This week I’m bringing you something scary, yet wonderful and truly special. It’s a rogue-like RPG, with a heavy focus on exploration and choose your own adventure elements: Failbetter Games’ Sunless Sea. It had a successful Kickstarter campaign and was released, February last year on Steam. What’s it about you ask? Well, sit down because here lies a tale.
This game is set in the same universe as Fallen London (trust me and go play it now). Fallen London could easily be described as a Victorian, Gothic, Steampunk, choose-your-own-adventure game. It has one of the coolest backstories I remember.
These are the basics. In 1861, the Prince Consort fell ill, and the Traitor Empress (how they call Queen Victoria in this game) sold London to the Echo Bazaar so that they’d save his life. London then got taken one mile underground by bats, turning it into Fallen London. And since Fallen London is close to Hell there’s a lot of weird stuff, like Clay Men, Demons and a whole subterranean sea to explore; the Unterzee. That’s where Sunless Sea will take you.
“The Sea has never been friendly to man. At most it has been the accomplice of human restlessness.” Joseph Conrad
This quote greets you at the start of the game, along with a message saying “Explore. Take risks. Your first captain will probably die. Later captains may succeed” and that’s the most accurate thing you could say about this game.
The game gives us a wide array of options. We have several origin stories we can choose from (or no origin at all) and a goal to finish the game. Because everyone takes to the zee for a reason, you might be looking for fame or fortune, or you might just be looking for your father’s bones after he died at zee. After we finish with our character we start playing.
Exploration is the focus of the game. The zee is a strange, wonderful and terrifying place and it changes (when we die, the map changes mostly, certain places are in the same position but others move). So we go around the map, to discover new places. As we wander around we will get enough Fragments to get Secrets, the main thing we can do with the secrets is level up our stats by talking with one of the officers we recruit. And there’s also the fear, if we let our Horror meter get high enough strange things will happen, and our crew might even mutiny and kill us!
But all in all, the important thing is the stories. We will get tangled in the stories of the places we visit. For example, when we explore one of the island we visit we find out that there’s a conflict between its inhabitants. The funny thing is that said inhabitants are rats and guinea pigs. We can pick a side, become their advisor and either help the island reach its apogee or end up dooming it. We can also get banned from the island if we’re pricks and steal from them.
Like I said, this game is a rogue-like and quite unforgiving. I have played for more than 50 hours and I still haven’t finished it a single time. I don’t feel discouraged by it or anything, I love that in this game. Especially because of how it deals with the stories you experience.
You never know what might happen, you might end up having bad luck and run out of resources in an expedition and be forced to either sacrifice your crew to the Gods of the Zee, or even be forced to eat them. And if you play Fallen London then you will also unlock some stuff to do in this game.
Getting the hang of this game might be difficult, you might end up deciding that you should buy a better engine, but using a better engine on the basic boat is pointless, yes you go faster but you also burn more fuel. And coming across money is a bit difficult at times so you have to manage that as well.
” A zailor raises her head, sniffs sharply. Blood on the wind. “
The Unterzee is a strange and unforgiving place, you will die but the zee beckons and you will be back. I know I have. can’t recommend this game enough. It’s well worth the money because you will be playing it for a long time.
Especially now, the first DLC for the game is out. It’s called Zubmariner and in it we will be able to turn our ship into a zubmarine and explore the depths of the sea.
And there’s also a sequel in the horizon. Sunless Skies will be on Kickstarter next February. I missed the Kickstarter for Sunless Sea so there’s no way I’m missing this one.
I can’t recommend this game enough. Failbetter Games know their stuff when it comes to interactive fiction and Sunless Sea is a fine example of it.
Angry Spaniard, adoptive Irishman. Writer, reader, tea drinker and video game player/designer.