Skull and Bones interview: "The only thing that really isn't on land is combat"

By Heidi Nicholas,

Skull and Bones isn't too far off on the horizon, and sails onto Xbox Series X|S in November. We talked with game director Ryan Barnard for a more detailed interview as to what to expect.

Ubisoft's pirate game Skull and Bones arrives for current-gen consoles in November. We've had a number of trailers and deep-dives on aspects of the game, and Skull and Bones game director Ryan Barnard was kind enough to answer all our other questions about the game.

What is Skull and Bones?

Skull and Bones is an upcoming naval game inspired by the Golden Age of Piracy and set within the Indian Ocean. It’s in development from Ubisoft Singapore and is published by Ubisoft.

When does Skull and Bones launch?

We now have a release date for Skull and Bones, which launches on November 8th!

Skull and Bones is only coming to current-gen consoles and PC. “I believe that in our development cycle, we wanted to release this title and with the longevity of support we had planned, it made sense that we released on the current-gen console,” Barnard explains.

There’s both a Standard and Premium edition of Skull and Bones up for grabs — the Standard edition includes the base game, while the Premium edition also includes the Ballad of Bloody Bones Collection, two extra missions, and the digital artbook and soundtrack.


Enter the perilous paradise of Skull and Bones™, inspired by the Indian Ocean during the Golden Age of Piracy, as you overcome the odds and rise from an outcast to an infamous pirate. Craft a variety of unique ships to survive, thrive, and rule in an immersive world that introduces new challenges and features every season.



Premium Edition Includes: The Ballad of Bloody Bones Collection, two additional missions, digital soundtrack and artbook, and a battle pass token.

Enter the perilous paradise of Skull and Bones™, inspired by the Indian Ocean during the Golden Age of Piracy, as you overcome the odds and rise from an outcast to an infamous pirate.

What’s it about?

In Skull and Bones, we start off with nothing, as a destitute survivor of a shipwreck, and must build our way up from there to become the most infamous pirate on the seas. To begin with, we’ll be in the pirate den of Sainte-Anne, with only a small boat, but we’ll soon move up the ranks to become a pirate legend.

Ubisoft’s aim with Skull and Bones seems to be to focus on the player’s own individual story. “Skull and Bones is not a narrative-driven game,” Barnard explains. “We have narrative pieces — in the game, you'll meet important NPCs called Kingpins which have their own stories that you'll learn as you develop rapport with them by taking on contracts with them. There is an underlying story to the game with which we build the entire world lore, but that's not the main focus. We want players to create their own stories and be able to choose the type of pirate they want to be. That being said,” Barnard continues, “what drives you through the progression system which we call Infamy, is the fact that you will gain access to blueprints in the game which will give you different types of ships, weapons, and armours, and you'll need those as you move and explore around the world to be effective against new foes.”

What’s the gameplay like?

There’s a lot to cover here. So, our main goal is to grow our Infamy, which judging from the Skull and Bones site, we do by taking on contracts “from vendors, local factions, and kingpins in the world,” which will then open up more resources and opportunities for us. We’ll need to craft ships — there are up to 12 available — outfit them with weapons and attachments, lead a crew, roam the seas looking for treasure and opportunity, and battle our way up the ranks past our enemies. Naval combat will be key, and we’ll be attacking everything from other ships, to settlements, to forts, which Barnard tells us are “the toughest challenges we have in-game.” We can choose between a PvE experience and a PvEvP experience; either setting out alone or in groups of “up to three.”

We had a lot of questions about the specifics of Skull and Bones’ gameplay. Barnard explains that “Skull and Bones is mainly a naval game,” adding, “I think we’ve been really clear about that." We know that naval combat and exploration will be key. Yet there has been a lot of discussion about how much on-foot gameplay will feature in the game. In the trailers and glimpses we’ve been shown, we’ve seen the player disembarking at dens and outposts, and also hunting hidden treasure. “There are many different outposts to discover as a player,” Barnard says. “They all have encampments, sometimes multiple encampments even, which rotate through a system we have. So, for instance, there might be a certain faction one day and the next day be, you know, rogue pirates instead. This was part of how we wanted to ensure that the world changes and feel alive… treasure hunts are one of the things that will only occur at an outpost when you have finally discovered the location of that hidden treasure,” he continues. “Aside from that, there is a lot of gameplay on land — it’s where you craft, gear up, socialise, manage your warehouse and customise your ship and your captain. The only thing that really isn't on land is combat.”

skull and bones loadout customisation

Choosing between and customising our ships will be of paramount importance. Some ships might have more room for loot but are weaker in combat, for instance, and Ubisoft says that a ship’s size, category, and perks are key — and that’s before fitting it out with weapons and attachments. The idea seems to be to encourage the player to keep switching between ships rather than sticking to and levelling up just one. Some larger ships will hold more weapons but might not be able to travel up rivers, for example. It seems most ships fall under one of three categories: cargo ships, faster navigation ships, and more combat-capable firepower ships. Each ship also has its own perks: Ubisoft’s example is the Ghanja, which is a navigation ship, but which “has perks which increase its front quadrant and ramming damage, and that help you breakthrough quickly when navigating through hostile waters,” while the Padewakang has a perk allowing it to hold extra loot, making it “a perfect choice for merchants trying to load as many goods as possible in a single sail.” Then there are the different weapons, which each do either blunt, explosive, fire, flood, piercing, tearing, or crushing damage. These range from cannons to rockets and torpedoes — you’ll also repair allied ships by firing at them. Next you have to consider attachments, such as armour or cargo bags. Finally, there’s furniture, the uses of which relate to combat or automating things like cooking to help with survival. There are “different types” of furniture, Barnard tells us. “We try to make them synergize for improved quality of life at sea. For instance, you can add furniture that automatically refine your items for you or automatically catch fish. They’re small improvements to keeping you out at sea longer and maximising the activity you’re going after.”

skull and bones loadout customisation

We’ll have a crew on board with us, and will need to keep them happy and fed to avoid a mutiny. The crew is another aspect which players have been curious about; how much do they feature in the game, and can they be customised like our character and ship? “Your crew comes with different ships, so you'll have bigger crew size for the bigger types of ships,” Barnard says. “At launch, you don't recruit or build your crew, but you absolutely can customise them. There'll be options to be able to give them different tattoos and outfits.” We can also “galvanise” our crew to give them a brief morale boost, which will apparently be useful in combat. Our spyglass, meanwhile, will help us spot potential targets, and will tell us everything from a ship’s attachments and damage types to the losses we might get if we are defeated and the Infamy we’ll be rewarded with if we take it down. If our ship does sink, we’ll have a window of opportunity to travel back and reclaim our cargo, as long as we get there before other players. Our crew can also build fury which leads to a boarding of an enemy ship. “While in combat your crew is being worked up into this combat lather,” Barnard says. “Once you fill the bar to a certain stage you're able to execute what we call a crew-to-crew attack. Now, depending on the health of your enemy, that could also turn into a boarding attack, which is where you'll see that cutscene play where your crew boards the enemy ship. Your crew pulls them in, reels them in… and you get all of their loot. It's the only way to ensure that no cargo is lost.” We wondered about how boarding would play out in-game, and Barnard tells us, “It’s only a cutscene at launch, but it’s meant to be a mastery level of combat so it would be interesting to see how it evolves as the game evolves.”

Skull and Bones will have other dangers besides enemies, such as rogue wildlife and extreme weather events. There will also be other opportunities to grow your Infamy, such as dynamic events. “Dynamic events are basically a pool of things that can happen in the game as opportunities for players to interact with while sailing to their main objectives,” Barnard begins. “It helps us ensure that no two voyages are the same. For instance, let's say you're doing a contract where you've got to sail from Sainte-Anne to a distant outpost. And along the way, you might meet a merchant who is afraid and needs protection… or it could be just a battle where one of the factions is attacking a settlement and you can either defend the settlement or you can join in as a player.”

skull and bones gameplay release date

Resource gathering and crafting will also be of great importance. The trailers we’ve seen seem to show resource gathering taking place on your ship. “Resource gathering and hunting are very important throughout the game,” Barnard begins. “You'll find that every region in the game has its own set of resources, so we tier them to match the captain's tools. So as you get more rare and expensive resources, you'll need to upgrade your captain's tools in order to gather those different resources. Those will then be needed for the different types of ships, weapons, armour, repair kits, and ammo. Pretty much everything in the game can be crafted and will be crafted because we want the world to always remain relevant,” he continues. “So even when you're a higher level player playing out in the open seas, there'll be a reason for you to come back to Madagascar… because there are resources that are only found in that area.”

We know Skull and Bones will “leverage the expertise” of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag: “the naval combat in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag was mainly created within the Singapore studio,” Barnard explains. “Since then, the team has honed its expertise in the area. This was the core seed, as when the team received the mandate to create a new IP, it made sense to leverage that expertise. Naval combat is the core seed to building the game and has been the common thread through the development of the game. We’re a pirate game that’s about ships and crafting your own fleet, but with Skull and Bones we’re focused on elevating that naval combat experience – making it more responsive, fun and visceral.” We also wondered how Skull and Bones might differentiate itself from other pirate-themed and nautical games in the market. “When I first joined the project, I was pleasantly surprised by the different elements of naval and RPG, persistence, survival, and crafting in the game,” Barnard begins. “That’s what we’ve been focused on developing and improving. The fantasy is interesting as well — you start off as an outcast when you collect everything at first just to survive, but your goods become more key to making you rich and becoming a powerful Kingpin. The combination of all those elements is really what makes it unique.”

skull and bones interview

Skull and Bones will continue to receive post-launch content. “Our post-launch roadmap is free,” Barnard says. “It’s included when you purchase the game. Our ethos towards future development is going to be done with open communication with our community for a live game, our game. We have a plan of course, but we’re prepared to pivot based on what’s popular with our players.” We know of one Skull and Bones seasonal event already, which will aim to raise awareness of the overfishing of sharks.

What’s the world like?

Ubisoft says the world of Skull and Bones is “hell in paradise… a treasure trove to explore as you sail to the furthest reaches of the Indian Ocean. From the coasts of Africa to the East Indies, discover distinct regions each with their own unique ecosystems. Learn to use the wind to your advantage by trimming your sails to increase your speed as you try to survive treacherous waters, dangerous rogue waves, and deadly wildlife.” Add to that the extreme weather events, dynamic events, and the throngs of rival pirates, and it sounds as though we’ll have our work cut out getting from one side of the sea to the other.

skull and bones interview

Any news on the Skull and Bones achievements?

We don’t yet have the Skull and Bones achievements, but we’ll be sure to update here when we do.

“I am most excited for players to fill out their fleet, and see the depth to naval combat and how our weapon counter system works,” Barnard concludes. “It’s also going to be interesting to see how players take on the toughest challenges we have in-game — the forts. I’m really excited to see and to continue to develop and work with the community.”

So, what do you think? Will you be setting sail with Skull and Bones in November? Let us know in the comments!
Heidi Nicholas
Written by Heidi Nicholas
Heidi tends to lean towards indie games, RPGs, and open-world games on Xbox, and when not playing Disney Dreamlight Valley, happily installs every new wholesome game that appears on Xbox Game Pass, before diving back into favorites like The Witcher 3. She's looking forward to Age of Mythology Retold, Everwild, Fable, and Avowed on the Xbox horizon. Heidi graduated with an MA in English Literature before joining the TrueAchievements team.
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