Failbetter Games who are known for their browser based title Fallen London, is moving forward with their first official released game titled Sunless Sea. Currently in beta and Early Access, Sunless Sea looks to be a maddening good time.
The following Spotlight is based on the beta build of Sunless Sea. Screenshots and impressions here may not match the official released version or subsequent beta versions. At this time Failbetter has a roadmap up for Sunless Sea with a plan to hopefully release it this October.
Sunless Sea takes place in the same world as Fallen London: Where during the 1800s, London has slipped below the surface of the Earth and now exists in a Victorian Lovecraft styled world with brave captains sailing on the Unterzee: A giant ocean in a subterranean cave.
In Fallen London, you played as one of the citizens of the city trying to make ends meet while in Sunless Sea, you take the role of one of the captains who are trying to earn a living while avoiding going insane. The setting will be familiar to fans of Fallen London, but you don’t need to have played that to enjoy Sunless Sea. You’ll create your captain at the start, deciding their previous profession, name, portrait and a goal for you to achieve and from there you’ll start exploring.
You have three main resources to keep track of while on the Unterzee, food, fuel and terror. Food and fuel decrease as time goes by while exploring and terror increases whenever you are exploring away from any towns or islands. You can probably guess what happens to you if you run out of food or fuel but terror isn’t as clear. Each time you return home with more than 50 terror, you’ll start to have nightmares and things tend to get a bit weird for you.
The general flow of the game is that you have to explore the Unterzee to discover islands, landmarks and more to report back to the government at Fallen London.
Doing so will earn you echoes which are the game’s currency that are used for buying supplies, crew and more. As you explore more, story events will pop up asking you to decide how they play out.
One element that is similar to Fallen London is your character has attributes that affect events. For instance “iron” affects your damage done during combat and if you are trying to perform a physical challenge somewhere. Whenever you have to make a decision, the game will tell you your chance at succeeding and then it’s up to the random number gods to decide if you win or lose.
Interestingly, Sunless Sea also has a combat system. The original form of it was a minigame where you had to create as much visibility as possible on the enemy before opening fire on them. At this time, it was considered the worse element of the game and the developers are going back to the drawing board.
Sunless Sea is probably the most gameplay oriented title from Failbetter and challenges the player to continue expanding their searching for discoveries while balancing their need for food, fuel and keeping terror down. The rogue-like element comes in by the fact that one way or the other, your quest is going to end either by success or by failure.
After the game ends, you can start a new journey and depending on how well you did before, you can give your next character bonuses.
While Sunless Sea has a lot going for it, there are still some problems that need to be ironed out before release. First is that the developers could do a better job of introducing someone to the world.
The tutorial at the start really needs like one or two more minutes of content to show someone what they should be doing. There is some information overload as the player will discover resources, items, ship parts etc, without any real guide as to why they are important.
At this moment, besides revamping the combat system, Failbetter is also going to make the world completely randomized which has caused some polarizing opinions. From a gameplay perspective, this makes total sense and adds replayability. But from a narrative perspective where most of their fan base is from, a completely random world will make it a lot harder to follow the story.
Personally I’m for replayability but the random world generator is not finished yet as they still have parts to design. And the as mentioned combat system does need a tune-up. At this point the randomly generated world does have some issues as an unlucky world generation can leave you with very little to explore.
The replayability aspect is very important as the game does feel grindy.
Because Fallen London is your port, all trips out will require you to come back and since the majority of the gameplay hinges on your stats, does leave the player without a variety of means to affect the world gameplay wise.
And there does seem to be a clash between the narrative side of the game and adding more direct control and gameplay. With the redesign of combat, it seems that the developers want to add more gameplay interactions.
Overall Sunless Sea has a lot going for it. Given that this is their first non browser based game, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for Sunless Sea.