There’s one comment which repeats itself like a Subcontinental mantra when people express their opinions about Sunless Sea, on Steam, RPS, and elsewhere: “Avoid combat at all cost!!!”. Apparently, the entire combat mechanic is one of the weakest points of the game, combining clumsy controls with high risks and dubious rewards.
The collective experience of my Captains confirms that. The naval combat model is too simple even in comparison with the classic Pirates! series, as there are only few tactics available, depending on the nature of the target, and there’s simply no possibility of abordaging an enemy vessel (and imagine what fun would it be to deploy a team of bloodthirsty seawolves against a Living Iceberg!). Except of the obvious risk of being sunk, without any life-saving throw, there are other hazards, like heavy damage and crew loss reducing our proud ship to a barely seaworthy wreck, forcing an unlucky Captain to undertake a painfully long crawl back to London. As for the rewards, it’s usually a few barrels of fuel or crates of supplies, which of course can be very useful in critical situations, but usually isn’t worth the effort. Other spoils of war may be various goods or hunting trophies, which can be sold in the Wolfstack Docks for a decent prize — however, you’ll drop the satisfied grin quickly after seeing the cost of repairs and hiring replacement seamen.
Unfortunately, all this hasn’t stopped me from engaging into senseless fights, at least against other ships. After all, the vision of the human condition presented in the game is deeply pessimistic in a truly Lovecraftian way, pitting the protagonists against uncountable horrors in a c0ld, uncaring universe. For this reason, every pirate ship sinking under the ways and every savage monster’s belly ripped apart with a well-aimed cannon shot feels like taking revenge on the hostile reality. Not only for yourself and your crew, but for every human trapped on the Underzee.
But let’s not get too philosophical. Naval combat, despite all its flaws, is simply fun. Closing to an unexpecting opponent and sticking tightly to his tail reminds me of the happy times spent with WW2 flying sims like Luftwaffe Commander. After all, every Captain deserves a moment of excitement after long, dull hours of sailing.