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.