Firstly, I noticed that Mutton Island wasn’t counting as having been visited at one point in one of my games, and I would be told of its location every time I released a zeebat near it. I think I visited it before activating the zeebat the first time which might be the trigger of the bug, but either way it kept telling me to go back there no matter how many times I visited the place.
Anyway, I am enjoying the game and its atmosphere but I feel that it currently has one big glaring issue which needs to be addressed: pacing.
What do I mean by pacing? The speed at which the player progresses in all aspects of the game. In this case I feel Sunless Sea has yet to appropriately balance itself, forcing players to grind, which in turn destroys the atmosphere - the same atmosphere which makes the game so enjoyable in the first place. Areas where I feel that the pacing of the game is incorrect (at least in the beginning) are as follows:
[ul][li]Making money[/li][li]Terror/Fuel efficiency (in this case the pacing is too high, preventing exploration)[/li][li]Movement speed (due to forced grinding)[/li][li]The speed at which things go awry (i.e. zero to critical emergency instantly with little chance of saving yourself)
Allow me to provide some examples and clarity around the above points:
Making money is a big one, because without upgrading your ship, crew etc, you are basically unable to progress as a player, forcing you to stay in the small area around your starting zone for as long as it takes to grind up enough echoes to finally move onto another area to grind. This changes the game from being one about exploration, story and lovecraftian horror to a single-player MMORPG where you’re simply "too low level" to enjoy the rest of the game. When you combine this with permadeath, you’re basically asking players to waste dozens of hours of their lives each time they fail (which in permadeath games is designed to happen a lot), or to go to save mode, which makes the game feel cheaper and less atmospheric.
A good comparison for this is Sid Meier’s Pirates (one of the inspirations for the game), which also allows you to explore and go from port to port, trading supplies and engaging in various events. However, in Pirates, you actually earn decent money for your cargo haul, and can fight and loot many others along the way, which adds to your riches. Sure, your money doesn’t go up incredibly fast, but it increases at a pace relevant to your story progression. Sunless Sea, however, is so stingy with echoes that you often find yourself barely making enough to pay for your own costs even after a long and arduous journey and fighting several enemies, which makes you wonder why you even left port in the first place. At the very least a captain should come back significantly richer, better equipped or stocked than when they left port so that they can say "Well that was a worthwhile journey" and plan the next one, rather than "I wonder if I can afford the fuel to do that again…"
Terror/Fuel efficiency falls into a similar bucket here. Because terror goes up so high so quickly (or rather, won’t go below 50 and forces you to keep going back home to reset it), players can’t even venture far from home when they HAVE managed to upgrade themselves somewhat. This essentially "waterlocks" the player, forcing them to "mine" the nearby islands, settlements, monsters and events for loot, rather than exploring, which this game continually touts as a defining feature. Likewise, fuel burns so fast that it’s hard to keep stocked and tends to cut journeys short even if the terror level is low. This also contributes to the issues with making money, as most of the proceeds of any trading mission go into paying for more fuel so you can grind for another grand profit of 5-50 echoes after 20 minutes of work.
I recognize that the game is meant to keep you in a small area until you upgrade, but this just brings us back to the first point: If you can’t earn enough echoes to upgrade, how can you ever get out of your little circle? And grinding is NEVER the answer, because grinding completely destroys the immersion - the very factor which makes the game stand out and be worthy of praise. I don’t care if I get a shorter game, if the game feels like an amazing experience. Take Portal for example; 2 hours of gameplay, but it didn’t make you wait for it. You progressed fluidly and it allowed you to stay immersed in the story. That’s what I want to see Sunless Sea provide.
Another side of the Terror level is that it makes little sense for Terror to go up when you’re crossing a section of sea that’s not only clearly safe, but has been travelled over by you a hundred times previously (while grinding for cash). What are the crew scared of? Death by bordeom? They’ve clearly survived that exact same passage 30 times before. I would like to see Terror increase more in actually scary places (particularly unknown ones) and decrease when in known safe zones (because currently it massively hampers exploration). At least until that safe zone becomes unsafe again (e.g. monster attacks, random event, etc). That way, Terror is more of a manageable commodity rather than an annoying "end of journey" bar which maxes out a dozen times too fast for the pacing of the game.
Movement speed is yet another area which COULD be fine if the player wasn’t forced to grind. See, travelling slowly through the inky seas into the unknown is tense and exciting. Travelling slowly through a stretch of ocean which you’ve gone over so many times that you could navigate it blindfolded is simply boring and frustrating. Things I’ve found myself saying that I never want to say while playing a game include:
[ul][li]"Oh hey look! An enemy that I could kill in one hit without taking damage but am forced to combat over and over again even though I’ve clearly proven dominance over it and should basically get an auto victory over! Let’s go fight that for supplies!"[/li][li]"Just three more minutes of sailing and I’ll be able to get more cargo to sail another 3 minutes back again to deliver!"[/li][li]"I’ll just go make a cup of coffee while I wait for this journey to end…"
[/li][li]"Oh, drownies trying to kill me. THANK GOD FOR THAT DISTRACTION!"[/li][/ul]The point (clearly) is that you don’t need to combine all of the above problems into one giant clusterbomb of boredom. If you’re gonna make me move slowly, make it worth reaching my destination. I don’t want a Port Report worth a measly 5 echoes and a pat on the back. I want to unload 150 echoes worth of goods (which hopefully did NOT cost 142 echoes to purchase) and to return home richer and capable of actually upgrading something rather than merely refueling and setting off again. Or heck, allow me to resupply (at a reasonable price) and use that destination as a new launching area for futher exploration! But if you’re going to make me grind for my 8 echoes profit each time, at least double my speed so the grind is a little less painful.
The speed at which things go awry is something which I’m normally ok with, but sometimes bad events just pop up and poop all over your progress. Like, for example, attacking a creature which you previously slew flawlessly before only to discover that it had since been working it with Dyrone and secretly became the cousin of the Incredible Hulk, upon which point it obliterates your ship, progress, and chastity in two lightning-fast suplexes, leaving you wondering what the heck just happened, a full moment before the realization that you’re going to have to grind ALL OF THOSE HOURS AGAIN sinks in.
This, again, works into the aforementioned issue of grinding, which is a subset of the core issue of pacing. You want to wreck me in one shot? Ok, I’m cool with that, it’s a learning experience. But don’t make me do 12 hours of carting bat corpses off to the Sisters again just to get back to where I was. Either give me a chance to get OUT of those horrible situations (of which there are many more than the one I just described), or fix the pacing so that if I die, I have something to look forward to on replay that’s not "doing all the same stuff again with absolutely no change except for the complete lack of all of my previous progress"
So to summarize, changing even 2 out of those 4 elements would greatly increase the playability and replayability of the game. It’s got absolutely fantastic potential, but right now it’s just making me angry with all the grinding and time wasting, and I’d much rather finish the thing in a few hours and wait for an update than play 40 hours just to earn enough echoes to see part 2 of 8 of the storyline. By that point all of my enthusiasm for the game will have long since departed, and IT at least has plenty of fuel to make the journey.
edited by Sirus on 7/5/2014