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    dkirschner's Sunless Sea (PC)

    [June 3, 2018 03:59:01 PM]
    Three more captains have sunk to the bottom of the ocean. Two were rammed by monsters, their ship's hulls shattered. The third was killed by her mutinous crew. The crew mutinies when terror reaches 100. Sunless Sea has some very neat aspects -- its setting and Lovecraftian tone -- but some serious drawbacks, mainly that the game doesn't fit well within the roguelike genre.

    Other roguelike games that I've played and enjoyed (e.g., FTL, Crypt of the Necrodancer, Spelunky) are not story heavy; or, when they do have a good story, it does not have to be repeated in the same way upon death. Sunless Sea, on the other hand, has a fleshed out world and stories within it, but every time your captain dies, you start over and have the same stories tossed at you again. This means you will have read most of the text you encounter, until you discover new ports and unlock new storylets, every single time you play. As clicking through story text in port is a large part of the game, this becomes extremely repetitive.

    Another drawback is that, unlike other roguelikes that are are fast-paced and often skill-based, the pace of Sunless Sea is slow and there isn't much action. Most of your time is spent sailing from place to place and skimming text to speed along storylet completions to get echoes (money). The game does impose a sense of dread in that sea creatures will kill you, you will run out of fuel and food, and other bad things will happen, but most of these things don't result from the player not playing well. Or, they do, but the player not playing well may be a result of trying to move the game along to make something happen, to get from A to B faster and I just want to outrun this stupid zee monster or why is this ship shooting at me (??). In an attempt to speed up the game, I wasted resources, was less careful, didn't explore as much, and ultimately died more quickly. As I just wanted it to move along, I didn't mind the consequences at the time; however, reflecting back, the slow pace of the game was punishment for dead captains that created a negative feedback loop diminishing my desire to press onward.
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    [May 28, 2018 07:31:14 AM]
    First Captain--David

    Wow, there's a lot going on in Sunless Sea, a text-heavy Lovecraftian roguelike. I chose a history for my captain, David, a natural philosopher, whose win condition was to find the bones of his father. I thought I'd channel Darwin. After reading through a tutorial book in my inventory, I accidentally sold it. Error #1 and the internal monologue begins, "The sea is merciless." Rather, the "zee." Some words beginning withe "s" begin with "z" (zailor, for example). I don't know why. It's set in and around Fallen London (so my German accent theory was wrong).

    My initial crew of 6 included a ferret ship mascot and a surgeon. In Fallen London, where the game begins, I learned that some terrible event befell the world and the land dropped below the sea. Imagine the game taking place in an underground cavern. I gathered news from Fallen London, picked up some cargo (including the world's version of a leper), browsed the shops to see the upgrade trees for my ship, weapons, and lamp, hired more crew, and set out exploring. There were several ports I'd been asked to stop in--to drop off the leper, to find the first clue as to the whereabouts of my father's bones, to drop off a student doing his dissertation on a beast washed ashore--and I hoped they were nearby because the map was an expanse of blackness.

    I quickly found an island with a house inhabited by three sisters, who fed me and told me stories. In Sunless Sea, you trade in stories. People want to hear tales of other lands. I also made a report on their island. You can submit reports to the Admiralty in Fallen London and earn favor and echoes (money). So, some of Sunless Sea seems to be about trading goods like any other trading game (buy this cheap here, sell it for more there), with the inclusion of stories.

    Not long into my journey, I was alerted to an enemy's presence! Luckily, it was just a 20HP swarm of bats that I killed with two blasts from my forward gun. Okay, easy entry into combat. Five minutes later, and many latitudes north, I encountered a moving iceberg, called a lifeberg. It had 400HP, but I managed to kill it by realizing that it used a charge attack, and if I kept moving backward it would charge and stop just where my ship was, not where it is. It did ram me a couple times and almost capsized by boat. I needed repairs in Fallen London. Combat in Sunless Sea is (so far) straightforward. You keep the enemy in your lamp light as best you can, and fire your weapon when it's off cooldown. Sail around and avoid being hit. This worked well enough with all the "zee monsters" I encountered, but one time I got into a skirmish with a 200HP ship that fired cannons at me from afar and almost capsized me. I had no chance, and needed more echoes to upgrade my ship from beginner tier.

    After going far north, I was low on fuel and supplies, so I found a port to restock and headed back to Fallen London for repairs, to turn in port reports, and purchase additional fuel and supplies. I discovered that the essentials are priced differently in different ports, and that I'd spent twice as much in the north than I would have in London. I've since found a big port called The Iron Republic that sells fuel even cheaper. After conducting various business in Fallen London, I headed out the opposite way, south.

    It was too late when I observed that I had forgotten to purchase supplies and my crew was beginning to starve. Error #2: always check fuel and supplies. The hunger meter began to fill and with it, the terror meter, because as my crew became hungrier, they began eating rats, and then turned to cannibalism. I made a sacrifice to one of the three zee gods and found out that some zee creature enemies can be scavenged for food, supplies, or knowledge. The zee creatures and cannibalism was enough to keep my ship afloat, but eventually I got into the aforementioned gun boat skirmish and a jellyfish finished me off. To the depths we went.

    Sunless Sea repeatedly warns you that your first captain, and likely many more, will die. But when that happens, some of your captain's stats, equipment, money, and so on can be transferred to your next captain. You can actually create a will (I don't know when or where, never saw an option) and leave more stuff, but I was able to leave my chart to Captain David's successor. I guess if you leave the chart, then the next time round, the Unterzee looks the same; otherwise, it shifts a bit. It might shift anyway and the map may just be approximate.

    That was my first attempt. I explored most of the west side of the map (maybe 20%), not including underneath the sea or above the sea. I completed a couple small storylets (quests), made no progress on Captain David's win condition to find his father's bones, learned how combat works, learned more of the game's odd terminology, my crew began eating one another, and those remaining all drowned. Looking forward to another round. The writing is excellent, which is the main reason I purchased the game in the first place, and the Unterzee induces dread and wonder. There's a lot left to explore.
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    dkirschner's Sunless Sea (PC)

    Current Status: Stopped playing - Got Bored

    GameLog started on: Sunday 27 May, 2018

    GameLog closed on: Sunday 3 June, 2018

    dkirschner's opinion and rating for this game

    Sets the mood right, horror, scarce resources......Game doesn't fit the genre.

    Rating (out of 5):starstarstarstar

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