By Sarah Howell
Sunless Sea is a spin-off of a popular browser game called Fallen London by the same company, Failbetter Games. Sunless Sea is based in the same universe and the player takes on command of an Unterzee steamship as their captain, whose background and goals are customizable. The player only wins when they achieve the goals they set at the beginning of the game, or when they discover their calling along the way.
In terms of story, Sunless Sea has few rivals. The setting is alternate history in 1800 and London has fallen underground, the soil overhead closing and leaving New Londoners in a subterranean archipelago. The Zee and Underzee (navigated by Zailors) is filled with danger and meaningful choices that will determine your followers, crew’s mood and general well-being in the world. The player will find quickly that no Captain can survive without trade but the legality of that trade is up to the player. The risk of shipping Souls for Echoes, the currency of Underzee, might outweigh the gain if the police of New London get a hold of the ship. All this and more, important crew members, smugglers and crime lords, hinge on the player’s pull and influence that they gain in their travels. More than items can be sold; stories and news also fetch a tall price from isolated islands but getting there is risky, but necessary.
A character’s death is permanent, Sunless Sea even warns you that many captains will die before the player fulfils their ambitions and masters the game. A captain’s passing, however, lends perks for the next captain to reap whether it’s in the form of knowledge, connections or treasures. In this top-down rogue like game, players must navigate the Zee, avoiding pirates and monsters and maintaining their crew’s sanity in the pitch blackness of the Underzee. The game’s map is built on a tile system and few islands are permanent fixtures between games, adding another challenge to the Unterzee. In SUnless Sea, you are expected to embrace the challenge; you are even expected to die (several times). The only question that you have to answer is this; how?