In a place where the warming glow of the sun’s rays has never touched, where wild experimental creatures roam and mutiny lurks around each and every turn, dwells the broody world of Sunless Sea.

Fans of the much acclaimed choose your own adventure browser game Fallen London will be fanatically happy to see Sunless Sea carrying on where the limited browser game stopped. Both the town of Fallen London and the Echo Bazaar trading system are both carry-ons from the browser game and will be very familiar to people that have played and sailed the original massive universe of Unterzee.

As someone that has never played the original I set off on a haunting and unique journey from underground London to sail the vast expanse of black zees in search of cargo, missions and adventure. Failbetter Games Ltd drops you right into the skilfully hand-drawn action with nothing but an obligatory basic user manual and a pat on the back.

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Embarking from London pier I was quickly faced with strangely aggressive crabs and a combat system that I had little notion of how to use. After much button-bashing I managed to figure out that combat begins paused and spacebar was the key to getting anywhere. Combat is real-time with both opponent and player selecting a move. In order to attack your opponent you must first brighten the darkness around them with the use of flares and other illuminating actions. Certain illumination levels are required before you can launch an attack.

The player has a choice of an illuminating, offensive, or defensive type move – each with six individual actions to choose from. These range between lighting a flare to better see the enemy to launching large rockets that use up some of your ships fuel. Combat choices are important and play a large role in the success of your ship during long voyages. In the beginning the enemies are small and manageable but soon the darkness of the Unterzee gives way to larger, more advanced enemies.

Thankfully there’s a healthy level of upgrades and improvements available in hometown Fallen London.  This makes increasing your ship’s speed, strengthening its hull and developing its booming arsenal a dawdle – given you have enough Echoes, the currency of Sunless Sea. What makes this all the more exciting is that Sunless Sea’s roadmap has combat at only 50% complete, meaning we have literally only seen the half of it. Which is fantastic as

Combat is the easy part. The trickier part is affording to develop your ship into a lean mean floating machine. Echoes can be hard to come by and leave your pocket almost instantly. Supplies to feed your crew and fuel for your ship are constant necessities and can be extremely expensive to buy on the open water. Once your supplies and fuel have been depleted, if you don’t have a good supply of Echoes you’ll quickly find yourself in a spot of bother.

One way to earn those Echoes is to complete the Admiralty’s missions, which consist of travelling to the furthest reaches of the cruel Unterzee in a blind attempt to find the correct island. It’s probably something that would have been irritating if the world they designed wasn’t so full of cryptic whimsy.

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Of course if report writing isn’t your idea of a proper adventure, Sunless Sea also has a vibrant and versatile trading system that allows you to make some Echoes through buying and selling between the islands and Fallen London. Whether it be undead people or just some trapped human souls, there’s a good variety to where and how you can earn your money. Biggest issue is you normally have to have money to make money – run out and you can find yourself in quite a tricky situation. With only 65% of the trading system and 45% of the world complete, there’s bound to be a lot more to this stellar aspect of the game.

Trading, aside from the monetary benefits, also allows for ample opportunity for world exploration along the way. Island hopping allows the player to to come across many unique and interesting lands and people, each with their own imaginative and interesting storyline. Failbetter Games Ltd encourage you to not only interact with each of these places but to return time and again. They even throw in some random events such as a giant squid stealing a crewmate or sacrificing valuable jewels to the Stone God, to help you along the way. These kind of things can really brighten up an otherwise long journey from one side of the map to the other.

Of course there’s a much more pragmatic reason to regularly visit dry land too. The Unterzee is a dark and ominous place, somewhere that quickly saps the joy from your crew and inspires nightmares if out on it for too long. To stop your crew from going insanely mutinous you need to ensure their fear levels stay below 100. To do this you should regularly stop off at London or any of the other friendlier island you find. The fear gauge was something I quickly learned to keep a close eye on, as a mutinying crew is difficult to recover from and almost impossible to dissuade.

Failure is everywhere in Sunless Sea. From failing mission criteria to not having enough stats to successfully navigate a random event, there are an almost unlimited number of ways to find yourself sinking to the bottom of the black zee. Death in the game is quasi-permanent. After each death you have the choice of saving one of three aspects of your game; your chart (map), one of your officers or an achievement you’ve gained. This aspect transfers over to your heir and the game begins over afresh. That’s if you want to play the game the way it was supposed to be done. If you want to make your life easier you can opt for the Merciful Mode where you can choose to save your game whenever you’ve reached a port. Meaning if you die you can just load from your latest save.

The music that accompanies this tornado of awesome is creepy and moody. It builds and dramatizes as enemies draw near and the darkening gloom drives your crew deeper and deeper into madness. This could easily make the game too dark and sinister for real playing enjoyment, but the humorous twists of the souls that inhabit this land and the beautifully descriptive narrative of your journey and visits makes setting sail not only enjoyable but compulsive.

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There are so many interesting and enjoyable aspects to this game I could write a novel on it. To say this for an Early Access game is not only exciting, but a downright incredible achievement for the developers and designers at Failbetter Games Ltd, who work tirelessly to create weekly updates that truly improve the game with every little detail they tweak.

This game is a fantastically detailed example of a 2D exploration game, and even at only just over 50% fully complete, the game is worthy of its current $18.99 price tag on Steam. The uniqueness and charisma of this game, coupled with the impressive updates, make this game a budding classic and one that already demands a playthrough.