Sunless Skies rockets into early access

After exploring a cheerygrim subterranean Victorian city in Fallen London, the seas around it in Sunless Sea, then beneath those seas in the Zubmariner expansion, Failbetter Games have blasted off to the dark and dreadful cosmos above with Sunless Skies. Continuing in the same explore-o-trade-a-cannibalise RPG vein as Sunless Sea, Skies today rocketed into early access. The full release should follow in mid-2018 but if you’d like to develop space madness sooner and maybe help shape the game, you can now buy into early access.

Failbetter explain why we’re exploring space in flying locomotives:

“Ten years have passed since Sunless Sea, and 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.

“The stars are alive. They are the Judgements: vast intelligences that govern all things. But they are dying. One by one, something is snuffing them out, leaving their thrones empty. An opportunistic Victorian Empire is colonising the domains they leave behind, painting its industrial vision upon the fabric of the heavens.”

Sure, why not? “Speak to storms,” they say. “Murder a sun,” they say. I am sure this is all wonderful and dreadful.

I’m sure someone in the RPS treehouse will be jabbing at this soon enough to tell us all what they make of it. I’m mostly curious about how much it improves over Sunless Sea. Failbetter’s worlds and writing are wonderful but Sea could be a bit of a dog to play.

The initial Sunless Skies early access release contains one of the game’s four planned areas. Others will be added as they go, along with new ships, ports, enemies, items, stories, mysteries, controller support, and all that. For now, though, we get a fairly complete “vertical slice”.

“This is one of the major reasons we decided to launch with only one region at the start, so we could give players a small taste of what the final game will be like rather than a big taste of an emptier, less representational world.

“Players will be able to experience the basic mechanics they’d expect to find in a Failbetter game, such as Hunger, Terror, combat, exploration and the ability to interact with stories.”

Ah, capital-T Terror. Ideal.

If you want in now, it’ll cost you £17.09/20,69€/$22.49 on Steam or GOG. Failbetter expect to launch the full and finished game within around nine months, though it may take longer depending on what changes feedback dictates.


  1. teije says:

    Backed with enthusiasm because I love their worldbuilding and have EA. Rarely have I been so torn between dipping into it now to enjoy its “cheerygrim” flavour (thank you Alice!) and waiting until full release to get the full experience at once. A good dilemma to have.

  2. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    I loved the writing and gloomy feeling of Sunless Sea, but the actual gameplay was pants and I despised the weird collecting of ephemeral nonsense like lights or wits or whatever to unlock storylines.

    This looks to be the same. Which is unfortunate, but I’ll still probably get it on sale and read what words I can manage to actually get.

    • dontnormally says:

      FWIW a lot of the issues I had with Sunless Sea went away when I cheated my savefile to give me a ton of starting cash. I understand it wasn’t meant to be a power fantasy, but getting into the world as Mostly Harmless (instead of absolute pants at everything) had a great feel.

    • teije says:

      Different strokes – I loved the slow, almost ponderous gameplay of Sunless Sea, but I can certainly see how it would put others off.

  3. Justoffscreen says:

    I know they don’t make these games with a heavy gameplay focus or anything which is fine, but I was hoping to see more improvement than…what looks to be a side dash? The combat was abysmal and not fun in SunSea and this looks like more of the same. I honestly would prefer if they turned all combat encounters into a chunk of lore and a dice roll like they do with 90% of the rest of the game. It’s way more compelling. Like leave the enemy models in the game and give a encounter prompt when they get close enough- that leaves the ability to see and evade but avoids the unfun combat.

    • Drakesden says:

      Funny you should say that — I was in the beta for Sunless Sea, and the early version had exactly that combat mechanic. When a monster got close enough, the gazetteer would pop open and you would pick your options. If I recall, success was a die roll based on your skills (e.g., iron to fire, hearts to flee, etc).

      Beta testers generally hated it — it was by far the most complained-about aspect of the game. And this was from their core Fallen-London-loving base! I think the main complaints were that it left you almost always reading stuff instead of exploring, and you felt like you had very little control over winning or losing, which is important in a semi-permadeath game …

      Hey, looks like RPS did an article on the combat change at the time, including what the designer had to say about it:

      link to

      • Angstsmurf says:

        I’m still hoping for a mod that restores the card-based combat.

  4. PancakeWizard says:

    Hmm. I was reasonably interested in this sequel, as even though I got nowhere in Sunless Sea, I enjoyed the atmosphere and writing. But looking at the trailer, it barely looks like the location changed. It’s supposed to be in space right? But you still see stuff underneath like it’s in the sea and everything has that haze. What did they do? Just turn off bubbles?

    • Zenicetus says:

      My impression also. I was interested to see where they’d go with this new theme (didn’t try the original), but what the hell… this is supposed to be space? Or even something in the sky? It looks murky.

      Maybe it makes sense if I knew more about the lore for this setting.

      • InternetBatman says:

        Stars have a very important narrative role, so it’d make sense for them to not want to show many stars.

  5. Coming Second says:

    Early impressions are that it’s extremely bare bones and buggy, even by first EA release standards. I’d give this an Eschatalogue-sized berth until the new year at least.

    • Drakesden says:

      I disagree — and keep in mind this is real beta testing, not ambiguous “Early Access.” It’s in better shape than Sunless Sea was during its early beta, I think. The physics & graphics & UI are miles ahead — the huge portraits in particular are gorgeous.

      This is definitely more Sunless Sea — the same mood & 2D exploration — in a whole new world. If you want to see how it gets built, and you’re up for squashing some bugs, then I’d encourage you to dive in.