I’ve been playing Failbetter Games’ Fallen London for a few years now, on and off, and greatly enjoyed it’s heady mix of steampunk, victoriana and hellish cthulhuism along the way. Its always been a game about choices, and the writing has remained consistently high as my character has dabbled with Devils, lost and regained his soul, published his own newspaper, put on his own music hall productions and ventured deep into the cellars below the Shuttered Palace.
One of the areas of adventure that has always fascinated has been the exploration of the wider world however, Fallen London and the Bazaar are set beside the Underground Sea – or Zee – also known as the Sunless Sea – and other lands have been sketched out during game play and sidebar references over the years. So it was with more than a little interest that I’ve followed the creation of their first non-browser based game where you explore that world, and this weekend was when the project was finally available to buy.
If I had to sum things up in one word – that word would be ‘consequences’. There’s a huge open-ended world to explore here, where life is cheap and your character will die – but you can then learn from those mistakes and even inherit some of the equipment from your last character and start again. By default you are playing in a hardcore mode with only one save – but you can choose to be a softie and have multiple saves if you can stand the thought that you’re just not playing it properly.
A few simple questions define your origins and what you count as success – and then you’re off. Faced with choice after choice and the consequences that begin to multiply out of them, you’re off into the night to explore. How you do that is up to you though – you can trade, fight, hunt, smuggle or any combination of the above and more. Running out of fuel? Try searching for burnable supplies, or make a sacrifice to the gods of the sea – but what kind of sacrifice? Running out of food? Try eating your crew. The game play is smooth and the storytelling is elegant – and I suppose the best way to think of it is that rather than there being a specific story, they’ve created options and story kernels and just left it to you to find them.
There’s a dark fatalistic humour that’s so dry sometimes you might expect it to soak up the waters on the screen and its all illustrated with wonderfully chosen snippets of description that veer off in unexpected and yet so fitting descriptions. On being introduced to an Admiral, for example, when looking for work, he refers to you as “the merchant-captain of whom we hear such complicated things”
I’ve always loved the exploration aspect of games – it’s why I get so bogged down in sandbox games like Assassins Creed, Watchdogs, GTA, Thief or the various Lego games. I love to explore and push at the boundaries of these games, sometimes daring the designers to have gone that extra mile and hidden something for me to find. It hink that’s why I’m enjoying Sunless Sea so much. It’s easy to pick up and dabble, but there’s at least the illusion of some impressive depths to discover, so I imagine I’ll be at play here a while.
Sunless Sea is available for PCs and can be bought through Steam, or GOG.com – I think it’s worth taking a chance on this, especially as it really is quite cheap – just over £11 at the moment as its the opening weekend, with the price due to rise to £12.50 later. Go for it!