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It's actually happening: Skull and Bones is holding an open beta in February

 Skull and Bones key art - three ships approaching the viewer with fire in the background.
Skull and Bones key art - three ships approaching the viewer with fire in the background.

Like a derelict ship drifting toward a jagged outcropping of rocks, Ubisoft's long-awaited game of high-seas piracy Skull and Bones is, slowly but surely, drawing ever closer. The launch date of February 16 is still holding water, and today Ubisoft announced that before it arrives, an open beta will give one and all a chance to finally see what it's really like.

Skull and Bones has been delayed so many times since its 2017 that I could scarcely believe it—and I was similarly astounded when the February release date was carved into stone, really for real this time, at the 2023 Game Awards. Part of me expected another last-minute delay (and, honestly, still does) but with this open beta now in the offing, it really does seem like damn-the-torpedoes time is upon us.

From the Ubisoft press blast:

Players will embark on a perilous journey facing Legendary Pirate Lords like Philippe La Peste and the Hubac Twins. Stirred into a feeding frenzy, players will have to strategize and defeat these new threats, each escalating in difficulty. Strategic ship loadouts and seasonal ships and gear will be key to taking them down in the final showdown at the end of each season. Prepare to expand and defend your empire by looting stronger equipment and valuable resources through new world events introduced each season. Face Merchant Convoys, Elite Warships, and other predators on the high seas. Bigger challenges bring greater rewards as you navigate these dynamic and unpredictable waters.

The open beta is set to begin on February 8 and run until February 11, and will be available on the Ubisoft Store and Epic Games Store, as well as PS5 and Xbox Series X-S consoles, with crossplay and cross-progression enabled. Beta players will be able to reach an Infamy cap of Tier 6—Ubisoft didn't say how many tiers there are, so we don't have an idea of how infamous that really is—and can earn up to five exclusive rewards including ship cosmetics, an emote, a weapon, and a Pandal Lemur pet.

Here's what you'll need to play on PC:

Skull and Bones PC system requiremnets
Skull and Bones PC system requiremnets

Any progress earned during the beta will carry over to the full release, should you opt to carry on with your voyage: The full version of Skull and Bones is available for pre-purchase for $60 for the base game or $90 for the premium edition, which includes up to three days of early access, The Ballad of Bloody Bones Collection, two extra missions, a digital art book, soundtrack, and a premium battle pass unlock.

After all this time waiting, I'm genuinely curious about what Skull and Bones will be like, but I also harbor some serious doubts. I haven't been impressed by what I've seen so far, and charging a premium price for such a notoriously troubled game is a bold move. Maybe it'll surprise me—I hope it does—but that price tag alone, for what was initially positioned as an Assassin's Creed: Black Flag spinoff, could put off a lot of potential players.

In a completely unrelated aside and for no particular reason, I've also been thinking about the great Canadian poet Gord Downey today.

One afternoon, four thousand men died in the water here
And five hundred more were thrashing madly
As parasites might in your blood

Now I was in a lifeboat designed for ten, ten only
Anything that systematic would get you hated
It's not a deal nor a test nor a love of something fated

The selection was quick, the crew was picked in order
And those left in the water
Got kicked off our pant leg
And we headed for home

We'll see how it goes. Full details on the Skull and Bones open beta are up at ubisoft.com.