Sunless Sea - Kickstarted! From the creators of Fallen London


“Sir, this is a Wendys.”


I think almost everyone agrees, in other forums I see the same comments.
There is a weird dichotomy in the game, it’s like schizophrenic, one side is all about the story and heavily evocative narrative and interactive fiction, and the other is a harsh roguelike with simple, boring combat and grind that makes you repeat content, both when you die and inside a game (farming echoes, etc)

I was watching a video about the game this morning, and yep, it repeats the same opinion:


I enjoyed that review. Interesting that playing in merciful mode solves most of his problems with the game. Sure, you can save-scum and pass all skill checks, but the same is true for every other RPG… which means that this design is meant to be an RPG and not a rogue-lite.


That last part was the only thing where I didn’t agree with him. Saying the game is broken in Merciful because you can save-scum in every check to pass them made my eyes roll. No one plays like that, it’s the equivalent of re-loading in a FPS every time a bullet hits you. In FPS there are methods to recover health (health kits) so you don’t do that, and in Sunless Seas there are methods to recover from terror, to gain the money you lost, to hire more crew, to repair your ship, etc.


Holy shit it’s this game stupid, UI design-wise. It let’s you buy a cargo of 20 size despite not having enough space for it, so it required you dropping something overboard to make space. Instead of the normal thing, you know, which would be to having a warning message “you couldn’t buy this, you lack space!”. And once the jettison cargo window appears, you cannot cancel the action.

Another example, 96% of the curiosities yo win (the little cards that represent events or items or goals) are not interactive, but a few of them are and the game doesn’t indicate the RMB opens up the menu for them, nor it somehow shows which one have a special action and which ones doesn’t.


I’m still playing but… uhmm, yeah, I haven’t played a flawed game like this in a while. As discussed, the game has a harsh, cumbersome roguelike aspect in it that don’t go well with the rest of the game.
Drop that… and they still have a boring, simple combat system where you and the enemy ship constantly go in circles while auto firing your cannon. It’s so bad that instead of thinking ‘maybe they should improve A or B’ I think it should have been abstracted
Drop that… and still, the entire game concept is wrong. The good parts of the game is the setting, the writing, visiting weird new places and living weird adventures, so why would you design the entire game on repetition. You have to go from X to Y to Z ports and click on the A, B, C, D buttons (this option decrease terror, this to gain supplies, this to get the port report, then this to sell tales and memories…). It’s like they are working against the strong point of their own game. Repetition makes you stop reading the prose, and it reaches a point where the illusion of the game and the world can break, and you aren’t a captain living in a dangerous world of terror and wonder anymore, but just a player doing gamey things, pressing buttons to do some abstract resource exchanges (reaching this place and pressing these buttons to exchange fuel and supplies for money, or this other action will exchange money for terror loss, etc)

The fact this game got (in the 1.0 version release!) a 81 in Metacritic is funny, in a way it shows how game journalists have the same problems that Hollywood in the Oscars, where they have a bias for specific type of movies (creating the Oscar-bait type of films).

They should have made some kind of more linear adventure game on this setting, instead of an attempt of sea explorer/trader simulator.


I will go on with my rants…

The game has one of the worst journal systems ever.

-It uses an universal card system, where each card represents an entity… but some of the are quests, others are more like events, others are more like status or reputations, and others are quest related items, and it isn’t clear which is which. With the inventory happens the same, where it needs better classification.
-The organization is confusing, several things are classified by location, but others things are put in ‘goals’ or ‘memories’ or misc’.
-It mixes finished quests with unfinished ones.
-It shows a confusing number in some of the cards. For example, the deviless card shows a 30. It’s actually some kind of internal id of the event for that story progress, so some story branches have different ids (you can see them on the wiki), that should be hidden as it doesn’t help the player and it only servers to confuse him.
-Other times there is a number, but it represents something like a reputation. Or even a event timer.

This ties with the action system, the game usually show actions that you still can’t do, so you can see what you are missing (a stat, or an object). But in some cases you can see actions where it doesn’t make sense at all, like something related to an officer you still haven’t met.

Additionally, the info mouseover is needlessly abstract and obtuse, sometimes it has several conditions and they refer to a event status number that has to be lower than x or higher than y. Add to that that in some cases, the game mixes a bit of its purple prose, and they can be hard to parse.


Yeah, that a Failbetter game for you.

If I remember this right, part of the problem is that they have an interactive fiction engine trying to do an RPG’s job.


Yeah their games have some issues.I wrote an essay about my rather mixed impressions in another forum a while ago:

This is really long and specific yet also pretty pointless. It’s really only worth reading if you are in the mood to read a long essay of questionable skill, quality and purpose and either:

  • played or at least tried Sunless Sea and hated some parts of the game while liking the potential of some others and enjoy validation/counterposition/contradiction to your own impressions
  • you never got into Sunless Sea and hope some weird mixed opinion report experience will maybe make you try it again, because for some reason you want to try a game you disliked again

I recently played Sunless Sea Zubmariner (the Sunless Sea expansion) and it certainly made an impression on me.
I also bought Sunless Skies Early Access and have a barrel full of thoughts on that one as well (for maybe another post).

Pearl diving in a sewage treatment vat
Travel report and voyage recommendations for a questionable choice of entertainment
Therlun’s lengthy, mostly negative thoughts on Sunless Sea; and cursory mention of a few good parts

Sunless Sea is a terrible game in most regards.
Sunless Sea game mechanics have very notably changed over the life of the game. Kickstarter, pretty long development, post release patches and changes in the Zubmariner expansion. Many things mentioned in this thread are quite different or outright didn’t apply any more to the version I played.

Yet in the end the grand picture hasn’t changed. It’s still terrible as a -game- game. Sunless Sea is fundamentally the product of a bunch of people who have no experience and no talent for game development. Even after all the alterations it still is clearly what it was at the start, an exploitative facebook grind forced into several straitjackets.

It’s hard to find a start in an ocean of salty terribleness.

The rougelike mechanics
This one is the most confusing for me. Large parts of the map are set, yet certain island locations get slightly scrambled when you switch captains (by dying or fulfilling your ambition). The actual scrambling has almost zero gameplay implications, except the added grind to “discover” everything again.
When you start a new captain you inherit some stuff. There are a few special items you can find (often with considerable work/grind behind them) that permanently provide a bonus to all future captains.

A good amount of work went into this successive captain thing. What is incomprehensible is WHY. All the storylines get reset to zero and all developments and minor decision points are as well. Parts of the game clearly are built around this idea of successive captains, yet the actual core of the game, the writing storylets, are completely separated from and don’t interact with or acknowledge the mechanic.

My guess is that at the time of the initial Kickstarter rougelike was a well selling buzzword for a certain part of the potential customers (as it is still today). Whoever was responsible for the game wrote it into the initial design document and since then the game was just stuck with it. Nobody with sense or talent had the sway to remove or even just improve that useless barnacle.

Pacing. Pacing. Pacing.
The pacing of Sunless Sea is a huge mess. In half a dozen distinct areas. This is what initially made me write this entire wall of useless text. Each one of these points is worth its own post mortem and there are a number of additional ones I won’t even mention.

Pacing William Frederick I.
The switch from player farming facebook trap to “normal” game was not easy for Sunless Sea. They didn’t need the same hard limits on the drip feed of story bits the Fallen London game relies on. They still needed some way to manage the rate and interactivity of story bits. What they decided on was to not make a decision and instead put in all the systems they could come up with randomly distributed via grapeshot.

“Progress” is tracked, triggered, influenced and blocked by an entire arsenal of approaches.
Some storylets are unlocked by play time in real word minutes/hours (and very few are made unavailable that way).
Some lines are tied to return visits to London (and then a return trip to the story location, often repeating several times) in various ways. This ranges from the need to talk to an NPC in London to getting a resource that is exclusively available in London only as a singleton. (There are also similar gates with conventional resources from other locations)
Some storylets are infinitely resettable and retryable until you reach an ending, in some every decision is deterministic for the specific captain.
Lot’s of stuff is locked behind skill checks with a wide range of difficulty.
A good amount of stuff is gated behind grinding tasks. Or chains of grinding tasks (see the Khan favour comment earlier in this thread).

Almost every single interaction with story elements is additionally and primarily gated by the so called “something awaits you” quality.
Spending 60 seconds at sea will give you this quality as a key to unlock (an attempt) at the next step of a storylet. In a good amount of cases this means progress in stories is primarily determined and constantly interrupted by mandatory pauses. Two storylets close to each other block each others progress this way as well.

Intended as a constant piecemeal drip feed of story progress (remnants of the facebook skeleton) this turns into an optimization and patience game with the most efficient solution in many cases of course being: just wait outside port for a minute doing nothing.

Pacing Augustus Frederick II.
Difficulty is tough. Even objectively great games like the new Xcoms suffer from the problem of the early game being the hardest part and the game getting easier and less of a challenge as you play a campaign. Sunless Sea manages to burst that boiler however.

Xcom’s difficulty issue stems from rewards. Getting better at the game makes the future easier. Getting promotions, technology, loot, in general getting options makes the later stages relatively easier than the very start.

Sunless Sea’s difficulty problem is the inverse, it is caused by punishment. The game punishes lack of knowledge about ingame and out of game components.
The game punishes you for not knowing its lore before you had a chance to experience and explore said lore. The game punishes you for not knowing about specific game mechanics. Many of those mechanics don’t really provide a benefit if the player knows them, they were just put into the game to punish the player if he doesn’t. Which players won’t as they aren’t explained ingame.
The game often punishes you for not knowing how storylets play out and end before you play them. Sometimes with additional grind, sometimes with simple failure.
The game punishes you for making assumptions based on conventional gaming wisdom, as it went out of its way to change and not explain the changes to those conventional game design choices.

Any person’s first session of Sunless Sea is not just hard because the problem of difficulty is tough to solve. It will be hard because a group of people with no ability in game design went out of their way to make the start of the game that way.
This was not a concious decision to make the entire game hard or dangerous. Only those first few hours without any knowledge are. As you break that threshold you will be barraged by easy, unbalanced, exploitable, farmable sources of everything and danger will vanish.
As you keep playing most of the difficulty will disappear, with some parts only remaining as annoying grind.

Pacing Henry III.
Combat is shit. Me constantly referring to the creators as lacking talent for game design is meant to sound harsh. Few things support it more than the combat system though. It is cumbersome, unbalanced, incompetent and most importantly pointless. Besides some grinding applications (because of course) it only adds annoyances.

The game switched from a turn based system to on-map real time combat early in development. The result is simplistic yet bothersome. It only detracts from the game by exclusively adding negative things. It’s easily avoidable and not dangerous at all except in cases where you are forced to fight to advance a storylet (mostly through farming something). It is utterly unrewarding in both lore or ingame rewards, with a minuscule amount of exceptions found through trial and error, and grind.

I’m not saying a turn based system would be better. I’m saying the developers are so clueless about game design they failed to grasp even the tiniest sliver of the actual problem that made them switch the systems. They replaced horse shit with pig shit for wall paint when their goal was making a window.

Interlude before the but;
Spoilers and cheats improve your enjoyment of everything. If you apply them with precision

There are a few things you can do that make Sunless Sea notably better and you won’t like them.

Cheat engine has a speedhack option which just multiplies the speed the game runs. No specific script table for this game, just the basic speedhack option. Setting a hotkey for 3x speed and another for 1x speed quickly creates your own fast forward option. The game really, really benefits from this. Exploring the map for the first time is fine -ish. Further travels (and/or future captains) however will have to put up with really slow travel speed after that exploration phase in the base game. Combat being annoying, pointless and easily avoidable the game really cries our for a fast forward mode. My guess is the developers never really played the game themselves normally and never experienced the need for such an option. Interesting tidbit: using that speedhack option on the Sunless Skies EA version not only gave me the ability to speed up the game but also its loading screens. Which extends my proposition for their lack of experience and talent from just game design to programming as well.

The second, and truly evil, suggestion is that the game gets much better by using the game’s wiki to play along with it. This is not necessarily a sign of the end times. My favourite example is heavily modified Minecraft, which depending on the mod package benefits from varying degrees of complementary wiki usage.
In Sunless Sea it’s not as straight forward of course. It is a complex balancing act. You need the precision and self control to not spoil actual story parts. You need the poise to not mind the cases where you inadvertently do spoil a little too much.
Of course you also need the initial ability to contemplate playing a game in such a way without getting a heart attack…

If you read this far I hope I made clear that this whole thing is not a defense nor a sales pitch for Sunless Sea. I’m not saying the game becomes more worth trying if you do these things.
I’m saying that if anyone does play Sunless Sea these things definitely, objectively make it better by reducing the terribleness of some bad parts.
Like a study about a specific snake venom do with this information whatever you want.

It’s a game carried by writing, only rarely narratives.
Is that brightness I see in the distance?

Sunless Sea has many storylets of different sizes. Experiencing these is the meat of the game. Not all of them are great, not all of them are inspired but on the whole they are entertaining, well written and based within a solid and extensive world background. Some are actually really good after you overcome the pacing and grinding issues inexplicably grafted onto them.
They don’t interact with mechanics and they don’t form narratives beyond the focused story they individually tell though. You are not experiencing a world, you are not experiencing a story (much less determining it). You are more of an archeologist finding out about stories that happened, observing instead of participating.

I picked the gaining immortality ambition of the expansion as my main story goal because that’s the only real ambition and the only real ambition the game offered. (Wealth or fame? Something something my father? What kind of stupid life’s ambitions are those?!)
Incidentally it is also the only selectable ambition in the game that isn’t 100% grind (wealth or fame) or 90% grind (something something my father).
There are several ambitions of different size you can unlock and attempt later in the game (you can only complete one ambition per captain). Most of them are better than stupid wealth or fame but immortality is still the best by far in all gaming aspects.
I won’t spoil immortality chain story details themselves, but I will explain some of the surrounding gameplay mechanisms and revelations.

The immortality chain has you visit the new expansion underwater locations a lot. Your goal is to find out about the failed attempt of seven people to claim immortality and how you can do better. As you go you will meet most of these seven. They all have backstories and their own storylet quests. It’s fun to explore these and the locations they ended up in.
You then assemble your own team. Some of the seven can be convinced to try again with you, some can be replaced, some have to be replaced. The game is really flexible here concerning the results of the individual quest lines for these people and possible replacements.
After a lot of interesting story and questing you have your team assembled.
Now it’s time to plan your approach to getting immortality!
The end.
That’s it.

Observing their backstories and their pasts, discussing their current situations -is- the ambition. Once you complete that part the game -literally- just provides three paragraphs about how you do “the thing” and are now immortal and won the game.

You get to know these people and some of their history. Never reaching say Mask of the Betrayer, Planescape Torment or Torment Numenera levels this ambition’s grand storylet still manages to be in similar flavour and occasionally can dream of reaching similar heights. But after the initial taste it’s over. You are only there to observe the past, get told about things that happened. The things you -do- happen but don’t really matter. Are apparently not really worth telling.

It’s not a narrative, it’s a museum visit. The creators of this universe want you to look at all these exhibits and read all their neat plaques.
It’s a sixteen parted novel about you observing different fish in an aquarium. And a single paragraph newspaper clipping about you killing Superman and curing cancer based on your aquarium observations and conclusions (those observations and conclusions not explained in either).

The museum visit itself is fine. It was fun. The sixteen parts about observing fish are interesting. But you were promised Superman’s heart and a way to save your testicles from abnormal cell growth and those parts were skipped for some reason.

There is Sunlight, even down here!
Sunless Sea is not a great game. It even is a pretty bad one.
It has some very enjoyable parts as an experience. The atmosphere, the world building (I fucking love world building), sound, some mechanics (unmentioned because drowned in terribleness) all occasionally are great. But even those just as occasionally crash like an airliner into an orphanage.

Yet in the end I not only was interested enough to try the Sunless Skies EA I also cannot say that I regret my time with Sunless Sea.
If I dislike something I have no problem ignoring it.
If I think something has some super bad components yet is still worth playing/watching I have no problem doing that and never expending much energy thinking about it, attacking or defending it.

Sunless Sea was neither of those for me. Despite all… this (points upwards) and more.

As the one true King said: "A good act does not wash out the bad, nor a bad act the good."
I definitely do not recommend Sunless Sea.
But if you don’t care about endings. If you can ignore or circumvent scores of terrible game design choices. If you enjoy background and a big world. Then despite its many, many weaknesses and flaws Sunless Sea provides some very nourishing entertainment.
Nobody -should- play it for that. I’d say it’s tough to find a player where all the effort is worth it.
But if you do play it, for whatever reason, you -can- reap that.
disclaimer: Ages past in high school I did a scientific internship at a sewage treatment plant. There wasn’t any bad smell because all the areas for the smelly parts to be removed were covered/closed systems. It smelled a lot like soap and detergent though, because those areas weren’t covered.
Not directly related in any way to Sunless Sea. The random headline I chose just made me remember it.

If you read everything (or even a good part :P) of this, thanks! and congratulations.
Besides game related responses I would also appreciate comments and (harsh!) criticism on how readable it was. Did it turn into boring rambling? Was it impossible to follow? Was it boring to follow?



One thing I wish of this game is that instead of giving me generic, abstract things like ‘Vital Information’ or ‘Moves of the Game’ or a ‘Searing enigma’ as a reward for some events or quests, it actually gave me together that a new lore tidbit that would be represented by the card. Tell me how the Khan guys are planning to manipulate the government at Port Carnelian, or what is behind the clockwork sun. The worldbuilding is the coolest part of the game, but it really gives you only scraps and tidbits. I read some cool stuff of the world of the game on Internet, but given how little I discovered in my current game, I’m guessing you need to play 50 hours to really get everything.


I cannot speak to the EA version of Sunless Skies, since I steadfastly avoided playing it.

But in the released version you encounter a loading screen in two situations only, as far as I can tell:

  1. When initially starting the game, there’s a 7-8 second load time once you choose to start it.

  2. When you change worlds – moving from The Reach to Albion, for instance – there’s another 5-7 second loading screen. You don’t change worlds very often in the game.


I too despise the journal, card, and “however we want to catalog this thing” system.


+1 like.

a. Which forum did you originally write this in?
b. What is your opinion on Skies?


I remember having this complaint with Fallen London, but for some reason it isn’t bothering me with Sunless Sea. I just started playing recently and maybe I am in the right head-space, but I love how this game is impenetrable in-part, inscrutable, and shrouded in mystery. I am just taking it all in while enjoying the ambiance of the soft water sounds or the beauty of a snowstorm. My first impression is quite strong and pushing me to further into the game.

I’m rather pleased so far. I might eventually be bothered with the repetition and slow pacing that I struggled with in Fallen London, but all of the actual added gameplay in Sunless Sea takes the edge and sting out of those complaints.


Sunless Skies is a better game in basically all regards.
Some comparative bullet points:

  • Combat still isn’t great but it’s at least playable and an actual noteworthy part of the game.

  • You can play it without story related wiki use. Storylets and decisions are much more clear and sensible.

  • The world is very enjoyable and much more diverse than in Sea.

  • It’s still facebook game grindy in too many aspects but not quite as much as Sea.

  • Sunless Skies still REQUIRES the cheat engine speed hack in my opinion. It’s such a minor thing (and rather annoying that you have to use a 3rd party tool) but it improves the quality and enjoyment of the game by a HUGE amount. (Speedhacked loading screens are no longer faster than normal speed ones, which I guess is a good thing from a certain perspective)

  • The world is better, more diverse and more fun to explore than in Sunless Sea. There are some disconnects between narrative and game design though. Albion is the center of a celestial British empire but it’s just a couple of tiny ports strewn about on a really huge empty map (again helped by the speedhack option). The Reach (the region you start in) is much better designed for spatial and narrative background.

  • The roguelike, death and linage system is still stupid and superfluous. Basically no gaming benefit, just a sink for your accumulated stuff to enable more grind. Storylets still do NOT get more interesting the third or forth time you do the exact same one (of course!). Yet the developers build a notable part of their game around just that.

  • Ambitions are puny, disappointing and silly still. Fame and wealth are 100% grinding based and boring. Truth and the 4th ingame-quest ambition are more story focused but don’t really manage to rise above the standard gameplay in any way and -also- include a lot of grinding.

  • The testicular cancer and Superman issue is still there. The world is extremely static, decisions have at best internal but almost no practical consequences. Nothing changes or develops. You are there to experience and soak in the present world and past storylets, not to create them.

Overall Sunless Skies still has many, many weaknesses as a game. But it is much better than Sunless Sea in practically every aspect. If Sea had any appeal on a person Skies is a far superior sequel.


Well, I prefer my games when the obtuseness is limited to inside the game wold, and not outside of it.

In other news, I modified my mod to increase the cargo space of all ships by 30. It was being a pain in the ass, as the game don’t have any warehouse kind of feature, and in between the fuel, the food and 5-6 rare items that I’m keeping to eventually use in quests, I didn’t have enough space to do trading, and gain enough money to buy a bigger ship.


First major update coming in early April, including a re-work of Albion.



Should go to the other thread. 😉


Right. I forgot someone went back to play a 4-year-old game and then kept bumping this thread. :D


There’s a mod that adds a warehouse. Just FYI.