First look: Made-in-Singapore online pirate game Skull & Bones

Skull & Bones is the first top-tier game from Ubisoft Singapore.
Skull & Bones is the first top-tier game from Ubisoft Singapore.PHOTO: UBISOFT

LOS ANGELES - There's a new blockbuster game made in Singapore: Skull & Bones, developed by Ubisoft Singapore, was announced during the game developer's press conference on the eve of the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) in Los Angeles, one of the largest annual gatherings for the video-game industry.

Skull & Bones is a spin-off from the well-received ship combat mechanics in the action adventure game Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag. Now, it is a full naval pirate ship combat multiplayer game set to be released in 2018 for PC as well as PlayStation and Xbox consoles.

I managed to get a 15min hands-on with a demo of Skull & Bones at the Ubisoft booth in E3 but no photos and video recording were allowed during the session, as the game is still in development.

The game demo I played was a battle scenario in which a team of five players faced off another team of five (5v5). I was one of five players from a team called the Cutthroats that battled against a rival group called the Raiders.

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The mission was simple - destroy merchant ships, loot their gold, and gather as much gold as possible.

I was also able to destroy ships from the opposing team and get their gold, but this was more difficult than attacking merchant ships because rival team vessels had better defences. It made sense to launch an attack on the ships from the opposing team if they had enough gold to make the effort worthwhile.

There were three ships that I could choose from -Sloop-of-War, Brigantine and Frigate - in the Skull & Bones demo.

The Sloop-of-War was a marksman's ship that could deal a lot of damage from a distance but had poor defence, while the Brigantine was easy to control and dealt powerful closed range attacks. The third ship was the heavily reinforced Frigate which possessed medium-range firepower but turned very slowly. Having a good mix of different ships in a team of five made sense.

Adding to the experience was the demo's spectacular graphics. Set in the Indian Ocean, it was brimming with lush green islands and beautiful rolling waves. There's attention to detail too. Each time my ship rode a wave, water would pour into the ship and my ship crew even braced for the onslaught of the waves.

I was placed in the captain's seat, controlling the steering wheel to manoeuvre the ship. There was a mini-map in a corner of the screen to indicate wind direction. Knowing this was important because steering my ship to catch the wind in the right direction with my vessel's sails raised maximised the ship's moving speed.

Ship movement involved moving the right directional stick of the game controller, while moving the left directional stick changed viewpoints. It was simple to play but I needed time to master trimming the ship's sales and catching the wind.

Switching from the captain's view to my crew's viewpoint enabled me to set the ship cannons for an attack. Aiming the cannons was done using the controller's right trigger and firing them was handled by the left trigger. A visual indicator on the water showed me the range of my attack.

So, not only did I have to learn how to manoeuvremy ship by catching the wind and making sure I did not beach the ship, I also had to keep my ship parallel to the enemy ship to stage an attack.

But if I moved too close to the enemy ship, I risked being boarded when my ship's health bar was low. I would lose all my loot and the ship once it was boarded.

There were health bars on my team's ships and the enemy's, so I knew which ship was vulnerable. In addition, ships that collected a lot of loot would be marked as high-value targets, so I knew which one to attack first.

Speaking of attacks, the sea battles in the demo were intense, as I would be busy trying to manoeuvre my ship while staging attacks.

A lot of teamwork was also needed. The team that escapes the sea battleground with the most gold wins the match, so a lot of co-ordination went into which player attacked the enemy ship, and who picked up the loot. There were also times when I could force an enemy ship to move parallel to my teammate's ship, so it could fire a cannon salvo at it.

And when the time came to make an escape, I had to protect the ship on my team with the most loot so that it could successfully escape to make sure my side won.

Exact details about the game are still scarce, but I can't wait for the game to be released some time next year.

I was left really impressed after trying out the game demo. The graphics looked fantastic, the gameplay was intuitive and the exhilaration from escaping with loot was really satisfying.

I do hope there's a single player campaign in Skull & Bones, not just to let gamers get used to the mechanics of the game, but also to take advantage of the rich history of the Indian Ocean trading route by East India Company. Singapore as a pirate outpost again, anyone?