Sunless Skies Takes Sunless Sea To The Stars In 2017

Sunless Skies‘ sounds a bit too ‘A Day Trip To Reading’ to my ears. I guess 2unless 2ea, Sunless Sea 2: None More Sunless and 2 Sea 2 Sunless were deemed insufficiently lyrical. The name, of course, matters nought: what does matter is that charmingly bleak, ocean-bound, narrative rougelikelikelike12 Sunless Sea [official site] is going full sail to sequel-land with Sunless Skies next year. And then taking off into space.

Failbetter’s Fallen London setting – Sunless Sea being the second game to star in it – is a sort of greatest hits of Victorian sci-fi, steampunk and Cthulhu mythos, all held together by sufficient, beautifully-written string so that it absolutely feels like its own malevolent yet amiable thing. Thus far, its focus has been on a creepy city and a creepier underground ocean, but now it intends to look to the skies above. Here’s Failbetter’s synopsis of the setup for Sunless Skies:

“This is the Victorian Empire in space – the High Wilderness – a “blistering, wonderful night” among the thrones and domains of the stars. The Empress has abandoned London and led an exodus to the High Wilderness, to carve out a new British Empire. With the Empire being increasingly authoritarian, bohemians, revolutionaries and outcasts – like you – are trying to make a life for themselves on its fringes.”

As for the whole ‘sunless’ aspect, “The stars are dying. The stars are the Judgements: the inventors, arbiters and enforcers of the universe’s laws – but a revolution has begun, and the stars are being murdered.” H.G. Wells and CS Lewis are noted as influences, as is Leigh Brackett, the art nouvea style and, er, Event Horizon. Where we’re going, we won’t need eyes to see.

Stories are the focus of Skies, that being Failbetter’s hallmark, but it seems it will follow and build upon the doomed voyage aspects of Sea also. “We’re enhancing the stuff we liked, and refining the experience. It will be a punishing game, but respectful of your time.”

Whether that means it will be ‘easier’ remains to be seen. I always played Sea expecting to fail, but I know some folk understandably struggled with the fact that keeping their boat fuelled and their crew fed/non-mad was a constant and unforgiving pressure that could forbid exploring the dark waters and uncovering their many tales.

All sounds real jolly good, but a slight wrinkle in the silk bedsheet is that, as with Sunless Sea, Failbetter are taking to Kickstarter for this, so it’s not 100% guaranteed to happen just yet. The Kickstarter doesn’t actually launch until February 2017, so hopefully we’ll start seeing some footage and screens and words before too long. There’s not even a website yet.

Ahead of that though, the Zumbariner expansion for Sunless Sea lands on 11 Oct.

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  1. JakeOfRavenclaw says:

    “It will be a punishing game, but respectful of your time.”

    This is intriguing. I was, I have to confess, one of the people who fell on the “Oh god why does it take so long to do anything” side of Sunless Sea–loved the writing, hated the tedium of having to get to it. But I think that for people who really clicked with the game, the glacial pacing and the need to constantly keep returning to London was part of the appeal. Very curious to see what kind of balance they try to strike this time.

    • Troubletcat says:

      As a corollary to my comment below; this was totally a thing. It took a very long time to make meaningful progress and the game did become tedious at times as a result. So maybe reducing that is what they’re talking about? I’d be okay with that.

      I just hope they haven’t reduced the level of actual tension/the difficulty of the risk/resource-management game.

      • Premium User Badge

        Captain Narol says:

        I like Failbetter’s writing but I’m not much into punishing games and that’s probably why I gave up quickly on Sunless Sea…

        I fear that I will have to give a pass to that one, too bad.

        • Someoldguy says:

          Likewise. I love great storytelling but to be brutally honest I can get that down my local library in a format that doesn’t piss me about and waste my time on tedious busywork to extend the length of the experience and reduce it’s impact.

    • kaisergav says:

      I thought the pacing went quite well with it, to properly spread out various story arcs and evoke the serene feeling of being out at sea.

      However, I never play on Permadeath. I don’t think that works with this game at all. With the focus on the beautiful, strange writing, I think this works a lot better as a “play through once and keep your choices and failures” story game, rather than an FTL-roguelike where one mistake ends your 12-hour story of romance, terror and adventure and you have to start over again facing the exact same narrative beats with the 3 sisters etc.

    • SaintAn says:

      Yeah, millennials want instant gratification. You need instant teleports, and bright different colored loot rarity that you can get easy, you need sound effects when you achieve anything,everything needs voice acting because reading sucks(!), and you want as many microtransactions as you can get to you can pay $100 more to be a big dick winner of games! Sailing around and being immersed in a unique artistic world that is so alien that it’s like playing a game of the Starry Night painting (I doubt you know what that is).

      What is this, a walking simulator??? It’s not even a game!!!

      Lets hope they don’t try to balance it, because what you mean by balance is having it dumbed down for you.

      • InternetBatman says:

        I always consider repetitive actions with little input the height of intelligent gameplay.

      • rustybroomhandle says:

        oh shush, boring person

        • Metalfish says:

          They’re probably being ironic? Irony isn’t dead yet, right? Or trolling, which, for some reason won’t ever die.

          Of course if they’re tediously serious, the popularity of DayZ, Rust, dark souls and the explosion of other perma-death games lets you know that not only are they wrong, but it’s a bit weird to be annoyed by how other people harmlessly enjoy themselves.

      • tnzk says:

        The irony of the “big dick winner of games” comment is strong.

        Dude, the game was agonisingly tedious. You’re not better than anyone for being able to enjoy its glacial pacing.

      • Someoldguy says:

        I would say it’s as much due to the maturing playerbase (many over-40 and over-50 gamers now) not having the time to piss away on games that don’t get to the point, too. If Failbetter’s strongest point is their storytelling, they should concentrate on telling the story and not on diluting it with grind mechanics.

        Planescape: Torment was a great example of storytelling, with limited need to grind monsters for xp. Failure (death) was useful for advancing the plot without sending you back to square one. I’m really looking forward to Torment: Numenara for just that sort of experience.

  2. Troubletcat says:

    I hope it’s not easier than Sunless Sea. My first captain didn’t die for over 20 hours and now with something like 80 played I’ve still only lost a handful. I am not trying to toot my own horn, I legitimately do not understand what people found so punishing about it.

    • beekay says:

      Despite having 40 hours in it, I’ve never died. Which is just as well, because it was so jaw-breakingly slow to earn money that losing half of it on death would have caused me to give up playing.

      I’m pretty sure there was content that had to be encountered over multiple lives, but I’ll never know, because the grind was tedious enough even when I was constantly running into new things.

  3. TheAngriestHobo says:

    No Sun’s Sky?

  4. malkav11 says:

    Uh….huh. That is not a direction I was expecting.

    • Czrly says:

      I think it could work. They’ve bid themselves into a slam with this one and I’ll be extremely impressed if they reconcile the lore with that of Fallen London. For those who don’t know: in Fallen London, you enter the ‘neath by choice, as did everyone…. until you die. But death isn’t really permanent in most cases, it only precludes you from returning to the surface for more than a short jaunt. In SS, you are part of a lineage that lives wholly in the ‘neath. How do you go from the ‘neath to space? Rockets don’t fly through rock. Oh well, I’m still betting Failbetter will manage it but it is definitely high risk.

  5. Tiax says:

    *loses his shit*

    I am SO backing this once the KS is up!

  6. C0llic says:

    The pace of sunless sea is its most punishing aspect. As long as you keep track of your fuel and supplies, you’re generally going to be okay, but it takes a long time to get anywhere.

  7. Frings says:

    All I read was this post’s title and I instantly went “YES!”.

    After reading the post’s contents: YES! I appreciate their efforts regarding how long things took in Sunless Seas, but I especially appreciate the space setting. Yes! I can’t wait to see their take on it.

  8. Earl-Grey says:

    Oh my, colour me excited.

    Sunless Sea took a while to grow on me but now it clings to me like a barnacle.
    Though I’m not one of those permadeath die hards, I had to play this on “big girl’s blouse” mode to get any enjoyment out of it.

  9. w0bbl3r says:

    As innovative and smart as sunless sea is, it’s a slog just to get away from port for the first time.
    And here I just get the impression that they have no real new idea’s and are just milking this same idea as much as they can.

    Good luck to them and all, sunless sea was very very clever. But I don’t expect these to be another breakout indie dev that will wow us for years with smart and original games.

  10. Babymech says:

    I’m still trying to deal with the ramifications of introducing zumba to the unterzee.

  11. PancakeWizard says:

    I hope they go for a Spelljammer inspired version of spaceflight.

    • InternetBatman says:

      Amen to this.

    • Rosti says:

      Citing CS Lewis as an inspiration (*) is a big clue that this might be the case. If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading his Cosmic Trilogy, it delights in establishing a celestial mythology and deliberately ignores scientific issues in preference to human ones. Relevantly, their conveyance is more yacht than submarine.

      (*) This is perhaps 60% of my reason to be excited. It’s a perfect fit!

      • NonCavemanDan says:

        Except in the second book where it’s a glass coffin! And the third book that does an entire genre shift from Science Fiction to Modern Fairy Tale that might have inspired George Orwell’s 1984. God, I love Lewis’ Cosmic Trilogy!

  12. stuw23 says:

    Incredibly excited about this, and fully intend on backing the Kickstarter. Sunless Sea has been one of my favourite games since I started playing it; despite its flaws, it possesses a charm, character, and atmosphere the likes of which few games can match. Even if this new game isn’t as good, I’m more than happy to support Failbetter’s endeavours. Though that said, the description and influences has me nodding my head enthusiastically.

  13. qrter says:

    I wish hope they move away from the roguelike model, for me it totally gets in the way of their storytelling. Some kind of full-on RPG would be preferable, as far as I’m concerned. But I guess we’re still on the roguelike-train, seeing the “punishing” comment.

    • qrter says:

      I wish hope? I’ve clearly been touched by the Masters and gone mad.

    • TillEulenspiegel says:

      I’m with your wish-hoping. I feel like at least 25% of “roguelike elements” games would be vastly better if they ditched that crap and made a normal game like normal people.

      • Wulfram says:

        I think a lot of games that is true, but the traditional save and reload tends to ultimately lead to an Ever Victorious Player Character, which doesn’t really fit with the style of their writing.

        • Darloth says:

          It could be fun if they played with the save/reload mechanic in general…

          Let you save whenever you like, but every time you reload you go progressively more and more mad until you lose the character or something :)

          (Would require some thought not to punish people who play a little at a time – maybe a single quit-save and then real slots for the other stuff)

        • malkav11 says:

          You literally can’t die in Fallen London, so I think it would fit perfectly fine.

          • Kaeoschassis says:

            You absolutely can die in Fallen London (as I discovered when I lost my internet connection for several months while my character was engaged in the *REDACTED*). You just get better. Sort of.

            Death is strange in the neath, and all that. Honestly the way FL handles death is pretty cool. Wouldn’t necessarily fit the gameplay of Sunless Sea though.

          • CMaster says:

            @ Kaeoschassis Sounds like we need to ship you to the Tomb Colonies.

  14. Styxie says:

    If I play any more Fail Better games my eyes will become vestigial, and skin translucent.

  15. AyeBraine says:

    As weird as it sounds, being familiar with the FL lore, I’m happy to say that this “Fallen London IN SPACE” angle is completely logical.

    Regardless of how many deep layers FL’s lore has, they took the deepest, most esoteric, least developed one and will now, I imagine, gleefully sink their teeth in it. It is a very bold twist that allows them to push the whole of FL to the margins and gives them almost complete freedom.

    • InternetBatman says:

      I’m generally surprised that they managed to make it all fit together in a wholly cohesive fashion, but it really does work. It’ll be interesting seeing more of the space set; I wanna kill a judgment Dragon.

      Also, wonder how the bazaar will react to the stars dying, isn’t the sun a star?

  16. Premium User Badge

    Cross says:


    So I guess the Merchant Venturer’s attempt to open the High Gate at Avid Horizon was a success, and soon, the Empire followed his lead. I suppose the gate will be to Sunless Sky what the Cumaean Canal is to Sunless Sea.

  17. Neurotic says:

    Space 1889! Yumm!

  18. racccoon says:

    I’m play a Fallen London daily, I bought sunless sea & I quickly dropped it! it was too confusing unfinidhed and took forever and is not really what I had expected from a great team, I do not know what its like anymore,(sunless sea).
    I see their goal and see their new vision, like every other dev, space is in & want to be in. But, I won’t donate, as I do not feel if a company has does well from its row of games! Why! it needs to keep on begging. :(

  19. tigerfort says:

    I’m just disappointed they didn’t design a Neathy Empire-building game and call it “Sunless Caesar” :)

  20. rochrist says:


  21. MrFinnishDude says:

    They went the Bioshock route this time

  22. Samudaya says:

    I really wanted to like Sunless Sea for the stories but the management of currencies, crew, terror and fuel just drained all the fun out of it. I guess the new one won’t be any different.

  23. mercyRPG says:

    Best feature of Sea is recent UI & Text scaling. Other than that this game is soo boring and its writing and lore so Proactively Annoying with meh combat and okayish boat driving mechanism that resulted in uninstall. Overfall and Bedlam already went this route and exhausted all possibilites.

  24. frogulox says:

    I obviously need to play more sunless sea because (well its great, and i suck and die all the time) i dont understand how the fallen city with no real stars, a roof, and a port to the surface, can reach the skies.

    • aliasi says:

      The short version:

      There’s a gate to space in the Neath. A character in Sunless Sea hires your captain on an expedition to open it as a possible plot thread. Presumably Sunless Skies takes place after this gate is further exploited.

      Do note this is almost certainly Victorian sciencey space filled with aether or phlogiston or something where you can cross it with a space-steamer, a train, or a really big cannon, not the mostly-airless-void, partially stars place we’re all familiar with.

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