Sunless Sea leaves early access


Sunless Sea is out of early access today!

If somehow you have not heard of this game: it is a grand, creepy exploration game from the cool people at Failbetter, set in the Fallen London universe. Sail a cavernous underground sea, fight off giant crabs, try to keep yourself and your crew sane, and encounter islands full of strange tales. It has more eye candy than Fallen London, and no action-metering or grind. On the other hand, it keeps the creepy setting and the tight, memorable prose. You can play it in a ferocious rogue-like mode with permadeath, or you can be wimpier and keep save files. (I keep save files. I admit it.)

It’s not just me with my fondness for Fallen London here, either. Eurogamer gives Sunless Sea a 10/10, and so does Starburst Magazine.

I’m hoping for a big launch day for Sunless Sea for a couple of reasons.

One, I guest-wrote three of the islands, and I’ve written a little about that experience here (general comments about writing for the Fallen London universe as part of a retrospective of my 2014 efforts) and here (spoilery design post about the island of Nuncio). I had a lot of fun with these, I’m happy about how they came out, and I’m hoping other people will like them too.

Two: Failbetter is doing some really intriguing commercial IF, and the success of Sunless Sea will have a direct impact on how much more they can do along the same lines. I am hoping that they’ll turn out to be able to do lots and LOTS more.

So! Buy a copy! Tell your friends! Leave a Steam review! Try not to commit any acts of cannibalism! (Harder than you might think.)

19 thoughts on “Sunless Sea leaves early access”

  1. A curious thing I notice as I’ve been following the game through its EA development is that a small but noticeable subset of players get extremely (and I do mean extremely) frustrated with the difficulty level, far out of proportion with the actual difficulty level compared to other games described as being “roguelike” (or however many iterations of “like” you want to append to that). I wonder if it’s because people new to IF in general — who might think in terms “story VERSUS game”, with narrative-heavy games lacking much of that much-touted “failure state” and “gamey” games lacking deep narrative — simply don’t expect anything narrative- (and especially writing-)heavy to present difficulty.

    Either that, or it’s just gamers being crabby as usual and me overthinking it.

    1. I think that the crabby explanation is not to be underestimated; there are few things like early access for really making people scream and whine.

      But it’s also likely that a good number of people came to Sunless Sea through Fallen London, where death is not the end, all choices are digital not analogue, and failed checks can (almost) always be tried again.

      1. Actually, the Fallen London transplants have all seemed very genteel! Gentle? Gently genteel? That is to say, the ones I’ve seen who don’t like the permadeath and one-chance stat checks just tend to say “oh, it’s not for me” rather than having a more shouty reaction.

    2. My first game of Sunless Sea went about as poorly as my first game of FTL and my first game of 868-HACK. I explored a little, made a little progress, and then died horribly.

      On the other hand, that took about 45 minutes. My first game of FTL took 15 minutes and my first game of 868-HACK took 30 seconds. The leisurely pace of SS sailing is bit awkward with the dying-is-fun roguelike schema.

    3. To be fair, the early access was missing a lot of story (including the main thread) and the trading balance was designed having story rewards plugged in. Therefore the difficulty level was a bit extreme (and at one point the settings made it _very_ extreme) and this is speaking as someone who has beaten ADOM.

      So in a way the story part did cause some of the grumpiness, but more due to the lack than the presence.

      I do know there are some people still trying to treat it like a pure-Elite-trading experience, which I don’t believe it was ever intended to be (re-balancing may have made it more viable in the release version; I haven’t got to try it yet).

      On top of that, the feel of the game — due to the pacing as Andrew points out — is more of a regular-save-with-challenge-roguelike-mode rather than roguelike-game-with-easier-save-mode. Yet, roguelike is still considered the “default”.

  2. I love Sunless Sea, but my main frustration is that every time you die you basically have to go through the same storylines all over again, and the writing quickly loses its appeal when you read the same text for the fifth or tenth time. The limited randomization compared to, say, FTL or Nethack makes it less interesting to replay.

    1. I wondered about that; Fallen London and, well, basically every StoryNexus thing I’ve played has the problem where you wind up reading the same story texts over and over. Final Girl wasn’t grindy in the same way as them–but the permadeath meant you still had to see the same texts a lot (and I never figured out any great strategies for not dying). So Storynexus doesn’t seem like the best venue for permadeath, which really depends on being able to randomize a lot of content…. is this better if you turn off permadeath?

      1. Thanks, Emily, that is a useful link. I added it as a comment to my IFDB review of Fallen London.

    2. This is my experience too, now that I’m playing. It is, imo, a critical quality for a roguelike game with permadeath to have a noticeably diverse game start every time. I keep coming back to games like Nethack, Dungeons of Dredmor, and Crypt of the Necrodancer because I can count on finding some surprises in my first few minutes of play!

      The fact that I don’t get these surprises with Sunless Sea makes me much more likely to go non-hardcore and never look back.

  3. Any tips on how you make money in this game? I’ve failed miserably to get enough money to cover my fuel and supply expenses, which means that right now I’m out of fuel for the second time in about 10 minutes. Maybe I can make another sacrifice to a god to get back to port, but with no money at all left to buy new fuel when I get there, this doesn’t feel like a sustainable approach. :-)

  4. Played the game for several hours. Writing is brilliant as expected. Not so sure about gameplay itself yet. My first captain so I’m not sure how much random content is there. Is map static?

    I’ve played Fallen London from time to time but still couldn’t love it. This game deliberately leaves you without closure and forces you to leave game from time to time so it’s hard to remember what happens. It’s not that I need closure or clear and complete story. I know that I haven’t seen all content in, say, Alabaster, but I got the idea. With Fallen London I’m not sure if I remember anything besides basic premise of a game.

    Still hope Sunless Sea will get to me.

  5. This game has far exceeded my expectations and I really enjoyed your islands! Totally hooked. It’s true that, should I die too much, the game might lose some of its charm – but that’s what the manual save option is for :)

  6. I’m liking it! It’s perhaps a tiny bit too slow in some situations, and I accidentally sold my town house… but otherwise I’m really liking it.

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