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If Skull and Bones is a “quadruple-A” game, what’s a quintuple-A game?

Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot defends Skull and Bones price tag by billing it as a "quadruple-A" game, but that's not a good enough reason.

Skull and Bones quadruple-A game: An image of a pirate in Skull and Bones.

Getting our hands on the latest PS5 and Xbox games isn’t cheap, and with current-gen consoles, that obstacle seems to only get higher. Major releases priced under the $70 mark are quickly becoming few and far between, with Skull and Bones adding to the expensive pile. However, Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot believes the upcoming pirate RPG is worthy of such a demand because it is beyond a triple-A game.

Specifically, Guillemot says in a recent Ubisoft earnings call that Skull and Bones is “a very big game, and we feel that people will see how vast and complete that game is” once the Skull and Bones release date arrives. Crucially, in a recording of the call, Guillemot claims the new PS5 game is “a full, triple […] quadruple-A game, that will deliver in the long run.” But what exactly is Guillemot getting at?

Originally unveiled at E3 2017, the forthcoming multiplayer game has been in development since 2013, back when it was envisioned as an expansion for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. It then shifted into an MMO, titled Black Flag Infinite, before eventually becoming Skull and Bones. Yet, there isn’t anything to indicate that it goes beyond the boundaries of its genre in a meaningful way – at least not to me.

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In an age where live service games are put under the lens of intense scrutiny, especially with games like Suicide Squad Kill the Justice League or the more positively received Helldivers 2, Skull and Bones’ lack of a cohesive direction leads to me think it’ll sink rather than swim. That distinct absence of a concrete vision for the game is evident in just how many scattershot trailers have been released over the years. Since the game’s E3 2017 reveal, a new Kotaku report tallies up to 29 different uploads revolving around trailers, roadmaps, and development diaries.

The final release was supposed to feature a single-player campaign, but this and a 5v5 multiplayer mode drowned under Ubisoft’s ambitions. The studio says in the earnings call that Skull and Bones is a “unique multiplayer-first open-world […] built as a live [service] game”, but will it have enough interest to survive against other multiplayer juggernauts? The game’s uninspiring Year 1 roadmap content doesn’t fill me with hope, and it still has to compete with its main rival, Xbox-exclusive Sea of Thieves.

If recent rumors prove to be correct, Sea of Thieves potential leap over to the PS5 could be damning for Skull and Bones too. We’re yet to see a quintuple-A game in the market, and the mere thought of a possible price beyond $70 for a standard digital or physical disc release makes me shudder. No aspect of Skull and Bones looks like it is delivering a game that is pushing the envelope, or bolstering Ubisoft’s portfolio for the better.

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But if Skull and Bones is set to stoke the fires of quadruple-A discussion in the Ubisoft camp, I’m curious as how to this looms over its upcoming projects and the competition Ubisoft faces. However, Skull and Bones’ fate remains to be seen. Maybe it will surprise you and me upon launch. At present, Skull and Bones is a title far more suited to a free-to-play model, or at the very least, a day-one Xbox Game Pass release.