Before I begin, I just want to say: the purpose of this article isn't to ridicule Sea of Thieves. Yes, Rare's pirate-themed sandbox adventure was woefully light on content when it launched, resulting in a lot of discontent among the previously eager community. But, to be honest, I'd be far more likely to play Sea of Thieves in its current state than Quantum Break or even Halo if I owned an Xbox One.
All the same, I can see why so many people felt disillusioned. Much like No Man's Sky, chances are they have a long wait ahead of them before Sea of Thieves resembles the game they were expecting.
Skull and Bones: variety is most assuredly the spice of life
First and foremost, the game world itself promises plenty of diversity.
Set in the Indian Ocean during the Golden Age of piracy, the player adopts the role of a pirate captain whose mission it is to plunder these famously lucrative trade routes, stealing anything that isn't hunkered down, whilst fighting off rival crews and various other factions all in the name of nautical supremacy.
As such, there're plenty of sun-dappled beaches and lush tropical environments for players to enjoy from the crow's nest of their flagship, set amidst an array of distinctive regions including, naturally, the one we saw during the E3 demo: the Quirimbas Archipelago located Northeast of Mozambique.
And this variety carries over into the core mechanics and systems of Skull and Bones, too.
From the game's hub area, players can customise every aspect of their ship/ships: what type of weaponry they'll bring into the next raid, which of their increasingly numerous figureheads will adorn the prow of their vessel, the colours they'll fly etc. This pirate haven is also the place from which players will recruit AI-controlled crew members, gather intel (from a fortune teller, no less), and decide which quest they want to attempt next.
Then there's Fortunes: a series of events that add another level of dynamism to the experience and which, Ubisoft Singapore says, will change the very state of the game world “challenging players to adapt to the new conditions”.
Skull and Bones: a blend of single and multiplayer adventure
Crucially, these systems belong to a game that offers a seemingly intelligent blend of traditional single-player PvE, co-op, and competitive multiplayer content.
Players are free to approach the game however they see fit. They can spend an entire session marauding across the crystal-clear waters of the Indian Ocean on their own, looking for AI or human victims to plunder. Alternatively, they can form impromptu pirate fleets with their fellow captains in an effort to take down even bigger scores; though this might mean sharing the loot, of course.
I say sharing the loot, apparently, you can choose to simply betray your erstwhile allies and take all the treasure for yourself in the higher-level Hunting Grounds, if you don't feel like cutting a deal. All's fair in love, war, and piracy, I guess.
Skull and Bones releases at some, unspecified point next year. And I'd strongly advise any prospective pirates to keep a weather eye on the horizon for this one.