Sunless Skies - PC Preview

The good folks at Failbetter Games know how to make games that ooze atmosphere. First with the free and utterly excellent browser game, Fallen London, then with the mindblowingly fantastic and Lovecraftian Sunless Seas. Now they have done it again with Sunless Skies, with its top-down space-faring locomotives and Newtonian physics, Sunless Skies brings more action and the same, spectacular storytelling to computers in their latest Early Access offering. Dripping with character and eerily suspenseful moments, Sunless Skies is an absolute steal at $25, even in its current Early Access state.

A quick sidebar; if you have yet to experience Sunless Seas, I strongly urge you to head to Steam and pick it up and spend the next few days of your life navigating the perilous seas of a nearly submerged London. It is an absolute dream to play, even if it is more of a screamy-dreamy than a fluffy-fun dream. You can pick it up on Steam or

Starting the game off you will move through the steps of character creating, choosing attributes that you feel will best suit your playstyle, and then you are off into the stars in your steam-powered locomotive. Investigate space as your crew and you carve out a life amidst the stars and work to support the Empire, support the rebellious working class, or towards freedom from the Workworlds; your choices in your quest for survival in the vastness of space will leave a mark on the world of Sunless Skies like never before.

Those familiar with Failbetter Games' previous titles will feel right at home with Sunless Skies; the top-down navigation, the text-heavy storytelling, the beyond-the-pale world-building, and atmospheric tension so thick you can feel it in the air around you. Everything about Sunless Skies is about setting a mood and more often than not the mood it sets is one of dread mixed with no amount of childish wonder. I am no stranger to space-related titles as I have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours of my gaming life amongst the stars and even now I am hit with a sense of awe when first pulling up to the dock of Titania, a gorgeously floral-eque colony in space just north of the starting point. I have seen it countless times and I still enjoy the sight, and that is a common sentiment throughout the entirety of the game.

Questing is done by exploring and locating the various ports in the massive world, speaking to locals and working to deliver materials/trade goods, fund projects, or a myriad of other tasks that can lead to increasing reputation with a culture and working towards their cultural end -goals. The Skies are far from peaceful though as you will continuously fight or flee from any number of cruel enemies; from spacefaring alien creatures to pirates, space is far from safe. Combat is fluid and intuitive, if a bit difficult to get used to at first, but as you work to defend and/or destroy and though ensuring your shots are on-target (since aiming is up to you, rather than the auto-targeting of Sunless Seas) is not the only challenge, as you will need to manage your heat as well as the crew's terror level.

As your crew's terror increases, the Condition increases and all sorts of negative effects can happen (or you can lose that Captain/crew, forcing you into a new crew as found in more traditional roguelikes). Managing that terror is key so stopping into port, performing tasks, etc. will be crucial to your survival. I do sort of wish there was something more of a sandbox-style "freeplay" so I could navigate the region and just explore; there are enough interesting things happening organically that it is at times, sad that you must burn through fuel and sections of space just to reach a port before your crew goes stark-raving mad.

What tickles me pick is the perfect integration of locomotive ships and the steampunk aesthetic into the hard sci-fi setting of space. Docks look like small train stations and you slide in and onto the tracks, locking into station, where you can then complete tasks/quests, rest/reduce terror, or purchase supplies/sell trade goods. Some ports, like Titania, are startlingly alien in appearance, with vibrant colors and round, bulbous protrusions, others like New Winchester are decidedly Victorian London meets the 20st century space-exploration. Without a doubt in my mind, the art direction for such a strange mashup is excellent and lends well to the mystery and deepens the dreadful suspense the crew experiences while exploring the vast unknown.

Though Sunless Skies is still in Early Access it is a solid experience that will provide countless hours of tensely excitingly and suspenseful, yet melodic, gameplay. Every port, every crew member, every asteroid, and every rival ship simply oozes character, adding more weight to the overwhelming oppression one imagines is the norm in the vast confines of space. As Failbetter continues to update and develop Sunless Skies it becomes more and more difficult to step away from such a deeply intuitive experience.

Again, you can pick it up on Steam or

Game Information

Failbetter Games
Failbetter Games
Single Player
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Article by Robert


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