Adventure, Death, and Frustration – Sunless Sea Review

One game type I’ve never really seen with a main stream following is the Roguelike Game. Typically characterized by random/procedural generated content, events, and worlds with a single life to mark your progress I can understand why many don’t find it as appealing in an age full of progression tracking, achievements, and other such metrics. In fact the closest thing I could think of to being a recent popular Roguelike is games like the impossible game or Super Meat Boy, both set to a specific pattern and recognized as simply being very difficult and having no real save function, much like old school Mario Games where game over meant go back to start. Many games like Diablo (and ergo, Diablo clones) take inspiration from Roguelikes in their generation and loot randomization. The only other game I could really think up that’s a good Roguelike in recent years is FTL and that’s a bit back, almost good enough content for a Throwback Thursday. However I come to you today with a new offering, one of salt, and stone, and blood. But most of all, an offering of the zee…

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Sunless Sea is a Roguelike game very different to FTL in that it is based in an “Unterzee” and you should expect lots of pseudo German accents, even though the setting is actually an underground sea where Victorian London now resides. The world consists of a number of islands randomly spaced around the London docks and you are a zee captain, trying to make a living here. You start with a small boat and crew and chart out into the open zee. The game has a tutorial book but it’s honestly a complex UI and system. I decided to set sail in my steampunk ship and proceeded to find the combat was an interesting system with you locking onto a target and doing a little dance around to keep them in LOS then open fire and repeat until one of you is dead. There’s some nuances like different buffs, modifiers, firing before a confirmed lock to chance a shot in half the time (which almost never works honestly) and it had my attention for a while before I noticed a few alerts. Turns out, you have to manage fuel levels and food for your crew. Things like running with a spotlight to balance being able to see vs additional fuel consumption and even maintaining sanity in the dark of the zee.

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Of course the game doesn’t do a good job of explaining as you select your first character’s backstory and goals (which are your winning conditions such as having a great fortune, a large estate, or even an heir) that these are actually things that you aren’t necessarily expected to win. In the inevitable death either by being blown out of the water by some Cthulhu monster or starving because you ran out of fuel in the middle of the ocean and the gods weren’t responding to your sacrifices (which are a fun thing) you then get to select who your next character is, whether they be a rival, an heir, or some random Joe and you adapt some of the previous character’s attributes.

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All in all I find this game to be a great time with huge replay value. If you enjoy playing your special snowflake character from start to finish this is probably not the game for you. If you thought your zee-captain would have a happy ending, you weren’t paying attention. More likely than not the characters you play will meet a dishonorable and quickly forgotten end at the hands of a black marketeer or monstrosity and you will die over and over and over again. Personally, I love the challenge and the fact that the game has such a huge amount of replay value. Do you like this sort of game? Have you ever wanted to be a steampunk captain murdering Cthulhu style monsters and twirling your mustache? Let me know in a comment and don’t forget to like and/or subscribe lest you succumb to the zee…

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