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Sunless Skies launches Kickstarter, talks combat improvements, spacefaring Victorians, warm cardigans

Sunless Skies

Since Failbetter previewed it yesterday I’ve been poking around the Kickstarter campaign for Sunless Skies. I only had a basic idea of the game (Sunless Sea/Fallen London in space with a certain amount of “stars being murdered”), although I know there have been a few blogs and chats and things which covered the game in more depth. I think I was waiting for Failbetter to nail their ideas down a bit before I started spoilering myself.

Anyway, here’s a summary of the Kickstarter stuff because it’s nice to know more about their thinking for the sequel of a game I really love:

Firstly, something promising I noted in the longer vid on the Kickstarter page is that when traversing an icy section a line appears telling you that the navigator has donned an extra cardigan. As someone with a collection of cardigans and a chilly house I feel like this game speaks to me on a very personal level.

On a more general level, Sunless Skies, as you might already know, is set in the same universe as Fallen London and Sunless Sea and cites influences including “the science fiction of H G Wells and C S Lewis, the planetary romances of Leigh Brackett, Art Nouveau and Planescape: Torment”.

To locate it a bit more specifically in the fiction, it takes place a decade after Sunless Sea. As Failbetter put it, “Queen Victoria has led an exodus from London to the heavens. There, a revitalised British Empire – ambitious and authoritarian – begins to expand across the skies.”

Sunless Skies

Delving a bit deeper, it seems that the stars in the Fallen London-iverse are living things – kind of an ancient and wise species, it sounds like – who are being murdered and the space Victorians are capitalising on this sudden absence by staging the space version of a industrialised land grab.

The Reach is, from London’s perspective, the frontier: a vast territory of untamed wilderness ripe to explore, to colonise, and to exploit. Here, the Empire is opposed only by the uncompromising environment and a growing movement of independent settlers determined to rule themselves.

The Empire’s interests are represented by the great trading companies: Murgatroyd’s, The Windward Company, Leadbeater & Stainrod. They are well-armed and well-connected. The Independents are a quarrelsome coalition of pioneers. Some believe they need to unify into a new nation to resist London. Others think that’s trading one master for another.

So, some names you’d recognise in there if you played the earlier games. The actual game side of things is where it looks like Failbetter are trying to learn from Sunless Sea’s mistakes. I’ve covered some of their thoughts about the core exploration and return loops that game which could help the process of voyaging and returning feel less grindy. There’s also a snippet in this campaign about how captains you play as but who die will leave you a legacy in the form of the repercussions of decisions they made as well as in terms of some material goods to try and mitigate the sense of repeating early game content over and over again.

Sunless Skies

Generally I’m expecting the same sort of exploration, discovery, docking and returning mechanics, with the majority of the action taking place in the form of stories which unfold over time. It sounds like you can choose to help particular factions or pick up particular lines of business in order to capitalise on loopholes/laxer legal structures on the fringes of society.

Combat was a real issue in the previous game. I never got to the point where I enjoyed it and would pretty much always run away rather than engage an enemy who was even vaguely healthy. I also know that some of my friends said that they worked out how to game it and thus for them it just became unengagingly easy. On that front the Kickstarter says:

The pace of combat will remain measured and deliberate. It will be more viable for captains to outmanoeuvre their opponents for tactical advantage than it was in Sunless Sea, and there will be more scope for player skill.

We want combat to be challenging, but we know that means different things to different players. So we’ll provide a range of settings to adjust its frequency and difficulty, meaning that players can customise the experience to be right for them.

I think that’s the part where I’m the most “I will believe it when I see it” because on the storytelling front I feel like Failbetter have earned my trust, but in terms of combat it felt so “meh” that that same sense of trust just isn’t there.

There are some other interesting bits and bobs in the blurb – time as a luxury trade good and descriptions of a number of Failbetter-flavoured creatures like a sort of ghostly killer spinster wearing the remnants of a library.

If the Kickstarter is of interest the page itself has details of pledge amounts, what they want to spend the £100,000 on, reward tiers and all of that kerfuffle, but it’s also nice to just have a stronger idea of what the game actually is intending to be at this point in time. If you are tempted by the Kickstarter, here is your regular reminder that no Kickstarter is risk free etc etc etc.

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Philippa Warr

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