The Sixth Captain was supposed to be the polar opposite of the previous incarnations, or maybe I should call them his ancestors. This time, I’ve chosen ‘wealth’ as the main ambition and decided to throw all that morality nonsense overboard, trying to finish the game without any inner constraints. Admittedly, it was the cursed Hindu doctor quest which made me tired of role-playing a paragon of virtue. However, old habits die hard and suddenly I’m finding myself saving my crew by literally feeding the ship engine with my own blood.
As a roguelike game, Sunless Sea has permadeath — unless the player is a pathetic weakling and switches to the Mercy Mode, which enables manual saving — and, which is typical for the roguelikes, it’s quite easy to die just by careless supply management. Although I do consider myself an experienced player after spending more than three months braving the Underzee, it still happens from time to time, usually due to my compulsive tendency to save every penny possible, preferring a risky journey back to London rather than buying overpriced fuel or food in a God-and-gods-forsaken harbour somewhere on the edge of the known void. Usually, I manage to cheat the fate, but occasionally my ship is left stranded without any fuel at all.
Fortunately, the game may be demanding, but certainly it isn’t cruel. Even in such tragic situations, there are a few emergency options, like turning food supplies into fuel or buying it from another skipper sailing by (of course, the Good Samaritan will always use the advantage to sell it for a ridiculous price). Recently, when the Sixth Captain ran out of fuel, the only options available were metaphysical in nature: either to sacrifice a few crew members to Salt or to convince Stone to be merciful… by an act of self-mutilation.
My hero, bravely treading the path beyond good and evil, should be able to choose the first option without a second of hestitation. The problem is that I’m not. As silly as it may sound, I couldn’t bring myself to do such a horrible thing to my faithful men, and telling myself ‘come on, it’s just a game, remember about IMMERSION’ didn’t help. Well, I guess I’m a poor Übermensch material.
The Pitt may be the best Fallout 3 add-on released by Bethesda, and certainly it’s my favourite one. The Lone Wanderer meets a stranger posing as a leader of slave resistance in the ruined Pittsburgh, which has been turned into a colossal industrial combine by a certain raider leader. On the moment he crosses the main gate, our character is immediately knocked down by the guards and eventually wakes up at the literal bottom of the social ladder — as a slave wearing tattered rags who is forced to labour in a steelyard, facing savage mutants, radiation and, let’s not underestimate it, horrible food, the Slop. Thanks to the player’s skill (and sometimes the liberal use of quickloading), he may slowly rise from an indentured worker to an arena fighter, and eventually has the chance to become one of the Evil Overlord’s henchmen. Of course, the resistance among the enslaved population is still active and requires his help in preparing a rebellion, but the line between good and bad, the downtrodden and the oppressors, is becoming blurry…
There are two main reasons to like this mod: the first one will be obvious to everone who looks at a few screenshots or finds a gameplay video on YouTube. To put it in a nutshell, the entire location looks and feels like a part of the Mad Max universe combined with a futuristic version of the Soviet Gulag. Personally, I think that the overall tone matches the postapocalyptic tone of the Fallout series better than any other location or quest in its third installment.
The other reason is that The Pitt forces even the advanced players to start from scratch again. When he was about to enter the compound, my Hagen was a proud owner of an Enclave Power Armour, armed with a blaster literally from the outer space, and boasting 30 levels of experience. At this point, it was very refreshing to have to survive with minimum equipment, searching the gloomy steelyard for metal ingots and repelling mutant attacks again and again. The first major quest may be the most interesting and satysfying in the entire DLC, but I will write more about it another day.
After writing the previous post, I’ve decided that it’s time to taste a forbidden fruit and become the Underzee’s most savage buccaneer (or is it bukkaneer?). After all, like I’ve already mentioned, I really enjoy the simple pleasure of hunting, shooting, looting and sinking. Since the short career of my First Captain, I’ve been always tempted by those innocent freighters sailing around, but for some inexplicable reason every incarnation turned out to be morally upstanding in a true Victorian fashion. Fortunately, the Sixth Captain is a black sheep in his lineage.
Life goal? Retirement in luxury. Ways to achieve the goal? Any means necessary. Smuggling drugs born in the Cthulhu’s worst nightmares, selling souls to devils, providing the powers hostile to London with confidential information – the end justifies the means, as long as there is a generous payment included. The logical conclusion wass that I shouldn’t be too much squeamish about piracy.
A ‘Tigerish’ Tramp Steamer became my first victim (and I’d give a whole chest of Drowning Pearls to anyone who could explain what does ‘tigerish’ actually mean). As it was to be expected, the ill-fated vessel had no chances to survive the fight against my superior tactical skill. The plunder was meager, but even worse was the reaction of the miserable rabble otherwise known as my crew. Can you imagine that my thankless minions had m o r a l objections to sinking a merchant ship and sending its supposedly innocent crew to the bottom? The Terror immediately increased by +10. This means that hunting a larger number of ships would force me to visit London requently and using expensive ways of reducing it. As far as I know, there is no way to avoid this mechanic — the game only allows to recruit new zailors in London, and there is only one type. Recruiting a pack of veteran corsairs is not an option.
And once again the history has proven that brilliant plans of a lone genius can by foiled by the mediocre, brainwashed by the slave morality. At the moment, it will be more reasonable to content myself with smuggling. What a shame.
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.
The Khanate is one of the most frustrating locations in the game, but also one which offers a daring and ambitious captain great opportunities. Generally speaking, it’s a rather stereotypical Middle Eastern city with greedy merchants in one of the harbours and a decadent court with two conflicted factions in the other. The frustrating part is the constant presence of guards and agents tracking every step of the bloody kufir — which means that almost every action causes the increase of the ‘Suspicion’ attribute. Beyond a certain threshold, the natives start limiting the player’s possibilities by closing the well-provisioned market. To make it open again, it requires bribing one of the two factions, which is quite a costly affair. To make the matter even more complicated, the degenerates inhabiting the court won’t simply accept money, oh no, this wouldn’t be sophisticated enough. Instead, one clique accepts only the expensive coffee, while the other is even more demanding and requires Drowning Pearls, which are even harder to obtain. Did I mention that even with a low suspicion level, bribes are required for newcomers to obtain a certain ring in order to enter the market? It’s no wonder that after a few visits to the Khan’s Heart, I started to feel xenophobic about its inhabitants. Unfortunately, taking revenge by sinking one of their warships costs suspicion too.
However, like I mentioned in the beginning, the Khanate is a place of great opportunity, worth every effort. First, the market offers interesting goods for reasonable prices, some of them required for certain quests. Second, the possibility of establishing a spy network is a great way to obain Strategic Information and gain the Admiralty’s favour. Too bad that there are no options to interfere with its internal politics yet — it would be great to stage a palace coup or even cause a civil war — but maybe a future DLC will introduce this. At least, thanks to Mr. Sacks, I can spread a plague of auto-cannibalism among those arrogant Easterners.
The Quest above All Quests: trying to make up and fulfill my own objectives in every game I play and record on this blog. An attempt to turn a story dreamed by someone else into my own.
The espionage thread was promising. One of the possibilities for my captains was to work for the Admiralty in a little more profitable, complex and meaningful than simple enriching their paperwork archive with yet another port report. And how delighted I was to find out that the delivery of Strategic Information to the old man sitting in the house on a bank of an old river was a succesful method to raise the Fallen Albion from the ashes With each package, the Random Numbers Idol would decide if London made another step on the ladder of imperialism. My Fourth Captain actually made the mistake to hand out the precious and poisonous material to the Admiral’s rival, but my limited experiences with the agents of the Dawn Machine — rather precognition than solid knowledge — made me avoid contact with her since that time.
Although the narration is filled with irony, and sometimes with outright sarcasm, it does allow motives to appear which could be named ‘reactionary’, for the lack of a better word. Wouldn’t it be a noble goal for my captain to serve their country and make Britannia rule the (under)waves again? And wouldn’t be another great opportunity for me, the player, to strive for another achievement which is not acknowledged by the game itself? Of course it would!
My Country, Right or Wrong: help London achieve a superpower status on the Underzee
Too soon it became obvious that there’s no worthy achievement in this. After establishing a succesful network of spies in Khan’s Heart and collecting Strategic Information from all corners of the Underzee, I have suddenly reached the glass ceiling of the espionage world. This is what happened to the Fourth Captain while he was leaving the Admiralty Office after another meeting with the old man:
So this is how it ends. With the Supremacy quality at Glorious level, there’s not much to overcome and conquer, at least not in service of Her Traitorous Majesty. London has reached the peak of its power and my services are not required anymore. Just some farewell gifts waiting at the doorstep. The Hero has retired. Who knows, maybe this is what drove the Fourth Captain north, on a hopeless expedition with a certain merchant, from which he didn’t ever return? But this is a material for another story.