Sunless Sea is a game about exploring a vast underground sea, managing different aspects of your boat and crew, and dealing with the dangers in the water.
The main thing that you will be doing is exploring the sea, where you will find many different ports and landmarks. Fallen London is the main and largest port, which you will return to quite often for supplies and the latest news. As you explore, your map will be uncovered so you aren’t always going blind. Every port that you find is unique, from the stories they’re involved in or the items that they sell. You will be returning to ports very frequently, and they aren’t always the same each time.
While out at sea, there are a bunch of things that you will need to keep an eye on. Fuel is as simple as it gets, since simply cruising around or using the light on your boat will cause fuel to get used up. Supplies are essentially food used to feed your crew, which of course means a smaller crew will cause supplies to get used up slower. The most important thing to worry about at sea is fear, and it can increase or decrease from many different things. Just the simple act of sailing through the water can increase fear, but it can be held at bay (pun not intended) by a combination of either having your light turned on, being near other lights or lighthouses, or being near some kind of land. Fear for the most part doesn’t do anything, but when it starts to get high you can start to have nightmares and your crew might even do something bad if it gets too high.
Another thing to look out for at sea are the various creatures and aggressive boats and their crew. Combat happens in real time and uses the guns and other tools that your boat is equipped with. When combat starts, a red circle appears around your ship in the angles that a gun is present, which means you can’t shoot behind you if you don’t have a rear gun. Before you are able to shoot, each gun must charge, and having your light on the enemy will make it go faster. Since combat is in real time, this means it is possible to defeat very strong enemies early on if you are patient and know how to avoid getting attacked by them. Defeated enemies can drop all kinds of loot, creatures range from finding food to hunting trophies, and boats can have all sorts of cargo inside of them.
The game can be daunting for sure, but one thing can relieve a ton of the difficulty. It is designed around permanent death, but this is possible to turn off in a way by activating mercy mode, which allows manually saving and reloading whenever you want. While this doesn’t get rid of having to manage all of your supplies or trying to figure out how all the ports relate to each other, but it does allow you to experiment and take risks without having to live with the consequences. Whether you have manual saving turned on or not, anyone that can’t play for long periods of time will definitely enjoy Sunless Sea. You can of course save anywhere if you turn on manual saving, but the game will automatically save every time you go to a port, and since they’re generally close to each other, you should never have to worry even when playing with permanent death on.
Sunless Sea is definitely made for the hardcore crowd. The main reason is because the game is designed around having to restart if you die or mess up, though you do get to pass some things on to your next character. While the actual gameplay itself isn’t hardcore, having to manage many different things and needing to remember what every port does will be quite the challenge. The game will definitely last you a long time, and you aren’t even really done with the game if you do manage to beat it. There is so much to learn and figure out, as well as not being able to do every storyline in a single playthrough, and you will probably end up dying and having to restart a few times. A healthy estimate would be that you could easily find at least 50 hours of entertainment from the game.
There isn’t much inside of the game’s options menu. Graphics and resolution just have their own singular toggle, there are a few volume sliders, but there is a nice large list of controls that you can change. The game’s graphics have a dark and dreary 2D look to them. While you will generally always be out at sea where there is nothing but empty water, ports and other landmarks are nicely drawn. For some reason, the game runs somewhat sluggish and choppy when maxed out, and will often stutter while cruising around. This is especially odd when the game has very low requirements and the computer that was playing it is definitely more than capable to handle it.
Sound and music is a very strong point of Sunless Sea. Many unique areas of the sea has its own unique song that will be played, and they all help immerse you in your surroundings, whether that is out on the open sea, next to a volcano, or back home at London. It’s not really an issue, but if you stay in one area too long the music doesn’t loop, so there will be periods of silence until you go somewhere else. The sound effects are nice too, with your boat’s engine being the most common thing you will be hearing.
I like this game very much and, while I wouldn’t want the game to be made easier, one thing could have been tweaked just slighty. When you first start out, the game can go extremely slow. This is because your boat starts with a slow engine and it costs a lot to upgrade it, which means it takes a long time just to get anywhere in the sea. If they adjusted the usage of fuel and supplies, this could be a viable change somewhere down the road.