[Feedback] My First Few Hours of Play

Let me start this by saying that I have never played Fallen London. I saw Sunless Sea on Steam and was immediately drawn the the sultry artwork, mysterious music, grim world, and the slight comedic and Cthulhian undertones… I was extremely excited despite my (growing) disdain for games marketing themselves as ‘early alpha’ but still asking for payment and offering trailers that do not highlight exactly how unfinished or buggy the games are. (Ahem) moving on…

Here gathered are my thoughts on Sunless Sea, for better or worse, noted that they come from the perspective of someone who has only played the game and made assumptions (since there is no built-in help system, nor explanation of just about anything beyond vaguely what your stats do):

Sunless Sea pulls off early alpha perfectly - I feel that what I got is a MOSTLY finished game that is just too simple to be called complete. I encountered no game-stopping or crashing bugs; the worst thing I saw was an unfinished continent, which didn’t altogether ruin the experience. It is, perhaps, the only game I have purchased and felt was in the appropriate stage to be released under the early alpha status.


OH GOD STORY PORN. Highest praises for Sunless Sea when it comes to providing just enough text to keep me engaged but not so much that I’m reading a book; just enough exploration that I love the world, but not so much that I wish I would be able to skip it; for making ports different and truly unique, and for the cohesion of the story, artwork, world, sounds and music.

My first problem with Sunless Sea. I want to be clear: this combat SYSTEM does not bother me at all; I think it’s unique and interesting… my problem is the implementation. I fought giant crabs near London and there was no challenge at all. I fought a moving glacier and got eaten in one hit. In neither of these cases did I actually USE the system… I mean sure, I illuminated and then attacked, but I made no strategic choices that helped or hindered my situation. The closest I got to feeling like I was using the system was when I later went to fight pirates and had to hit them multiple times, but I’m not at all convinced that I would ever use all of the mechanics in one fight - for one, evasion seems silly: I’ve never been able to flee from an enemy I actually needed to flee from before dying, and in all other cases doing more damage to kill my enemy more quickly will probably mitigate more damage than lowering my illumination and avoiding a single hit. It would be nice to have some indication of how difficult an enemy will be before engaging, but once you’ve learned a monster’s stats, as soon as you get into combat it seems you should know whether you will win or lose. Typically, if it’s on the left side of the map, you’ll win. Otherwise, you’ll lose.

On my first few play-throughs I died to monsters (before I gave up on fighting anything more powerful than the pirates north of London). Afterwards I quickly discovered that terror was my next worst enemy. I have two problems with terror; one is personal, the other is mechanical. My personal problem with terror is that it stops me from exploring. I love the sunless sea, and I want to go investigate it… but if I do, my terror will rise without hope of lowering it again. My mechanical problem with terror is that it bogs the game down severely; to get the most of my terror I have to travel along a coast, toggling my light at periodic intervals to preserve fuel but lower terror, and take much longer to do just about anything that I could if I just ignored it… now this would be a different matter if time were relevant for some other purpose (say, I have to rush an antidote to someone and I have only 6 minutes… now my choice of whether to bargain time for terror is interesting, and plotting a course that gets me the least terror while being within my time limit is challenging, especially if monster battles do not pause the timer), but simply putting an arbitrary restraint that hinders my ability to move and is so terribly difficult to get rid of once it gets out of hand is very frustrating.

There are precisely two ways I’ve found of making echo: through the admiral (that 150 echo for exploring is great - I love being sent to new and interesting places [though the cost often makes me question whether its worth it, since I’ll probably use all 150 on gas, supplies, and carousing and will break much less than even]), and by fighting pirates (though the occasional loss of crew is annoying). In both of these instances, if anything goes wrong you practically lose the game. Fighting pirates is not trivial - they can kill you or damage your hull enough that the repairs aren’t worth the bounty. Exploring is difficult to turn a profit from because of the aforementioned costs… but fighting other monsters is too difficult until you’ve ground so much for a new ship; and I’m not even sure they’d yield anything of value… and trade is so paltry from all I can tell. Buy wine for 21, sell for 23? Maybe once you have a few thousand echo that’ll turn a nice profit, but until then…

I adore the stat names and themes. I think their relevancy in the theoretical combat that would force me to make interesting decisions is sound, but beyond skill tests I haven’t really had the chance to experiment with them.

The part of the game that will make it awesome is done - the theme, atmosphere, music, sounds, and story are wonderful, the dialogue is well thought out and engaging, and despite my reservations with the game I’ll keep playing it hoping for new updates, but it seems to stumble over its own mechanics at times, providing no way of removing the game-ending and highly restrictive terror, very binary monsters to combat (excepting pirates), and not doing anything with its sound and potentially interesting capability for trading. I want to be clear; I encourage anyone who saw the artwork and heard the music and fell in love to purchase this game, it is its own breed of fantastic, and when it gets out of alpha I bet it’s going to be EPIC! But if you’re teetering on the fence and expecting a game with a strong sense of strategy and progression, perhaps wait until a later build.

//It is not my goal to offend, and as I stated earlier this comes from my several hours of play without looking to any strategy guide or help resource.

A couple of quick notes regarding Terror. As long as you have Something Awaits you (triggered by the odd messages about sickly yellow lights, tolling bells, et cetera at Zee,) when you return to London your Terror will be reduced to 50 if higher than that. If it’s very high, you may get random Nightmares at a later point. If you’re riding a Terror of 75+ for a while, you may get a chance to recruit one of your hallucinations as an Officer. The Neath is a strange place indeed…

Overall, I agree with many of your sentiments, and some of them have already been noted by Failbetter as scheduled for improvement as the game progesses to completion. (Particularlu the economic game, which is very sparse and unforgiving as of now.)

At any rate, welcome aboard and I’m glad that you’re having fun with it so far.

Regarding Fallen London itself, it’s a charming little monstrosity of its own, a Byzantine Choose Your Own Adventuresque browser game with lots more lore regarding the world that Sunless Sea is set in and a tone reminiscent of what Gaiman might produce on an absinthe and Lovecraft bender.

It was interesting reading your impressions and comparing them to my own. I hope you enjoy things enough to stick around.

I agree with your considerations, I think right now the thing that needs the most immediate attention is the combat system. It has a very interesting idea (having to illuminate your enemy before you can hit) but the implementation so far it’s poor, I’ve been doing a lot of fighting (because I personally don’t like going trader) and the truth of the matter is that right now you either win or lose by default, there’s really no strategic choice in place. Most of the times you will win because you’ll pound your enemy while he tries to get your illumination to 100 for no reason, and when you die it’s simply because you have no way of preventing them from illuminatin your ass and launch a full salvo that 1 shots you.

As for the rest, I like terror as a gameplay mechanic, I think it would benefit if there were a bit more ways to reduce it strongly, right now maybe I missed something but except from going to London and getting it to 50 (which frankly is not all that useful), the only terror reductions you get are so small that are almost insignificant (the exceptions being spitting in the temple I think in Whither, and going to visit the cheerful sister at Hunter’s Keep).

All in all I think there game is great and really addictive but there’s still a few major thing to iron out imho,

Freemark, also it might pay to be aware that (I’m pretty sure?) spitting in the temple is a one-time option? And potentially has other consequences later in the game (though as far as I can tell these haven’t been implemented yet)

Also, um, the sisters… Let’s just say maybe don’t rely on them?

I absolutely agree that terror reducing options at the moment are both expensive and pretty poor. Carousing in London is probably the “cheapest”, but personally I think a night on the tiles should remove more than 5 terror (7 on a lucky roll if you have a romantic interest). These are meant to be hardened Zailors from the rough docks of London after all, not street urchins.

…actually, street urchins might do better with terror. They’ve Seen Things man, plus they aren’t as superstitious. And I bet they have a good turn of speed for dodging tentacles. Petition to start taking on the London urchins as crew instead? :p

I would really like to see a bestiary added to the game. Just the basic known animals/monsters that dwell throughout the Unterzee. You can’t really know just how tough something is until you face it. I had a feeling the living icebergs were super tough, and so I sacrificed one of my crew(good plan me). Later I ran into an eel. It was very tough and killed me quite easily. I suppose having the option to, again, sacrifice a crew member to escape should’ve tipped me off it was too much to handle, but I wanted to feast upon eel! At first the small crabs seemed quite daunting to me, but they were no big deal at all. Only 1 shot and they’re dead. I definitely took joy in being able dissect it(though I wouldn’t think so in real life). Zoological missions would be a great addition to the game I think. It would be very fun to catalogue the unknowns… and maybe eat them if they look good. I think at the least a bestiary would be wonderful in order to give a basic idea of the dangers monsters propose and which should most certainly be avoided. I would love to be able to survive the encounters and bring back stories to London and it’s university. Perhaps a bait system not involving only my crew would be lovely as well.

I also think booze should reduce terror a bit. Perhaps with other side effects/penalties. 'Snothing else to drink anyways.

Well I really hope the developer adding bestiary catalog also, and also adding the gossip or information of monster at dock or tarvern so we can buy or getting some information of the monster like will this monster dangerous?? How good or how bad will it profit us when we defeated it. I really think this is necessary for user because I had experience the giant ice monster attack my ship and I thought it’s just a easy monster so I engaged it but the giant ice hit my full hp ship only 1 hit then my game is over ,pretty bad experience~ but still, I like this game so much, really is a fantastic game~ Except adding beastiary I also hope the developer can adding some animation of combat, it’s a brand new combat system and I like it, but I just really think u guys should adding some fighting animation~ (p/s before I play this game I thought the fighting is on real time, like we driving our ship and shot cannon and the monster keep get near us) although after played I’m a bit disappointed but still I can accept the fighting system, but I just hope you guys can adding some combat animation, thanks a lot~ and sorry for my poor language q(^_^)p
edited by doomowl on 7/5/2014
edited by doomowl on 7/5/2014

I do feel like the combat system could use some balance yes. But quite frankly the idea of being one-shotted by various beasties (as has happened frequently to me) fits the lore of the story setting perfectly. Especially the Lifebergs which can be farmed nicely with hight enough Veils. A big point is that you’re a lowly human trying to make your way through a Zee full of Horrors and who knows what else which the monsters portray nicely.

As for Terror I find it more streamlined now and the reduction to 50 is a big help. It can be quite possible to make a long voyage with minimal Terror gain by finding the routes made by the light of the Light Buoys.

Regarding combat animation I personally like it the way it is. Adding combat animation feels like it would unnecessarily complicate running the game and messing with the general atmosphere it creates.

I am entirely sympathetic to your feedback, everything you’ve said has been my own experiences with the game. I really do look forward to future balances in the game compensating for such to make a more enjoyable richer game experience. The number one reason I am enjoying playing the sunless sea is for the world and the stories, which for now I feel are limited by imbalance. The seas should be cruel, but maybe not so cruel you just want to stay home…