Some games can thrive on narrative alone. That’s largely been the case for Failbetter Games, a company that’s gone to the forefront of narrative experiences. The company’s current game, Sunless Skies, is a sequel to the successful Sunless Sea and Fallen London. Taking place in a new part of the setting, it’s certainly very ambitious. The purpose of this Sunless Skies review is to provide a detailed look at the game as it stands today.
|Type of game:||RPG|
|Developer:||Fail Better Games|
|Total Play Time:||Unknown|
|System Requirements:||CPU: SSE2 instruction set support
GPU:DX9 (shader model 3.0) or DX11
RAM: 1 GB
HDD Space: 700 MB
The World of Sunless Skies
Despite the fact that Sunless Skies is still technically an unfinished game, it’s already getting a fair bit of praise. To understand whether that praise is deserved, one needs to take a look at the elements that make the game stand out. To give this game a fair look, it’s important to examine the atmosphere, the characters, the story, and even the proposed DLC for the game. Once examined, it becomes easier to determine whether the game can truly live up to the hype.
Atmosphere & Location
Sunless Skies is, at its heart, a game about the atmosphere. As part of the greater Fallen London universe, much of the heavy lifting has already been done for the game. Players should be aware of the fact that they’re going to go into a game that’s heavy on Victoriana and Lovecraftian themes, with a few modernizing alterations that make the game far more fun to play.
This is the kind of game you come to primarily because you like the setting and that you stay in because it’s got a few interesting game-play elements. Without the former, though, there wouldn’t be much here.
This game takes the Fallen London setting somewhere new – into space. Space, in terms of this game, is far more Jule Verne and Lovecraft than most games that you’d see, and it shows in every design choice. Steampunk might be an apt term here for some, but it’s a little less derivative than the title might suggest. Instead, it’s a unique kind of world that you aren’t likely to see in any other game.
While individual elements probably won’t stand out too much, the game’s setting really shines when you take everything as a whole. While the game-play itself is more than adequate, it really is the atmosphere and location that will draw in – and keep – most players.
There is certainly a main character in Sunless Skies, and that character is whoever you choose for him or her to be. Failbetter’s games have always been predicated on allowing the player to insert himself or herself into the fiction, and Sunless Skies doesn’t break the mold at all.
The only thing that’s for certain about your main character is that he or she is in charge of piloting an interplanetary train. Beyond that, it’s largely up to the player to figure out what the character’s motivations and goals ought to be. As such, your main character is very likely to be different than the main character of anyone else playing the game.
Since everything’s really up to you, it’s possible that you can think of this character as a continuation of the character in Sunless Sea. Given that the time and place of the game are quite different, though, it’s clear that’s not the intention on the part of the developer. If that’s the way you want to play things, though, there’s certainly nothing in the game that will stop you from doing so.
You are free to think of this character as someone entirely new, someone familiar to players of the old game, or even a descendant of the character you played in Fallen London. Again, you are really whoever you’d like to be in this game.
Fortunately, the NPCs in the game do have set personalities. They’re very much in line with what you’d see in Fallen London, so they’re somewhere on the border of gothic and just plain odd. Some of them are more memorable than others, and you’re sure to find a few favorites in the game. Definitely be on the lookout for new NPCs and always read the text carefully – failure to do so could lead to you missing out on some great character interactions.
Sunless Skies is technically a sequel to Sunless Sea, which also takes place in the same general Fallen London universe. In this game, you’re taking on the role of an ‘interplanetary locomotive engineer”, or a steam-powered spaceship pilot. Much like Sunless Sea, the plot of the game really revolves around what you happen to encounter in the game.
It’s as much about trying to get from Point A to Point B as anything else, allowing the player to largely shape his or her own journey even as he or she plays through a story that’s equal parts Lovecraft and internet whimsy.
Most of what you’re going to do in the game is going to come down to exploration. There’s a tremendous amount to see in the Sunless Skies, much of which might go over the heads of players who aren’t already familiar with Fallen London. In fact, a great deal of the game’s setting isn’t really all that explained within the game itself – you’ll get bits and pieces parceled out to you through the game and through choice bits of dialog.
It’s an interesting system to be sure, but one that requires players to pay close attention and to become invested in the setting in order to get any type of narrative payoff.
While the overall purpose of the story centers around exploration, there are definitely a few narrative hooks available. The big one is your character’s support of the Empire – or lack thereof. You get a real chance to strike out on your own in this game, even if you don’t necessarily know what you’re going to do next.
There’s doubtlessly a lot of meat to be added to the narrative feast of this game, as that’s one of the primary reasons that players come to games by this developer. Figuring out where the story is going to go next is a great reason to keep playing.
DLC & Expansion Packs
Given that the game is still in Early Access, it’s hard to know if DLC is likely to be made for this game. Sunless Sea did have DLC, and it was honestly very much worth buying – but it came out fairly late in the game’s lifecycle and was overlooked by too many players. It’s likely that the developers will choose to pursue a fairly similar path in terms of expansion releases, but probably somewhat sooner than they did in the case of their first game. If this occurs, you can be relatively sure that the expansion will feature some kind of new game-play elements and will help to push the story ever forward.
Sunless Skies is definitely a game that’s still a work in progress. The extra time spent on development has been for the better and the game has delivered a fantastic experience. If you liked Sunless Sea or Fallen London, you’ll definitely love this game. If you like narrative-heavy games that don’t hold your hand, you’ll likewise have a great time. While the atmosphere isn’t for everyone, there is definitely a core audience that will love the game. It’s definitely worth a look when the game is finally out of Early Access and it has its official release.