[dropcap size=big]T[/dropcap]he time has come to discover who you really are, earn your salt as a captain, and become lost in the dark maw of the zee. This is the Sunless Sea, and it is as dangerous as it is mysterious. Begin your journey in this curious game by Failbetter Games that blends roguelike elements, strategic survival, choose-your-own-story adventure, and top-down real-time sea battles. Build your fortune, unlock the mysteries of the zee, and be ready to die. Leave a legacy for captains to follow that you can be proud of! Sound enticing? That’s because it is.
If you’re wondering why I keep saying ‘zee’ instead of sea, it’s all a part of Sunless Sea’s rich setting. In a nutshell: London got into a war with Hell that led to it being dragged below the surface to the “Neath.” The game centers around sailing the Unterzee with your zailor crew to make a living and attain your ultimate goal. You do this by trading goods, giving passage to travelers, and delivering port reports. There are many missions you can complete that vary in difficulty as well, and some can be completed in as quick as one trip, while others take a considerable amount of time and work in-game.
Sunless Sea is a difficult game, least of all for the enemies, and moreso for the harsh environment, tough economy, and risky story encounters. For instance, I once failed to bring a blind criminal an item he’d requested I fetch, and he became so angry he killed me and my entire crew. You can’t really conceive of all the various dangers that await you, no matter how careful and strategic you are. That’s half the fun. Sunless Sea’s non-linear narrative makes discovery rewarding, and it really works well for its horror appeal.
This game is not a fast-paced game, however. In the beginning especially, you’ll find yourself watching your modest ship crawling over the zee for what feels like ages. It can be really tough if you’re trying to find a port for the first time. My crew went mad before I could find Mt. Palmerston, and that was two hours of trying. Finally, I got fed up and consulted the help wiki. If you think that’s cheating, you’re only half right. As mentioned, Sunless Sea is a roguelike, so on top of nearly starting from scratch with a new captain when you die (depending on what you can achieve in one playthrough, you can leave things for succeeding captains to use) the map changes, rearranging islands so that the “exploration” is never taken out of the game.
Sunless Sea is something you need to set aside time for to fully enjoy, but it’s well worth it when you do. Failbetter Games managed to effectively combine different interactive genres for one enthralling experience. It has endless replay value with lots of variety. They’ve even added stories since its official release, and have been communicating with the community about implementing mods.
If you like Lovecraftian anything, roguelike games, sea-based games, and choose-your-own-adventure stories, then Sunless Sea is simply a must!