Title: Sunless Sea
Developer: Failbetter Games Ltd.
Release Date: February 6, 2015
Take to the dark waters
Welcome to the dark and hilarious Victorian-Gothic underworld of Fallen London, where every choice has a consequence, from the style of your hat to the price of your soul. Except this time around, the Unterzee is your oyster.
Choose your ship, name your captain, and leave the bustle of the docks for the wild and lightless depths of the Unterzee. The map changes every time you play, and every officer in your crew has their own story.
Encounter a corsairs’ village in a forest of stalagmites, come face to face with the vicious war trimarans of the New Khanate or the golden agents of the Dawn Machine. Grow strong and wise and rich and feared. With luck and skill you may achieve your ambitions: find your father’s bones, found a pirate princedom or sail beyond the Unterzee into the strangeness at time’s heart.
I don’t know if you’ve read A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab, but when I first started this game, that was the first thing that came to mind. The game begins in Fallen London, a world underneath the “surface.” I decided to be a Poet who uses knowledge and trickery to get my way and then chose world exploration as my objective. I even named my character Lila. However, while Lila Bard explored the seas of Red London – a world thriving on magic and life – my version was floundering in a darker world more akin to White London in Schwab’s ADSOM universe. Let’s just say she didn’t live long.
Sunless Sea feeds off of your curiosity. The game starts a little slow, but as you progress, you’ll find new random events, new story threads, and new opportunities to choose a different path. Think choose-your-own-adventure with an unfortunate reset button. Honestly, my first captain died within an hour of me playing the game. Although a little disheartened, I ended up learning from that experience and choosing different paths and options with my next captain. As a result, my second captain lived a lot longer and explored further. With different characters and different goals, the story is very free-form and after more than ten hours of playing, I’ve still only seen the tip of the iceberg.
As you all know, character development is like crack to me, and this game is wrought with it. As you explore, you gain new opportunities to talk to your officers and learn more about them. Sometimes, their stories will trigger new events and unlock new paths in the game that will lead you to more opportunities to learn about them or yourself. One aspect that I thought was interesting is that currency in this world is in Echos, but it’s also in stories – Tales of Terror, Secrets, Memories of Distant Shores, etc. That, along with the colour palette and soundtrack of the game, really helps to create a dark and foreboding atmosphere within this world you’re in.
When you first start, it’s hard to pick up on the story at large and understand what you’re supposed to do, but I think that feeds into the aspect of curiosity. Click around, talk to people, and explore the map. In the end, a story will slowly weave itself together in front of you as you discover more and more about this dark world and you share different stories with others in the world.
Now to the nitty-gritty aspects of the game. I’m one to just jump into a game. Unless there’s a mandatory tutorial, I’ll poke around until I figure out what I’m supposed to do. Don’t do what I did. Read the Captain’s manual. It won’t give you insight into your goals or what you should and could do, but it will help you understand the controls and figure out what all the varying bars mean. To help make it clearer, I would have preferred some arrows, bubbles or more informative tips, but reading the manual definitely helps. A small detail that I found to be quite entertaining was how the graphics settings were named – Adequate, Charming, and Sublime. Small touches like that really added to the atmosphere that the game was conveying.
Something else that I have difficulties with is the font size. I’m terribly vision impaired and even with my glasses I was squinting and leaning over the screen trying to read the story. With such a story heavy game, the small font was a little difficult to navigate through. It was only afterwards that I realized that the game had a font scale option, something that I thought should’ve been presented to the user upon starting up the game.
As a whole, I’m really enjoying Sunless Sea! I’m nowhere near done, but I’m excited to see where else the story takes me!
Steam Code obtained via FailBetter Games Ltd. in exchange for an honest review.