From Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag to Sea of Thieves, there a plenty of pirate games better than Skull and Bones

After more than a decade, Skull and Bones, Ubisoft’s multiplayer pirate romp, is finally out. Was it worth the wait? No, not really. Shaun gave it a 68 in our Skull and Bones review, but I’ve barely been able to stomach a few hours with its uninspired crafting grind and weirdly arcade-like ship battles. 

It’s a shame, because it remains a wonderful theme, and we really don’t have enough games enthusiastically diving into the Golden Age of Piracy. Despite this, there are still plenty of options for those looking to indulge in some swashbuckling and high seas adventures, each of them a much better alternative to Skull and Bones.

Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag 

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Black Flag was the inspiration for Skull and Bones, but don’t let that put you off. Arguably the best game in the Assassin’s Creed series, it eschews the big urban environments for seafaring antics, letting you sail across the Caribbean, hunt for treasure, dive into the depths and batter other vessels in ship combat that, while a bit simpler than Skull and Bones’ scraps, nonetheless is blessed with a lot more atmosphere. Crucially, it makes you feel like you’re actually in a massive wooden ship rather than a heavily-armed speedboat. 

Despite being an Assassin’s Creed game, Black Flag really captures the breadth of the pirate life. It’s overflowing with diversions, but the way it’s spread across the ocean makes it feel a lot less bloated than other games in the series. It also works hard to create a sense of place, letting you wander (and climb) around your ship and meet all sorts of historical ne’er-do-wells. The main source of the disparity between Black Flag and Skull and Bones is that the former tries to make you feel like a pirate, while the latter is largely an RPG about being a boat. 

For more Assassin’s Creed high seas antics, there’s also Rogue, and to a lesser extent Odyssey and Valhalla.

Sea of Thieves 

(Image credit: Rare)

Sea of Thieves is absolutely the game I’d rather be playing when I’m stuck in Skull and Bones. And if you’re a game pass subscriber, you have no excuse to not check it out. It’s another multiplayer live service affair, but it’s jam-packed with novelties and ways to play with friends that are more than just sailing next to them and fighting faceless foes. The big difference is that you’re part of a crew, competing with other crews. You can steer the ship while your mates work the sails, keep an eye out for potential threats, and try to stop your ship from sinking. 

The vibes are chill and casual, but that belies its depth. It’s no hardcore sailing sim, but the principles of working on a real vessel are all there, forcing you to get properly hands-on as you navigate the ocean, giving you so much fine control—imperative when you’re trying to outmanoeuvre an enemy ship. It also inspires a great deal of silliness and creativity, especially when it comes to violent confrontations. There are few things as satisfying as being flung out of a cannon, across the water, and onto another vessel, where you can then just start trying to burn the damn thing to ash. 

For a more combat-focused alternative, there’s also Blackwake, but it’s harder to recommend due to the servers being effectively dead. 

Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire 

(Image credit: Obsidian Entertainment)

Obsidian’s CRPG sequel is criminally underrated, leading the developer to abandon isometric RPGs. But it’s brilliant. If you’re looking for epic ship battles, Deadfire isn’t the game for you, with nautical combat being a largely text-based affair, but despite this there really isn’t a better pirate RPG. “It’s a big, deep, wordy CRPG in the classic mould, but with enough new ideas to feel like more than just a throwback,” we said in our Pillars of Eternity 2: Deadfire review back in 2018. 

Essentially, this is a pirate game for Baldur’s Gate fans. With your stalwart vessel and eclectic crew, you’ll sail across a fantasy archipelago, working for different factions and determining the future of piracy, trade and colonisation in the region. There are fickle gods, spellcasters, and international politics to engage with, but at its heart this is a freewheeling swashbuckling adventure, bolstered by Obsidian’s best-in-class writing. 

If you don’t mind a bit of jank, the Risen series is a worthy alternative if you’re looking for a pirate RPG, particularly Risen 2.

Sid Meier’s Pirates! 

(Image credit: Firaxis)

This remake of the Sid Meier classic is often cited as the quintessential pirate game. It attempts to cram every piratical activity into one game, turning each into a diverting minigame. As a pirate or privateer, you’ll follow treasure maps in search of booty, duel your fellow captains, raid settlements, torment other ships and impress everyone with your sick dance moves at the governor’s ball. It’s a good life. 

Granted, a lot of the love for Pirates! is driven by nostalgia, and it’s really showing its age now, but I’m convinced that its charm remains undiminished. It’s definitely due a sequel, though. Come on, Firaxis. Get to it. 

In the meantime, Tortuga: A Pirate’s Tale seems to be attempting a similar approach. It launched last year on the Epic Games Store and just came to Steam, where it’s not made much of a splash yet. Robin had a good time with it, though, saying that it “plundered his heart with turn-based naval combat and pirate presidential campaigns“.

Caribbean Legend 

(Image credit: BlackMark Studio)

Sid Meier’s Pirates! may have never been graced with a proper sequel, but it did inspire a series that has been spitting them out for decades. The Sea Dog series, like its inspiration, attempts to capture all the entirety of swashbuckling life, but in much greater depth, and with plenty of RPG systems. The best known entry is probably 2003’s Sea Dogs 2, which was renamed Pirates of the Caribbean thanks to a deal with Disney. Despite this, it has nothing to do with the film series, and is all the better for it. 

Caribbean Legend is technically the latest game in the series, though it’s actually a remaster of the sixth, Sea Dogs: To Each His Own. Let’s just say it doesn’t look or play like a game from 2024, despite only appearing a few days ago. It’s rough, it’s janky, but it’s also one of the most full-featured pirate games out there, letting you not just become a marauding bastard, but also a pirate lord or a governor, in charge of your own colony. You’ll have to deal with the minutiae of being a captain, doling out booty, thwarting mutinies, engaging in large battles on land and at sea, and if for some reason you actually like crafting stuff in Skull and Bones, you can do that here too.  

Conveniently, a free version also exists in the form of Caribbean Legend: Sandbox, which doesn’t feature a campaign but does still offer a lot of pirate antics.

Tropico 2: Pirate Cove 

(Image credit: Kalypso Media)

While the Tropico series is best known as a tongue-in-cheek dictator-themed city builder, Tropico 2 mixes things up a bit by putting you in charge of a pirate settlement, turning El Presidente into a pirate king. It functions a lot like its predecessor, but the switch in theme introduces some extra wrinkles, like needing to keep your workers terrified of you so they don’t grass you up to the monarchy or kick off some uprisings. You’ll also need to conduct raids, plunder wrecks and spread anarchy, all in an effort to stay in power. 

Unfortunately, Pirate Cove is no longer sold individually, so you’ll need to grab the Tropico Reloaded bundle, which includes the first two games and the original’s Paradise Island expansion. Thankfully, the bundle is dirt cheap. 

For a more serious approach to city building, there’s also the Port Royale series, an economic and trading sim set in the 17th century Caribbean. Here, you run a colony and have to deal with the threat of piracy rather than becoming a buccaneer yourself, however. Port Royale 2 is considered the series’ peak, though a fourth entry came out in 2020. 

Monkey Island series 

(Image credit: Terrible Toybox)

It’s hard to pick just one Monkey Island game for this list. As a LucasArts adventure game fanatic who started playing in the early ’90s, I’ve got a ton of love for Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, which was remastered back in 2010, but its old-school puzzle design will probably drive a lot of newer players absolutely bonkers. The Curse of Monkey Island is similarly cursed with some moon logic, but makes up for that by being both massive and absolutely gorgeous, even more than two decades later. 

And the series is still going, with it making a comeback in the form of the excellent Return to Monkey Island in 2022. In our Return to Monkey Island review, Will Freeman called it “A brilliant return to the series at its best that modernises the point-and-click form.” Whichever one you pick, though—even the less well-loved Tales of Monkey Island from Telltale—you’re in for a genuinely hysterical and absurd pirate tale full of insult duels, shady salesmen and adventure gaming’s most loveable and idiotic protagonist. 

SteamWorld Heist 

(Image credit: Image & Form Games)

Pirate games extend well beyond the Golden Age of Piracy, but to keep this list manageable (and because I’m suggesting alternatives to Skull and Bones), I’ve been avoiding pirates who do their business in the vast expanse of space, like Star Traders: Frontiers, X4, Elite Dangerous and Rebel Galaxy Outlaw. I’m going to make an exception for SteamWorld Heist, though. 

Despite being set in space, and in a galaxy full of robots, SteamWorld Heist is just as infatuated with classical piracy, allowing you to recruit an eccentric crew of skulduggerous crooks while embarking on a series of turn-based heists in procedurally-generated levels. You’ll board ships and space stations with your crew in tow, murder everyone on board with lots of panache, and then try to escape with the loot.

It’s an exceedingly charismatic affair full of charming bots; plenty of customisation; many, many hats; and mechanics that channel both XCOM and Worms. For me, the real joy comes from the trick shots, bouncing bullets off walls and ceilings to score that all-important headshot.

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