The spaceways are dark and filled with unspeakable terrors, but your train goes ever forward to discover the secrets that wait behind the maddening voices in your mind. Failbetter Games continues the saga started with Fallen London and Sunless Sea in its newest game Sunless Skies. You must take up the helm as Captain of your train as you discover what lays in wait for you and your crew. Does the game succeed in bringing more of what made their previous games so good? Let’s find out, this is our Sunless Skies review.
Sunless Skies is set in an alternate time and space where London has moved on from the rest of the world. The steam engines of old now travel the nights’ skies of space as they maneuver from station to station and everything in between. You play the Captain of a slightly used older locomotive setting out to make your mark on the world. You can do this by choosing one of three different ambitions for a way to “win” the game, like wealth, discovering the truth or making your name known amongst the stars. Along the way, you’ll have to make decisions that not only affect your story but the story of the region it is happening in as well. Depending on the difficulty you pick, when you die this story continues for the damned soul that you pick as your successor.
The basic mechanics involved in Sunless Skies result around managing your resources of fuel and supplies which tick away as you traverse the cold dark. How much is enough to take with you? How much can you afford to buy? How much room should you leave in your hold for things to sale or treasures you luck upon? Sure, if fuel or supplies run out before you land on the next outpost it will be bad, but there are things other than the standard fuel that can keep the engines lit and that new crewmember you picked up from the circus looks positively delicious. The speed at which these drains can be adjusted via the sliders to help make the game easier if you need it to. You will be juggling what to take with you as you go out. Some ports want a specific cargo and are willing to pay heavy for it, but which is the best port for you to go to get it on the cheap? That’s for you to find out and possibly go through a bit of madness along the way to get it. This is further balance by skills that effect conversations, skill checks to get into and out of places. Your captain has stats based on how you level them and the background choices you make, but your officers that you pick up along the way also give bonuses to overall stats as well.
While you generally can’t fight the nightmares that may haunt your soul, you can fight the things you come across. Your train has several spots for various attachments ranging from weapons to more armor, to scouts and a few extra tidbits. Fights in Sunless Skies are an interesting affair as the movement mechanics can have you drifting in space and the recoil of you cannon may very well push you back. At a distance, you’ll want to fire where the enemy will be next more often than not. You will battle other locomotives from various factions, monsters of the deep dark and trains turned into things of a twisted nightmare with purply ichor dripping tentacles entangled about them. The combat can be frustrating at its default settings, there are sliders to make weapons aim more for you and adjust the speed of enemy projectiles to make it easier. But in a game where death can be permanent, combat seems to be the weak link in the game at times.
The shining point of Sunless Skies is its setting and story. All of this is backed up with a soundtrack that perfectly fits its various locales. The only drawback to this is there is a lot of reading to be done as you play, which may not be for everyone. The story of a possibly mad Queen and the factions vying for power within and without the Empire of London all while an artificial sun may be slowly dying tells the start of a twisting tale. Your character moves in and out of ports, trying to survive at the least and to change the world at the most. The story dips into the humorous like a grumbling bat scout that doesn’t want to scout unless prodded to do so to the maddening of the nightmares that may plague your captain as the terror stat mounts depending on what you do or don’t do. Once the Terror reaches a certain amount, all hell could literally break loose. The vastness of the space you travel would feel lonely if not for the officers you could gather to your crew. Ranging from an Inconvenient Aunt to a group of talking rodents, these officers do more than give you stat bonuses. They offer separate stories of their own, comments as you travel and a distraction from the deep dark. Each of the officers I’ve come across so far have been well written and unique.
A free key was given for review purposes.