resulted in necessary delays for our game. Critical questions needed to be addressed over the past several months such as: how do we modernize the classic pirate fantasy? How do we ensure a more immersive and visceral experience? How do we create cool and memorable moments in-game? For most of these questions to be answered, it was clear that we needed more development time."

You have to guess that the game will at least be getting a visual upgrade for PS5 and Xbox Series X.

Skull and Bones beta - when and where can you sign up? 

You can already sign up for the Skull and Bones Beta, so they're at least thinking of letting the general public play it at some point. Here's where you sign up for the Skull and Bones Beta

Skull and Bones gameplay - what will we do?

Skull and Bones combat

Crudely, Skull and Bones gameplay is all about sinking other ships. The subtlety is in the method and the reason. You're essentially out there to get loot and become a powerful pirate - the trailer makes many references to getting to the top of the food chain. Sailing works similar to how it does in Assassin's Creed 4: Black Flag - you steer around the ocean, then shoot cannons at other boats. There are different types of shot, which allow you to cause damage to other ships or take out their ability to sail or shoot back. Each boat can be fitted with a special ability now so, for example, you can have a cannon that fires eight shots in one volley, or the ability to fire without waiting for a cooldown. 

You'll have different ways of sailing too. We see in the demo that you can disguise yourself as ships from different factions, and you can set your sails for speed, rather than combat or the ability to manoeuvre. 

The idea, however, is that you can team up with other pirate ships and combine your various abilities to take down the really big enemies and claim maximum loot. You'll need to buddy up to sink the big warships, even if you're powered up yourself. The only problem here is that alliances are fluid in Skull and Bones, so you may find that your team mates turn on you when it's time to divide the treasure.

Skull and Bones trailer - where can I watch it?

The newest trailer is from E3 2018, and you can watch it above. It sets the tone for the game and gives us a taste of some of the characters and customisation options we'll have in the game. And it's pretty damn exciting too...

Skull and Bones customisation

Skull and Bones menu

There are loads of ways to customise your ship in Skull and Bones, and it seems that different set-ups will be useful for different scenarios. We see the ability to change sails, weapon set-ups, and figureheads in the demo, but expect there to be loads more options in the final game.

You'll need to adapt because the conditions of the game will change according to the predictions of a fortune teller. Yes. You're given an outlook for each session and will have to change your play accordingly - so, for example, high winds mean that there are more merchant ships to plunder, but greater competition for them. Not sure how that correlates, but it's all in the demo. She'll also advise on weather and trade routes too.

It's worth noting that you can also hop off your ship and look around your own private island. Expect there to be plenty of distractions here too.

Skull and Bones weather and mythical creatures

Skull and Bones ship

Weather will play a role in Skull and Bones too. We see in the trailer that the pirate crews encounter a massive typhoon. Expect there to be rough seas, high and low winds, and maybe even lightning storms to contend with too.

And then there's the kraken... We saw the kraken at E3 in 2017, but it didn't show up in the latest footage or trailer. It's probably still in the game but we noticed that the gameplay has changed (and evolved) significantly since last year, so perhaps all the over-the-top stuff has gone. Probably not, though.

Skull and Bones character

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Rachel Weber

Between Official PlayStation Magazine, GamesIndustry.biz and Rolling Stone I've picked up a wide range of experience, from how to handle the madness of E3 to making easy conversation with CEOs and executives of game companies over seafood buffets. At GamesRadar+ I'm proud of the impact I've had on the way we write news, and now - as managing editor in the US - the huge traffic successes we're seeing. Most of all I'm proud of my team, who have continued to kick ass through the uncertainty of 2020 and into 2021, and are what makes GamesRadar+ so special.