Pilot your steampunk locomotive through the skies towards riches or peril in this Victorian Gothic-inspired roleplaying adventure

If you’ve never heard of Failbetter games, then you likely don’t know their long and storied history in creating exceptional roleplaying games falling under the Victoriana/vaguely Lovecraftian genre. But whether or not you already know of this indie studio, Sunless Skies is more of the same – in the best possible way.

What is Sunless Skies?

Set in an alternative 20th Century, Sunless Skies is, at its heart, all about the unknown, told through a distinctly Steampunk-tinted lens. In this space-based RPG, you take on the role of a ship captain, charting and exploring the cosmos belonging to Queen Victoria herself and beyond.

With a bat to navigate by, a stock of fuel to keep you going and a carefully designed captain to match your aspirations, you’re thrust into the deep cosmos to explore the stars, allowing you to travel further and do more than you ever have before. Your journey is what you make of it, whether you’re looking for adventure, riches or to discover the far reaches of Victoria’s land.

A successor to Failbetter’s previously on-theme titles, Fallen London and Sunless Sea, fans of the series will already be familiar with the indie studio’s unique style of world-building, and their heavy focus on dialogue and prose when it comes to communicating their message.

How do you play Sunless Skies?

For a rather complicated-looking interface and an overabundance of reading, Sunless Skies is less complicated than you may think and can be as challenging as you want it to be, with many choices and options to uniquely shape each play session and each captain.

You begin the game by choosing your captain, which will be the first of a line of many during your play time. You can be a lord, a roguish adventurer, a simple traveler and everything in-between; through a wide range of different options and choices you can craft your own goals and focus when it comes to the actual way you’d choose to play the game.

Once your illustrious captain is decided upon, you can then enter the world of Sunless Skies with relatively little tutorial time, thanks to a simplified trade and communications systems in comparison to older titles within Failbetter’s archives. From there, you’re free to explore the cosmos at your will – though it’s best to take caution, especially with eldritch horrors and fathomless beings lurking behind every asteroid.

A huge focus is put on the storytelling in Sunless Skies. While you’re free to do as you please and craft your own journey, you’ll still encounter a large number of quests, information and events along the way that will require your attention, and can often become confusing if you’re the type who prefers to skip dialogue in place of action.

In addition to dialogue-heavy sections of roleplaying, Sunless Skies also provides a little action to those who enjoy getting their hands dirty, with pirates and other enemy factions available plentifully if you’re looking to scrap. Utilising weapons and dodging around enemy craft can be an exciting way to break up text-heavy sections by allowing you to get really involved in the world of the game, and fight for the lives of your captain and crew.

What makes Sunless Skies special?

The first thing you notice when loading up Sunless Skies is just how beautiful the game is – with a 2D art style that is reminiscent of indie star Darkwood, thanks to its eye for detail and top-down perspective. This, combined with the illustrations and artwork used for dialogue screens and town menus sets the scene perfectly for this Victoriana/Steampunk style game.

With the award-winning work of Failbetter, it isn’t a surprise that Sunless Skies’ writing is where the game truly shines, painting a vivid picture of this alternative reality that you’ll want to get your teeth into, with a style of prose that’s ideal for the setting. This writing is what really draws you in, and sets Sunless Skies apart from RPGs in a similar vein.

Another thing that’s much appreciated is the uniqueness of Sunless Skies’ setting and plotlines, with many games in the same vein pulling heavily from Lovecraftian or Victorian literature and feeling ‘same-y’ as a result. With Failbetter’s title, you get the benefit of on-point writing and style without feeling like you’re playing yet another indie adaption of the same thing.

Should you buy Sunless Skies?

Sunless Skies is an epic when it comes to RPG storytelling, so if you’re a fan of reading, and have plenty of time to spare to enjoy this title correctly, it’s well worth a purchase – whether you opt for early access or wait for its full release. The combat included is also enough to intrigue those players who prefer a more hands-on approach, though if you prefer to skip straight to the action, you might quickly find yourself in the dark.

For those who prefer an experience that allows for easier immersion and a more realistic plotline, Sunless Skies probably isn’t the right fit; it’s more suited to fans of high fantasy, or those already involved in the Steampunk or Victoriana world, with a particular theme that appeals to that subculture.

Though a few bugs need to be squashed and some typos are still present, those small factors are expected in such a large, branching game – and those little issues are sure to be corrected before Sunless Skies’ anticipated release early next year.

With an official launch set for the 31st of January 2019, Sunless Skies is currently available to purchase in early access if you just can’t wait to get in on the adventure – for the very fair price of £18.99.

Buy it here: https://store.steampowered.com/app/596970/SUNLESS_SKIES/


Author's rating

Overall rating

The good
  • A beautiful, sprawling game that’s perfectly on-theme for Victorian Gothic and Steampunk fans
  • An extension on an excellent formula already designed by indie veterans Failbetter
  • Intense prose and scene-setting is, surprisingly, not dampened by a more open-world setting
The bad
  • Ornate, overly-complicated dialogue isn’t everyone’s cup of tea - making Sunless Skies a less accessible game
  • Combat and resources can be difficult - and occasionally frustrating - to balance, and you will die a lot in the first few hours
  • Exploration can be a chore and sometimes feel aimless, often requiring you to tab to a map constantly for accurate navigation
About author

Harriet Swartout-Phipson

Creative Digital Copywriter by day, Indie game fan by night. Give me a rogue-like, simulator or RPG to play and I'm happy.

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