Sunday, September 24, 2023

Failbetter Games Soars Through The Darkness with Sunless Skies

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Hello, delicious friend! Are the streets of London starting to wear on you? Are the swells of the zee driving you mad? Are you ready for a new expedition? Explore a new world, and time, with Failbetter Games’ newest addition to the Fallen London universe: Sunless Skies.

Warning: This game can be dangerously English

If you are unfamiliar with the world of Fallen London, imagine a Lovecraftian, steampunk, underground London without the airships. Well, there’s some airships. But they’re not like you expect. Instead of airships, we now have the much more British flying locomotive. Yes, in Sunless Skies you pilot a flying train through the roof of that underground world. In their previous game, Sunless Seas, you traveled the underground “zee” on a steam ship. Later, you could upgrade to a “zubmarine” and explore the lowest depths. Now, we explore the opposing realm: The Reach (people in the sky can spell better).

The gameplay of Sunless Skies is similar to its sister game Sunless Seas: your main resources are still fuel, supplies, and crew, and a lot of your time is spent trying to accumulate and improve what you have. Your stats are mostly the same as well: Veils (how stealthy you are), Mirrors (how much you can observe), Hearts (how persuasive you are), and Iron (how much damage you can deal).

Sunless Seas had an additional stat, though, Pages, which is notably missing from Sunless Skies. The lack of Pages speaks to another change between the games. Instead of learning secrets and trading those to increase your skills, you now gain experience. And instead of talking to your officers, you are taken to a menu where you get to flesh out your character’s personality and past. These options allow you to increase a primary and secondary state, offering a more dynamic—and immersive—gameplay experience.

Officers: The cause of, and solution to, many a captain’s problems

Speaking of dynamic and immersive, there is a story fueled tutorial at the beginning. As someone who is a huge fan of introducing mechanics and concepts through actual gameplay, I loved this addition. It also added plot hooks, and gave a whisper of zones outside The Reach. That’s right, The Reach is not your only area to explore, but in a game so rooted in story I won’t say more.

Exploring ports also opens up limited time trade opportunities that can result in a hefty profit. Keep an eye out if you need extra echoes.

Ports are your oasis in the harsh world of the air, but they aren’t often as safe as they seem

Honestly, I found Sunless Skies much more difficult than Sunless Sea. Due to the nature of the roof, there is not a lot of open sky. Even close by ports feel much farther apart when you have to navigate around multiple obstacles to reach them. The terrain is almost maze like, and when your navigational aid eats your food every time you send them out, well. Sometimes you have to stay lost for a while.

I also took an embarrassingly long time to figure out where to turn in my port reports. Since these are your main source of income early on, I struggled a lot. Hint: they’re marked on your map. From the start. Like I said, embarrassing. Those early frustrations aside, I never wanted to quit or felt like it took away from my experience.

There’s darkness in the skies above, aye, but there’s beauty too

Sunless Skies is a challenging legacy game with a rich and complex story. True to the universe it inhabits, secrets abound and darkness can peer out of any corner. The more you play, the more entangled and entrenched you can find yourself in the schemes and machinations of the factions up above. Seek fortune, seek fame, or seek the truth. Your destiny awaits among the glim—it does fall from the sky, doesn’t it?

Sunless Skies is currently available for PC, Mac, and Linux on Steam and through The Humble Store, where it can be picked up for $24.99.

Images courtesy of Failbetter Games


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