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The Red Dead Online fan in me loves Skull and Bones

by: Eric -
More On: Skull and Bones

I am a gamer of many moods. There are times when I want to storm the castle, there are times when I want to gun down zombies, and there are times when I want to play Wheel of Fortune. There are times for puzzles, times for immersive sims, and times for sprawling RPGs.

And there are times when I want to take a long trip across an enormous map in search of materials to make a hat. And that's the piece of my soul that is tickled by Skull and Bones

I have a history of loving slower-paced games of this nature. A few years ago, I had a major knee surgery. I was out commission for a few weeks, sprawled on the sofa in my living room, unable to move around without assistance. I ended up spending most of that time playing Red Dead Online, burning hours on end building up my hunting and moonshining businesses while slowly turning my camp into a wilderness paradise. I loved the feeling of needing a certain material, and then riding halfway across the world to obtain it, just so I could make a new hat. When I'm in a certain mood, I don't mind skipping fast travel in order to take the scenic route. Playing Red Dead while I was laid up was one of the most satisfying periods of gaming in my life. 

Skull and Bones knows exactly what I'm talking about. Cowboys or pirates, these are very similar games. Here is a game that wants me to load a small shipment of rum into the hold of my ship, and then sail across the Indian Ocean to deliver it in exchange for 25 pieces of eight while enemies try to pick me off, just like I used to hop in a stagecoach and deliver my hunting pelts to the nearest train station. And similarly, there is no immediate payoff for doing these runs; the cannon that I'm saving up for costs around 700 pieces of eight, so I'm going to be hauling a lot of rum a long time. But the sound of that cannon firing for the first time is going to be awfully satisfying. 

The point is, I don't need the constant gratification of story and combat. Yes, I enjoy the naval combat in Skull and Bones, and I like the somewhat scattershot story that the game is half-heartedly pushing me through. But just as much, I enjoy hopping onto my ship with a treasure map and trying to figure out where the game wants me to go, much in the same way I enjoyed the exact same activity in Red Dead. The exploration is its own reward, as is the ever-expanding pile of loot and materials in my warehouse. 

There is an audience out there for Skull and Bones, they just have to find each other. Over time, I would expect the initial burst of booing from internet haters to die down as they move onto the next big game they've decided to hate, and a nice niche group of like-minded pirates will settle in for the long haul. These are my people, and I'm looking forward to playing with them.

Players who are looking for a focused narrative experience should probably not bother setting sail in Skull and Bones. There might eventually be a more propulsive tale that is patched into the game, but it sure isn't there now. Instead, this game is very much a nautical version of Red Dead Online - a beautiful, somewhat languid playground where you can make your own fun. And your own hats.