Time for a new idea for this blog: spending exactly one hour with a new game and trying to describe the experience. Today is an excellent opportunity to try it, because the Early Access version of Sunless Skies has just been released by the Failbetter Games.
Although it appears that the residents of Fallen London are not able to return to the surface, their Queen managed to find a new way to expand her dominion by reaching into the stars. Fittingly for the setting, the explorers use clunky steam locomotives to travel between settlements and outposts. Obviously, both hazards and opportunities can be found in the High Wilderness. On the one hand, the Londoners can find plenty of new goods here, with time itself becoming a strategic resource, but as it was to be expected, there are void-faring monsters and even worse horrors lurking out there. Of course, the protagonist is a commander of such a locomotive.
Sunless Skies is a direct sequel to Sunless Sea and comparisons are inevitable. The first glance reveals that the graphic artists did a really good job. The locations are depicted in tiny details, the background has several layers and the sense of space is breathtaking at moments, even if currently there’s no chance to move in three directions — not even a ‘dive’ option like in the Zubmariner add-on. Character portraits and images illustrating the ports you’re visiting are excellent, especially when you remember the clumsy graphics from the browser game which were later recycled in SunSea. Even the interface looks pleasant to the eye, which hits my soft spot (interface aesthetic was one of the reasons why I loved the Silmarils’ games so much as a kid). My favourite addition are the short pieces of text slowly appearing after our space engine reaches a new location.
Flying the steampunk cousin of Apollo 13 isn’t much different from sailing on the Unterzee, but some important changes happened. First of all, it seems to be faster even with a basic engine, but also more inert, so it’s quite difficult to change direction and avoid collision. Fortunately, our locomotive is far less fragile than the vessels from the previous game and suffers damage from hitting obstacles only at high speed. The other significant change is the possibility of strafing which becomes very useful in space fight. This time there are no turrets and gunnery officers to speak of, instead we are required to target manually by moving the ship and shooting two types of weapon. After a moment of confusion, I emerge victorious from my first scuffle with an unidentified foe.
This reminds me that I’m playing an early beta version. Unlike Sunless Sea, I’m not able to see the name of my enemy and their health. Is this a bug or a feature? Maybe I need to have special equipment or gain knowledge to see who is attacking me? I’ll have to check that later.
Another novelty is the new system of character progression. Instead of enlisting an officer and asking him for training, now we are able to determine the past of our supposed hero. The ascension to Level 2 required me to answer whether my alter ego was happy with their prole life. I’m really curious what happens next. Anyway, this was a very pleasant surprise, because I love character creation and role-playing.
There’s not much more to add after a mere hour of playing. All I can say that I’m excited to see more and really glad that I’m playing in Early Access. Waiting for new updates and watching the game develop sounds very promising. Of course, I will mention the changes in my weekly reports.
Meanwhile, I have a dead settler on board, the hull is damaged and fuel is running out. Damn, I love you, Failbetter Games.