Skull and Bones, Ubisoft’s upcoming maritime adventure game, will likely be a missed opportunity. Following early comments that players would be able to “sail solo,” reports emerged confirming that the game will have a Destiny-styled story, with progression built into the shared world, rather than a fully-fledged, traditional narrative campaign. Disappointment arises from the realisation that the game could have told an exciting new tale with a setting and premise that has been burdened in recent years by Assassin’s Creed and Pirates of the Caribbean. The absence of these influences, with their convoluted lore and drunken action-comedy respectively, could have resulted in a story that similarly evaded the pirate archetypes of treasure-hunting and unmasked brutality. Despite the reality, envisioning what could have been is surprisingly easy.
As darkness falls, two men slip out of the smoky inn, leaving behind the ribald chatter of Jack Tars on shore. They separate, flitting from shadow to shadow slowly, each taking every precaution to avoid being seen or marked by the red-garbed constabulary that patrol the small port town of Barbacia.
Once a bustling village, the recently completed construction of a naval outpost has cast a menacing pall over the palm trees and golden sand. One of the two figures scales the wall of this dominating edifice of stone and creeps along the ramparts, using every nook and crevice as a hiding spot to avoid the guards. Whatever his mission is, he completes it within ten minutes and makes his way into the jungle that the township backs onto. There, in a clearing, he meets again with the figure from earlier, a heavily-scarred man clothed in rags and missing half his teeth.
He wastes no time. “They’re ill-prepared for an assault. Half their cannons have no ammunition, and most of those that do haven’t enough powder to fire more than two or three balls. Besides, while the commanders may know what they’re doing, too many of the troops are green. A dozen ships could take the town, Yarrow.”
The older man seems to mull these words. “Aye. A dozen ships now, but by the time we rally them, we’d need two dozen. It’s a fool’s errand, Corman, and one I’ll not risk my men’s lives on.”
“What if we found another way? Brought in a crew to attack the fort from the inside as we bombard it from the bay? This is the opportunity of a lifetime.”
“And you’d lose your life trying to take it. I tell ye, it was a worthwhile idea for looking into, but it won’t work, and any man to try may as well throw himself into Davy Jones’s Locker for all the good it’ll do him. My answer is no, Corman.”
With that, Yarrow stomps away, leaving Matthias Corman to stroke his nascent beard as he struggles to come up with a plan. He’d spent the last few months before taking to sea in the shadow of the fort’s construction; surely there was some weakness he had overlooked that could be exploited by his sole crew.
A rustle in the darkness shakes him out of his reverie. At the cracking of a twig, he draws his cutlass. It may have been nothing more than some small animal, but one can never be too careful.
“Stop!” the voice carries indisputable authority. “Lower your weapon immediately.”
“Show yourself and I’ll consider it.”
Chuckles and whispers run around the outside of the clearing, and Matthias feels the clench of fear. The number of voices seem to outnumber him twenty to one. He is not going to be able to fight his way out of this.
A figure steps out of the bushes directly ahead: a small man, barely reaching to Matthias’s chest, but flanked by two others who could only be described as bears. Their blood red uniforms give them away.
“I have to ask,” begins the small man, “what such a disreputable-looking citizen is doing way out here in the jungle?”
As soon as he’d noted their uniforms, Matthias had slouched, trying to put on an air of drunkenness, and this he carries on by slurring as he says, “I stepped out to pee. Must’ve got turned around somewhere.”
“Turned around? You’re at least a mile and a half from the inn. Do you expect me to believe that?”
“I’ve been out here a while. Didn’t know how to get back to town.”
“Then perhaps you should have asked the man who passed by here only a few minutes ago? Surely he would have pointed you in the right direction.”
“I didn’t see no-one.”
Again the sniggers run around the clearing, leaving Matthias to feel as though he is caught in the middle of a tightening noose.
“But you must have! After all, Captain Yarrow is a very distinctive figure, even stripped of his usual opulence.”
“Zorro? I don’t know who you’re talking about.”
The guard sighs heavily. “Still you try to hold out, Captain Corman? Your allegiance to your friends is noble, but sadly misplaced. We know you. We know that you captain the ship you call the Dread Marlin. We know that, right now, said ship is moored in St. Agnes Bay, with twenty-eight men and five women aboard awaiting your return.”
Realising his feeble attempt at a disguise is useless, Matthias stands straight again. “If you know all that, why haven’t you shot me yet?”
“Because I believe in the law, Mr Corman. And because I believe in second chances. I’d like to make you an offer.”
“On whose authority?”
The navyman laughs. “I am Admiral Whitson. I need no authority but my own. May I continue without interruption?”
Matthias has heard of Whitson, of course, but as a distant figure consolidating his undoubtedly legendary status among the fleets at the forefront of the Seven Years’ War. He has never expected that the Admiral would take an interest in the comparatively minor affair of piracy, much less elect to meet with himself. Taken off-guard, he nods slowly.
“Very good. My offer is that you will work alongside me to rid the seas of the pirate menace. In return for the right to continue your… activities unmolested, you will pass on any and all information you receive about the locations and plans of your fellows. You will not have to engage them in battle or have their blood on your hands. At the conclusion of our partnership, you and your crew will be free to go with whatever you have earned, so long as you never take up piracy again.”
“And if I don’t agree?”
“It’s as good a deal as you are ever going to receive.”
“But if I don’t want to do it?”
Whitson picks at a fingernail. “Then you would be one of the dumbest men on the planet. You die here. Your friends die in St. Agnes Bay. And the Dread Marlin, if it is not sunk, bolsters the Royal Fleet.”
Seeing no other option, Matthias agrees, beginning a journey that will take him and his crew across the seven seas. He will meet with an array of pirate captains both vicious and benign, but whose frequently untimely deaths will result in the widespread belief that the Dread Marlin is cursed as a harbinger of doom. Feeling the need to keep his betrayals from his crew, Matthias struggles to justify the morality of his activities, giving the game a relatable, human conflict. Furthermore, although he has the ostensible protection of Admiral Whitson, his flying of the Jolly Roger and attacking of merchants and ports alike still attracts the ire of the Navy. The story has the potential to be intensely personal, but also epic in scope, while over all hangs the questions of what happened to Captain Yarrow after his meeting with Matthias on that fateful night and whether the young captain will find some way to take the fort at Barbacia.
Unfortunately, that story shall remain untold.