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[Review]: Sunless Sea Zubmariner Edition – Nintendo Switch

By Euan Mathers Jun 23, 2020

Sunless Sea Zubmariner Edition – Nintendo Switch
Developed By: Failbetter Games
Published By: Digerati
Category: Roguelike Strategy Adventure
Release Date: April 23, 2020

The sea can be an unforgiving place unless you’re prepared. Even if you think you are, the sea may still swallow you up. In this roguelike adventure from British developer Failbetter Games and Texan publisher Digerati there are any number of things that can kill you. Pirates, monsters, starvation, or being cast adrift due to running out of fuel. But Sunless Sea wants you to feel ok that failure is not the end, but part of the journey.

Sunless Sea Zubmariner Edition is set in the same universe as Failbetter Games’ cult favourite debut browser game Fallen London. In Sunless Sea, Fallen London is your base which is depicted as a Victorian gothic version of London in the late 1800s. In this roguelike strategy adventure, you are the captain of a ship who must explore and survive the vast Unterzee to discover the mysteries of your past. 

When you start you get the choice of choosing who you were before you became a captain, such as a priest, philosopher or war veteran and you will get a stat buff depending on who you choose to be. You also get to choose your character’s ambition such as finding your father’s bones or amassing great wealth which becomes your main objective throughout. 

Sunless Sea is a multilayered experience that melds multiple genres together. Traversing the world map in your ship plays a bit like an RPG yet when your ship docks at an island you aren’t able to explore on foot, rather your exploration is described to you through the narrative with lovely hand drawn pictures of characters and locations much like a visual novel. 

Narrative is a major part of the experience with the excellent writing doing a lot of the heavy lifting, making you feel like you are there. On sea or land you will be presented with scenarios in which you must make a choice, much like a choose your own adventure with multiple branching paths taking you through this roguelike adventure in various ways. 

There are multiple roguelike elements such as a procedurally generated map, randomly placed enemies and permadeath. But when you die you can restart with some of your stats, as well as being able to write a will so your next incarnation can inherit some of your possessions. However the option is there to manually save instead of autosaves if you wish to avoid permadeath.

Risk and reward is a major theme throughout, and some decisions you make may guide you towards prosperity while a wrong decision may seal your fate. This also extends to the management of your ship, it’s cargo and your crew. Your ship’s hull can only take so much bombardment so you need to repair your ship when out at sea in exchange for supplies or back in the shipyard in Fallen London. As you progress you can trade in your ship for a new ship, and throughout you can buy upgrades such as gun turrets.

You must manage the inventory within your ship’s hold which only has so much space for food, fuel or any other cargo you want to carry. Food and fuel are essential goods which you need if you want to explore the Unterzee, but you only have so much space to carry these. The more of each you have, the further you can travel. You can acquire more through completing certain tasks or you need Echoes, Sunless Seas’ currency, to pay for more. But running out of Echoes, food or fuel may spell certain doom. Echoes can be earnt through completing tasks such as transporting cargo, people or providing information to those willing to pay such as port reports which you can acquire whenever you visit one of the many islands.

You must also look after your crew if you are to survive. You have officers with backstories who can provide initial stat buffs and additional buffs in exchange for providing secrets. You also have anonymous crew members that you need as part of a seaworthy ship which you will need to replenish when you lose some during skirmishes with other sea dwellers or to starvation. If you run out of food when out at sea your crew will die, and the crew that do survive may have to feast on their crewmates’ dead bodies to survive. 

When traversing the world map you’ll encounter pirate ships or monsters, which you can choose to run from or engage. Battles are in real time with a cooldown between shots fired from your ship’s turrets. You’re always burning through food and fuel when you’re out at sea, so you must judge whether you have enough spare to go into battle. If you attempt to continue undetected you can turn off your ship’s spotlight. There are strategic elements to battles such as shooting enemies from afar or from behind however many battles can resort to a war of attrition and are quite repetitive. 

The pace of the game in general is quite slow however with a lot of backtracking which does grate. Traversal, particularly at the start of the game is painfully slow with no option to fast track to any locations you may have already visited. There is no in-game map, and when you die most of the map tiles change position. These issues all combine to make Sunless Sea a tough game to get into and stick with. Some may not persevere which is a shame as the world and lore built by Failbetter Games is full of wonders waiting to be discovered. Included also is Zubmariner DLC for those who reach the end, which provides new locations to explore and new enemies to fight beneath the zee in a submarine.

Sunless Sea will be too unforgiving for some. It’s mantra is to push the boundaries of exploration in the world of Unterzee for potential reward. But the risk of plodding across the seas to become shipwrecked may be too frustrating for some. If you are able to push through, there is treasure to be found.

3.5/5

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