Sunless Sea: Zubmariner Edition (Switch): COMPLETED!

I used to play Echo Bazaar, an online web-based story RPG thing from Failbetter games, ages ago. Before it was renamed as Fallen London, which is also the setting of the game. It was good, although you really needed to pay for extra moves and features to get the most out of it. I’m against IAPs as a rule so kind of fell off it. I did love the Lovecraft/Pratchett crossover vibe of the world though, and so Sunless Sea – a fleshed out, naval focussed spinoff with no IAPs – piqued my interested. And then, when it was about £4 bundled in with Slain and Snakeybus on the Switch, of course I was going to buy it.

Sunless Sea takes the same story-RPG base of Echo Bazaar, but adds to it an action boating game, where you sail the seas of the Neath – the world below the world – exploring strange islands and trying not to 1) run out of fuel, 2) run out of food, 3) get smashed to pieces, or 4) go utterly insane with terror. It’s also a roguelike in that you, as captain of a barely sea-worthy vessel, are prone to becoming A Bit Dead (due to the reasons above, and more) and when you die, it’s game over. Well, except your heir takes over but can’t carry much of your skills, belongings, money, or even sea charts over.

Much of the game is sailing as far away from London as you dare, interacting with the strange characters and creatures found on outposts and far-away cities, and carting items and dodgy passengers around the map for varying amounts of reward and bonuses. Generally, the further you go, the riskier your trip, as enemy ships and giant sea creatures attempt to kill you but also because your supplies and fuel may not last the trip – and you can’t always restock en-route.

One of the problems of the game therefore is glaringly apparent. Sailing, which is 90% of the game, is slow. Sure, you can upgrade your engines and later, if you have enough money, buy better ships, but even then it takes ages to get from A to B and back. Even the non-boaty bits are also slow, in that there’s a lot to read and digest, and even (I found, anyway) planning to do. Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter, but it does make the game a bizarre dichotomy of laidback ocean trundling and heavy stress panic as your fuel counts down your impending death.

After my first “run” ended abruptly after less than an hour, and the next two or three were little longer, I managed to get around 5 hours into a game only to make a stupid mistake (I bought something which left me without enough money for food, so had to eat my crew, and then I died). Five hours is a long time for a roguelike game, so I was a little deterred. However, I gave it another go and this time managed more than 60 hours before I realised I was close to my goal (“become the greatest explorer” or something was my chosen win condition) and from then on the stress was almost unbearable. Sixty hours of “work”, when I was so close to a win, which could all just vanish at any moment through idiocy or randomness. The trip back to London was torture. But finally, I did it. A win! The end! Phew, eh?