Hopeful critique on the lacking progression system

So far I’ve sunk (lol) quite a few hours into this game. But now knowing the world as I do I find the progression system very poorly designed near nonexistant.

At current there is only one really worthwhile method of making cash. salt lions early and then Illegal smuggling of sunlight. And comparatively everything else feels woefully meaningless. Theres no reason to engage in other forms of trading because they just don’t get you anywhere near a profit most of the time.

Then once you have grinded a sufficent amount of cash through the sunlight trade (and it really is a grind) the next course of action would be going to irem to buy enough secrets to max out your stats.

And now you can play the game… Sure you can choose to explore aimlessly and it’s a lot of fun to do that at first. But once you get into the games progression system you realise there isn’t one. It’s grind sunlight, buy secrets and level up stats…

This is horrible design, it doesn’t encourage exploring or lend anything to the sea farring adventurer.

So here are my suggestions:

Add more trade routes, unique to a few of the islands in each tier of the map and make them worthwhile! Use the sunlight trade as a base and increase the value of the trade route the further and more hazardous the area is from Fallen London.

Add progressive stat increases… If you succeed at a challenge, give the player a point up in that challenges stat but add in switches so that they can only do it once per challenge. This encourages exploration, finding new things and importantly challenging them! The current system merely encourages grinding cash and going to Irem.

Remove secrets for cash in Irem… As a potential alternative replace them with a trade good that becomes a secret once you take it somewhere else.

I really hope this helps, because sunless sea has the potential to become a really awesome game. Love the story so far and wish the progression system in the game lent more to exploring and adventurering than grinding and cash for stat-ups
edited by GrimoireOfAlice on 2/19/2015

There are other ways to make echoes and I very rarely trade sunlight and I have never bought a secret, I earn them by finding fragments and a few places that actually give secrets. As for boosting stats I hope for the random SAY to spend the Gods attention and eat Tyrant Moth Antennae (and really hope to be lucky collecting a port report in the Iron Republic).

Past dev comments have suggested that the sunlight smuggling system is not yet finalized. I’m hoping that the final version is more narrative-rich, personally.

The critique hinges on the perceived fact that sunlight smuggling is currently working as intended, and analyzes other issues from that perspective.

The sale of secrets at Irem is not problematic as 999 echoes are normally not so easy to acquire.

Secrets are normally earned through the accumulation of Fragments, which are in turn obtained from exploration and certain quests to a lesser (or not so lesser) extent. This is basic knowledge, and I find it weird that the OP is well-versed in the acquisition and sale of sunlight, and the connected trivialization of Irem’s shop, but at the same time doesn’t seem to know how secrets are more naturally earned.

It sounds to me you played some, OP, then found a sunlight smuggling guide and allowed that to ruin the rest of the game for you. :/

I can agree with you that progression needs to be revised and that more viable trading options wouldn’t hurt, but not entirely for the reasons you describe. I’d wager the relatively harmless &quotharvesting&quot of sunlight on the Surface, the root of the problem you point out, will be addressed before long. Aestival is another source and nowhere near as merciful, which gives me the impression the Surface will feel more similar to it soon.

I think what we’re seeing here (once again?) is the clash of traditional gamer on non-traditional game.

There is no offence meant here at all to anyone, whichever side you fall on, but your average gamer is a min-maxer. They see numbers and work to get them as high as possible (whether that’s damage output, echoes, speed, whatever), using whatever techniques are at their fingertips. This game, more than most, encourages people to seek guides before they’ve got very far, because it’s deliberately obtuse by design.

The 10/10 on Eurogamer was certainly wonderful for Failbetter, but probably led a lot of people to buy this game who wouldn’t have otherwise gone anywhere near it. Because Sunless Sea has stats at all, most gamers will work within whatever mechanisms they find to get those numbers maxed, and care only about unlocking achievements and getting those numbers as high as possible.

So, as you say, probably a majority of players out there are playing it exactly as GrimoireOfAlice is playing it. Working to max everything out as soon as possible, and likely skipping a lot of the text - which is arguably the actual meat of the offering. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does mean they’ll become frustrated extremely quickly, because viewed like that, it’s somewhere uncomfortable between a point-and-click adventure of old that makes you wait for minutes between pointing and clicking, or an RPG that never actually lets you roleplay.

Whereas your Fretling type player, who dips in a little every day, and enjoys the relaxation the game brings, gets a lot more from the gentle way in which the game delivers content and narrative.

And then there’s the third type of player, who sits somewhere in between. Give them a game, they want to understand the inner workings. But give them something beautiful and they’ll happily soak it up. Which is why they will be frustrated when they understand the mechanics and are no longer challenged by the game, but it still insists on drip-feeding the delightful content.

But Shadow, I agree. It’s extremely weird to see feedback written from the perspective of GrimoireOfAlice.

As one of those folks in the middle, I just have to add that it makes the experience of Sunless Sea unique, but frustrating.

Honestly, the biggest issue I have with this game is that the traditional gameplay elements often seem VERY at odds with the narrative stuff (well that and the often terrible performance issues which impede enjoyment and the substantial number of bugs that makes this feel very unfinished right now).

The issue is that of player’s prior knowledge. Not enough stuff is truly randomized in the game that prior knowledge isn’t immensely important, but you only really get to experience story stuff in a genuinely interesting way the first time. Which makes the huge wall of difficulty that I think generally leads to successive early deaths until the player gets the hang of balancing their supply, fuel, and terror stats during travel while making enough money to stay supplied and hopefully slowly progress to bigger and better ships and equipment all the more frustrating - by the time you learn to get over this wall you’ve probably seen a LOT of the story content, and so subsequent deaths or alternate game finishers that you can choose or stumble upon feel a lot less interesting and far more frustrating since to see the next little bit of story you might have missed you now know you’re just going to grind to get there again on the next character no matter what.

Hence why I get why sunlight smuggling becomes so preferred. I’ve been avoiding it myself, trying to figure out more natural but still lucrative trade routes while I try to get through areas and islands I wasn’t able to finish up before, but then I run into other walls like the incredibly high stats required for most of the later skillchecks, and I see why the Irem + Sunlight Smuggle option becomes even more appealing. I’ve got my veils to +60, my pages to +70 and my Mirrors to +55 (with OKish Hearts and Iron scores) on my latest Poet, but the skill increases have begun drying up after getting through a bunch of bigger quests and exploring the whole map by now and learning to play cautiously has made me more risk averse, not more risk taking . . . but I still want to try to get through Frostfound at some point and Irem’s looking like a better option every time.

It’s just . . . having mostly linear stories (and they really are mostly pretty linear from what I can find, with usually only a few different final outcomes) with a game design (essentially all the &quotRogue-Like&quot elements) focused on replayability results in an ever increasing need to NOT replay the game and try for different outcomes, not less.

I don’t think the game &quotfails&quot due to this internal conflict it has. It’s perhaps lessened a bit by it depending on the player type. Obviously those more interested in a weird Victorian naval Elite simulation (which was myself when I first read reviews, to be honest) are ending up more than a bit disappointed - the Economy kind of sucks for becoming a Merchant king, the combat is a smidge too simple and needs more diversity in how encounters can play out (It’s either charging monsters or circling boats, both of which can be pretty easily beaten with kiting - no maneuvering really need apply). I can also imagine that those who just want to get to the story could be quite frustrated by the early game wall too - it’s pretty hard for a good long time before you figure out how to survive long enough to really start cracking the further away islands. Much harder than any adventure game I’ve ever played (aside from a few old King’s Quests which murdered me like mad).

I actually think it’s those of us &quotin the middle&quot that have the best chance of enjoying the game to be honest. But only if we learn to get over our preference and adapt to what the game actually is, and have a lot of patience to boot.

It’s certainly one of the most interesting games I’ve ever played, that’s for sure, and I’d highly recommend it I think. I just don’t know exactly to whom to recommend it to. Or if I shouldn’t give them a bunch of disclaimers on letting go of whatever expectations they have first.

By the by, one of the ways I think this game could improve dramatically in a (theoretically) simple manner - change the spawn points for enemies whenever the player gets back to London, or whenever a certain number of days accrue (or possibly on reloading a game from a save). I like that the game alternates potentially different island locations and spawn locations whenever you start a new sea captain, but a big issue with the later game and a fully explored map is that you tend to know where all the dangers lie other than potential storms, and this makes it a bit too easy to predict and thus becomes more tedious. That prior knowledge becomes more precient, and leads to the conservatism that makes it easier and easier to want to just find the easiest way to break the economy and get to the end-game. If you really had to wonder whether or not the Polythreme Pirates might have moved or whether or not there were more lifebergs in the north on any particular outing, it would add a lot more spice to the later stages of a game, and induce more threat and thus propel the player back into a more risk-taking mode of thought.

yeah i agree with MisterGone, certainly in terms of the poor performance impeding the fun that is to be had. My computer isn’t terrible and Sunless sea runs like a legless overweight dead person. i hope they patch it soon. I think they did the story/atmosphere aspect excellently though as i found my self genuinely scared at certain points, but the grinding kind of pushed that back a bit. i wouldn’t even have that much of a problem with the grinding if it wasn’t for the whole poor performance thing, like i have to time my docking every time i go into port, which is insane.
edited by Samael Waylander on 2/20/2015

I believe you hit a number of nails on the head with your assessment, MisterGone.

There’s indeed not enough randomized/dynamic stuff, and while the game expects you to replay it (via certain item limitations, general scarcity and high skill check requirements, for instance), the amount of static content makes it less and less interesting to start over again and again. Traditional roguelikes obviously expect the player to go through the motions time and time again, but unlike Sunless Sea, many elements are randomized and their combination prevents replayability from eroding too quickly.

Even though you can do most things on a single captain if you put your mind to it, the game makes it difficult and almost requires you to go through several captains to nurture the ultimate “winner”. I can say necessarily having to “lose” repeatedly is hard to accept for many people, myself included, as it’s completely at odds with how videogames usually work. When you bundle that with the fact the game lacks mechanics and design choices to make replaying interesting as more than a “New Game+” mode, you’ve got a rather serious problem.

And in that light, I agree that the sunlight exploit seems (almost) necessary to cut through the catch-up work to get where your last captain was. Well, I can also feel people get swayed towards it to trump the game’s intent and obstacles and do everything with a single captain.

On the whole, it’s clear Sunless Sea wants the player to explore its content over the course of several captains, but to pull that off correctly and have the player mind restarting (a lot) less, it has to complement the admittedly excellent fixed content with an ample enough dynamic repertoire.

I’m a bit confused about the focus on maxing stats here, since you can do pretty much everything with just 50 in each stat that you start with with all the legacy items.

Combat’s not very hard (once your gear is upgraded, anyway) and almost completely avoidable.
edited by WormApotheote on 2/20/2015
edited by WormApotheote on 2/20/2015

I agree that trying to comb the whole game with a single captain is what frustrates people. To that end, they search out guides for the easiest way to “upgrade” their captain, resulting in finding out about the sun box method then rushing it. In which the next aftermath is “Game is so easy to max and boring”.

The game encourages exploring, which is checking out ports finding out their stories and rewards, and/or curses. Each captain revisits ports with different stats to try out different outcomes resulting in new stories, which is one, if not the main the drive of the game, IMO anyway.

In the end, people are just complaining like, “I know where I can make money real easy and fast and can max out my stats right away! But now the game is boring.”
Classic on open world games.

But even if they remove the sun box method, people will still complain about the next most reliable way to grind money, which is spamming SAY. People will rush certain ports then complain about the game being boring because they have to only sit there for echoes before being maxed out and still find the game boring with captain max.

[Warning: longer rant with original point-of-view material. But I spent too much time typing it, so I won’t let it go to waste.]


I would assume the stat-maxing to be an issue with checks in the ‘more difficult’ storylets (like f.e. Frostfound, or capturing a Live Specimen in the wild etc.). Which of course is only of interest if you expect a reasonable chance to manage every feat at the very least most of the time (‘Oi you… I’m Batman!!’) and complete every task in mostly just one go. Which does of course collide with the whole ‘lineage of captains’ concept.

I do agree with there being a need for more randomization of ingame elements out of a greater pool of possibilities, in order to actually make it a Rogue-Like. Which as of now, it not really is. As has been worded above already, more eloquently and in-depth by others.

That said, it really makes a big difference with the type of gamer, respectively their approach to gaming. If you’re a classical min-maxer, taking a game as a challenge issue which is to be beaten, to the fullest and completest, in the fastest possible time with the highest possible score…

Yep, that does sound pretty biased for a reason.

I do not bother with min-maxing, or even actual strategies with Sunless Sea. I recently started a fresh new Cap with the express purpose of him to die - in order to get to see the Legacies’n Labyrinth stuff for, regarding the latter, the very first time. My other two Captains… they would have to expressly perform Harakiri as they just won’t drown without me actively trying…

It didn’t work. Played three hours, this guy has several thousand echoes, shot some big’uns, and is in a dozen questlines. Argh.

And I didn’t do nuthin. Just happily had him zail wherever the smoke of my cigarette went, so to speak. No strategy, no plan, no nothing - just one-minute-to-the-next decisions. Or second-to-the-next, sometimes.

Well, seems like he’ll last a little longer than intended, then. He was to be the mentor of the father of the character I actually have in mind to play. Turns out to be perfectly fine if it takes longer than intended - some day someone is bound to sink him, yes? I don’t really care when that day comes…

…because I only play this like a couple of hours every couple of days, or even weeks. Sometimes more, sometimes less… but I never went at it with the thought ‘Ok, they say this has twenty hours worth of playtime - let’s see if I can beat it in ten’. Didn’t even ever occur to me up 'til now. It’s just not that type of game as far as I’m concerned, so for me they did a pretty good job on this aspect already.

I still don’t even know the details of the ‘Mirrorcatch Exploit’ people have been going on about. As I simply don’t even bother with grinding in this game. I feel that would just be a waste of time… with my style of play, they have been adding content faster than I can keep up with playing it, so I’m still way to busy with that than to care about grinding anything… I get way enough for my needs by casual driveby-shooting, so to speak.

Well, that’s probably different if you devote a whole weekend of your time to powerplay it 24/7. But if you’re min-maxing it, I find it quite odd to complain about grinding issues. Min-maxing is all about grinding per se. Complaining about grinds being boring is sort of out-of-place on anything but a game being designed as a grind (and even most of these do fail me in that respect - I get bored too easily :)) [/spoiler]

Edit: sheesh. Spoiler tags are above my horizon no more. I hope.
edited by Reshemin on 2/20/2015

I don’t think it has much to do with powerplay. My problem is rather the opposite. Every so often, my captain dies. And then I have to do a dozen stories again that I have already done three or four or ten times. And that’s just not interesting. My reaction should be “Oh, how curious!”, not “Oh man, the Principles again, let’s click through this so I can get the outcast.”

That is min-maxing, you’re specifically trying to unlock a certain ability (access to the labyrinth of tigers), and, frankly, deliberately dying to unlock new stuff for the next character is not a particularly sensible action in character.

Not really, its about maximizing game systems, which, in sunless sea, is mostly grinding since the game systems are, frankly, not very complicated–that’s not really the game’s point–and the stat caps are absurdly high compared to what you’re likely to naturally get from fragments. But there’s no real reason for it to be particularly repetetive.

This is quite true and the real weakness about the attitude of the game towards death, which has been repeated multiple times in several posts of people asking for advice.

This sunlight stuff (that personally I have never really touched, I suppose I’m not a minmaxer) gets really a lot of attention! I’m curious to see how they will solve it.

This is quite true and the real weakness about the attitude of the game towards death, which has been repeated multiple times in several posts of people asking for advice.

This sunlight stuff (that personally I have never really touched, I suppose I’m not a minmaxer) gets really a lot of attention! I’m curious to see how they will solve it.[/quote]

Presumably the same way they solve all the other profitable trade grinds: Turning it into a story you eventually complete.

That or limiting the amount you can carry so you have to acquire other loot at the same time

[quote=WormApotheote]I’m a bit confused about the focus on maxing stats here, since you can do pretty much everything with just 50 in each stat that you start with with all the legacy items.

Combat’s not very hard (once your gear is upgraded, anyway) and almost completely avoidable.
edited by WormApotheote on 2/20/2015
edited by WormApotheote on 2/20/2015[/quote]

Uhhh, except you don’t start with these legacy items, you know. And it takes quite a lot of game time before you even discover that they exist and/or obtain them as well as generally more than one alternative ending and multiple captains.

Partly because I really sucked at first, I had five captains die before I ever got to a single ship upgrade or get a townhouse or ironclad will (I also was having the power saver performance bug during these five captains too, which is also partly why I’m guessing). On my sixth (after I addressed that bug) I finally got good enough to grab a townhouse and a will along with a few heirlooms before making a big dumb mistake and going further east than I’ve ever gone and having my crew go mad and mutiny me to death. On the seventh I was able to parlay the heirlooms to start with a corvette and earn more for the next before blowing it by biting off more battles than I could chew on a single voyage. On the eighth I finally got a scion before blowing it. My NINTH captain was able to start with a corvette thanks to heirlooms and work his way up to a cargoboat, while earning a bunch of heirlooms in return. But then I had a series of failed skillchecks in stories that made them come out with weak resolutions, and a bad turn with a few voyages that resulted in a massive financial loss, so I retired him for my current captain, my 10th who I’m making some real progress in finally (especially since I had enough heirlooms to basically start at the cargo ship and jump straight into some big trading and shipping action).

My point is, I’ve yet to get a SINGLE legacy item in this game other than the scion, and I’ve played for nearly a hundred hours and gone through 10 captains. The first five were all incremental learning experiences, but by my sixth I’d seen a LOT of the story content. After that I’ve begun to see most of the story on at least 70% of the islands . . . and my skills STILL aren’t all +50 because I don’t have a single legacy item.

I’m thinking you’re forgetting that without the legacy items, the skill checks on later stories are really quite high, and the progression toward earning the skills for them is really quite slow.

This is quite true and the real weakness about the attitude of the game towards death, which has been repeated multiple times in several posts of people asking for advice.

This sunlight stuff (that personally I have never really touched, I suppose I’m not a minmaxer) gets really a lot of attention! I’m curious to see how they will solve it.[/quote]

Presumably the same way they solve all the other profitable trade grinds: Turning it into a story you eventually complete.

That or limiting the amount you can carry so you have to acquire other loot at the same time[/quote]

Actually, I hope they try some different stuff to balance out the sunlight trade rather than simply get to a point where the buyer ends it because &quotwhelp, we’ve got enough now, sorry!&quot, like the the Vienna or Sphinxstone trades.

The method I think would be most preferable would simply be to make moving Sunlight a LOT more dangerous. The game bangs on frequently about the dangers of sunlight for Unterzee dwellers, both in terms of hurting their skin and in it being so wonderful it can drive men to a sort of weird happiness madness.

There should probably be at least one or two new storylets that can occur when you have sun-filled mirrorcatch boxes in your hold, where your crew can try to escape with them themselves (taking both the box(es) and losing crew in the process) or becoming enamored with them and having poor reactions that you have to skill-check your way out of in different ways. If these had potential triggers whenever you get a new SAY, and increased in chance depending on the number of sunfilled boxes you have, you’d already mitigate out a big chunk of the profit in them by making them a huge hassle. Add in a mitigation factor by using a secure hold (an item that has pretty limited use currently) as a ship trade-off (making the trade more reliable by sacrificing other good functionality) to prevent even your crew from stealing them, and you have a balanced system. But then you need another potential hassle . . .

So add in a new effect - if the player has 4 or more boxes of sunlight, their ship starts glowing with light, and if it has 8 or more, the effect is huge. This acts as a huge decrease in veils ( -25 Veils at 4 Boxes, -50 Veils at 8 or more) while sailing, and like your lamp is always on, attracting foes from miles around. It doesn’t cost extra fuel like your light is on though, so there’s at least some benefit, but it’s going to make every Sunlight run past a certain amount a huge risk while every single monster and pirate in the zee goes gunning for you, and you either burn though fuel and hull to fight them all off, or you keep running and dodging while expending lots of both fuel and supplies as you take weird circuitous routes to get to the port where you sell 'em off.

This could allow the trade to persist, just make it a lot tougher to pull off and potentially cost a lot more, while also making the whole trade a lot more exciting.
edited by MisterGone on 2/21/2015

This sort of problem is why all the near-London locations need multiple storyLINES that are mutually exclusive, requiring multiple captains to see all of them. Further, it shouldn’t be a choice of which one to play through but rather a function of the random map regeneration with each new captain. Each story/status of each island should have real implications for economic and political rules for that playthrough.

Those are the requirements for a real rogue-like. They don’t have to extend to every island in the game. The furthest islands, such as the very content-rich and complete Empire of Hands, really only need the one storyline. But the closer to London the more the content has to vary.

That and we really need a political reputation/Letters of Marque/pirate system. That’s 10,000 times more important than the Zubmariner expansion because these too start to be mutually exclusive branches over the life of a captain.

And, please, I want to have to acquire special items from Chelonate people so I can outfit my boat and go whaling for Midnight Whale blubber! Please!
edited by MrChapeau on 2/21/2015[/li][li]
edited by MrChapeau on 2/21/2015[/li][li]
edited by MrChapeau on 2/21/2015