I have a complicated love/hate relationship with Sunless Sea. I love the story, but I hate the way it makes me feel bad at games.
I am for the most part a completionist. Ie. I like to finish games. Watching the credits roll rewards me with a tiny hit of dopamine and for a while I feel like I’m not wasting my life. Herein lies the rub. I’ve been playing Sunless sea on and off… for… about two years… and I’m only… probably… about halfway through the game now.
The way this game works is that your captains are largely meant to die. They’re meant to pass their legacy on to a progeny or first mate. That way you incrementally improve with every captain. This is all very counter intuitive for me.
My current captain has seriously defied the odds and has lived… much longer than she should have. Which makes me very protective of her. Unfortunately she’s also completely mad (like a longer suffering Call of Cthulhu investigator), I can no longer go anywhere where I might be exposed to sunlight and I continually hanker after some delicious man flesh.
‘oh look, the Chapel of Lights, should we stop for a quick bite?’
Oooh mystery* stew, my favorite.
*its actually not so mysterious. Thirteen went ashore. Only eleven came back.
Most games emphasize style over substance. Sunless Sea is substance over style. For a long time I played this game wrong. My proclivity tends towards building trade routes and trying to max out my character and equipment while loosely following the main quest. While you can (try) play this game this way… it’s not particularly fun or particularly fulfilling and requires A LOT of grinding. Ergh.
This game also has a weird challenge rating. Initially combat is terrifying and you (need to) flee from everything. But once you’ve shipped a few casks of Mushroom wine and scraped a few coins together you can upgrade your ship to something with slightly better armor than wire mesh and overhaul your deck gun to something other than a rubber band accelerator. This combined with getting a sense for jamming your control-lever from all ahead full into reverse soon means even the scariest zee-beasties become largely an inconvenience. I would have preferred a smoother progression in difficulty.
A lifeberg. A lot like an iceberg, except less sedentary and more… angry. Phew! Phew!
The money dynamic is also… different/annoying. You basically hover just above destitute for most of the game. (maybe that’s just me though) I guess wondering where your next meal or gallon of gasoline is going to come from adds to the tension. The loopholes that existed in the past, like shipping Darkdrop coffee beans to the surface and importing sunlight back down below (in mirrorcatch boxes) have largely been nerfed. The coffee shop eventually burns down and warm glow of the sun makes you mad. (Or madder)
So why would I continue to play this game? Well… the storyline is truly epic. And the narrative is amazing. I know, playing a game for story value… how novel. Be warned this game actually involves a fair amount of reading. And not easy reading at that. (the weirdness takes some getting used to)
To me at least this games resembles a mashup of Star Control 2 (one of my all time favourite games)
And a noir steampunk version of those choose your own adventure books of yore (basically my entire childhood)
Which why I am loathed to just give it up. I really want to finish this game.
I know this means retiring my current captain to her zee-side mansion. Where she will spend the remainder of her days staring off into the darkness while absent mindedly spreading red honey on her toast.
But this feels like such an ignominious end, considering how far we’ve come together. Maybe I should watch the ending(s) on YouTube and be done with it?