Review by The Purple Pantywaist
Reviewed: 03/22/16 | Updated: 03/23/16
interesting concept, awesome setting, paced much too slow
What is it?
In Sunless Sea you are a captain of a ship, travelling on the titular underground ocean. You steer the ship from a top down perspective and travel from harbors of islands and cities to one another, exploring the sea and sometimes fighting pirates and sea monsters. (Fights can be avoided most of the time, however.) When docking in a harbor, the game changes to some sort of text adventure, where you have a description of what is happening, and several options to decide what to do; which are available or likely to be successful is depending on your stats, your earlier choices and/or cargo. There is also trading involved, and RPG-elements, as both your captain and your ship have various stats, which you can improve, and officers, who you can recruit that give various bonuses. Terror is a very important game play mechanic: When traveling on the sea or making certain decision, your terror rises. If it rises too much, bad things happen, options disappear (but new might come instead). Too high terror means too high risk of death. Reducing terror can be very costly, depending where on the sea you are.
What genre is this?
I'd say Lovecraft meets Steampunk with a little Kafka and mythology. If you have played their browser game "Fallen London", it belongs in that universe. There is not one main story: Your captain is their "life goal", which you can pick at the start, but there are many stories parallel, e.g. most of your officers have their own story, and several islands as well. While you might die from time to time, and your next captain can inherit various belongings, officers or stats, it is not really a roguelike: Often there is luck involved, but seldom in a game deciding way. When you get the hang of it and play rather cautious, you do not need to die at all. Permadeath is optional. The position of the island changes from game to game.
How does it look and sound?
This qualifies as an Indie game. Graphics are very dark and atmospherical, sometimes gruesome. The topdown view is simple but mostly well-arranged, in the "text adventure" mode you have pictures, which again catch the atmosphere very well. There are very few music tracks, but they fit the overall theme. There is no voice acting. The game was lauded for it's writing.
This is my main criticism: The game is great, but once you got the hang of it, it gets really, really tedious. Let me give you an example: You needs lots of money, called Echo in the game.According to the games official wiki, the best trade route nets you 13 Echo per traded item for which you have to travel from one end of the map to the other, and the ships are not very fast, even with the faster engines (which again cost a lot of money and require more fuel). The largest ship can carry a maximum of 100 items, but you need at least a third for fuel and provisions to not die. You do not have a warehouse anywhere, so you have to carry everything with you (eg quest items, munitions, candles) all the time. Let's be very optimistic (or take a big risk) and say, you can use half of the hold for your trade good. That means from this trade run you can get 650 - ignoring the fact that you have to buy fuel and food and maybe hire crew and somehow have to reduce terror. And that you need the biggest ship for it, which costs 29 000.
Let me say it in another way: You have to grind for money and stats, and these grinds take very, very, very, very long. The whole pacing feels like that they gonna railroad you with microtransactions, time saver dlcs and premium content any second. They do not, however. On the plus side, the game can be modded and it is easy to edit your savegames. A DLC is coming soon, which might bring some changes.
Fresh concept, awesome setting. Many, albeit small wall of texts. Getting from A to B takes very long and you have to get from many As to a lot of Bs very, very often. Even for a little progress you have to invest a lot of real time (and make notes). If you are not bothered by this or have lots of free time, it is a great game. 4/5 or 7,5/10.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Sunless Sea (Early Access) (US, 07/01/14)
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