The Sea is so last year. It’s time to take it to the Skies.
Type: Single Player
Genre: Text-based Exploration
Developer: Failbetter Games
Publisher: Failbetter Games
Release date: May 19, 2021
Taking place in the Fallen London universe, taking place after Sunless Sea (though you don’t have to play it to get into this one). However, this time around we’re not returning to the Unterzee. As the name suggests, we are in the sky. Or more accurately, Fallen London’s version of space called the High Wilderness. London even returns as it found itself in the sky as well, along with Avid Horizons, due to the Empress carving it out and sending it to the High Wilderness. Though, you don’t actually start out in London, and you won’t even know it’s up here or at least where it is.
Instead of starting out as a whole new captain with a new ship, you start out already as a First Officer of a flying locomotive. However, things aren’t going well. Your Captain, Captain Whitlock, decided to take you all to the Blue Kingdom and it looks like you barely managed to return to The Reach before everyone was lost. You don’t know what Captain Whitlock did, but it angered the authorities there. The locomotive is damaged, but nothing that can’t be repaired, there is barely any food or fuel, and Captain Whitlock is badly wounded to the point that you are entrusted with taking everyone to to safety of New Winchester. Luckily, along the way you came across a locomotive wreck so you can repair your locomotive, replace your damaged cannon, take on a scout bat, and more supplies that will surely last you until you get to New Winchester. And well, once you do, Whitlock quickly dies due to strange marks that not only brand her skin, but everything inside of her. But not before she makes you promise to be a better captain.
Once you are pronounced as the new Captain, you can then create your character. Giving you various backstories to choose from, as well as having you choose between three subgroups that will determine your initial skill boosts, and an ambition that you’ll be going towards and will be the end of your Captain’s career if you end up surviving long enough. There are three ambitions available, with a fourth being unlockable. And while these do range in difficulty, the Truth ambition is the only one not recommended for your first Captain. Anyway, my Captain in Sunless Skies is an Academic who sought to learn the language of the Heavens and longed to become famous, to be known long after her death. And to immortalize herself, she is going to write about her exploits and publish them (seems familiar). Of course, only one book isn’t enough, multiple is needed to build up her reputation and fame, and she has to actually do something that is exciting enough to write about and get inspired by. Also of course she’ll paint herself in a good light, though she hasn’t done anything horrible (she didn’t even look inside the box Whitlock trusted her to deliver) unless you count losing some crew to unforeseen circumstances. She hasn’t achieved her fame as of yet, but her fans are building up with each book.
If you’ve played Sunless Sea, you’ll pretty much be right at home here. Everything is told with text as the writing here is as great as ever, just being a little bit different as it conveys more information in less words and not being as cryptic and confusing during the beginning. Your locomotive is slow, especially since you can’t kick it up a gear like with a ship, and you’ll have to manage your Supplies and Fuel, keeping in mind how far you are from ports or take into account that you might not run into one for a while when first uncovering a map, and your Terror so it doesn’t reach too high. Your scout is also pretty useful, especially since point of interest will come in and out and are often helpful, but it now requires a bit of your Supplies. And of course, the choices you’ll be faced with that may require a requirement, like an item or doing something specific to gain the attribute, or drawing from your skills to determine your chance of success.
I have been looking forward to Sunless Skies, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t dreading the start of my journey. The only thing I knew was that Sunless Skies had a new look and the Journal was improved, other than that I didn’t want to spoil myself. Knowing how brutal Sunless Sea is I was expecting Sunless Skies to be the same way. Well, I was actually pretty surprised how friendly it is this time around, which I’m not complaining about. First of all, you can tweak the difficulty as you can alter how fast Supplies and Fuel are consumed, how fast enemy projectiles move, and increasing the homing capability of any homing weapons, as well as giving you a choice to reload at the last port you were at if you chose Merciful mode. In Sunless Sea making money is hard and for a long time you’ll only be able to afford Supplies and Fuel, and if I remember correctly the only way to make a lot of money was smuggling (though even that takes a lot of setup and you might be locked out once you’re able to upgrade to carry a lot… like it happened to me). But in Sunless Skies, it’s surprisingly easy to make money. You’ll be gathering your Port Reports as normal and they pay out handsomely once you turn them in and this introduces Prospects and Bargains. Prospects are basically when one of the ports requests 3-5 of a certain item and they’ll buy it at a higher price than how much they are regularly, and delivering the full amount will give you a bonus. But, you can increase your profits by looking at every port’s Bargains so you can buy them at a cheaper price. And with the Bank being here so you don’t have to carry everything at the same time, you can even buy up Bargains and deposit them for future Prospects. You can get the change to harvest some Prospect items on your journey so it can even be pure profit. You can, of course, still smuggle (I myself just unlocked a questline that introduced Red Honey), but you won’t be struggling if you don’t. In addition, repairing your Hull is easier both because you won’t struggle with affording repairs, but you’ll get the option to repair it when looting other locomotives you shoot down or going to somewhere that gives you cheap repairs. That won’t stop you from dying from Hull damage though. And Terror? There is a port that lowers it a lot pretty cheaply and ports can offer an option to lower Terror when docking.
You do also level up here which is the main way you’ll gain stats permanently (rather than temporarily with officers). At each level, you’ll pick a facet that builds up your Captain’s past as well as increasing their skills. However, there is a cap at level 20 and from what I can gather, there aren’t that many ways to raise your skills other than facets. It also doesn’t help that there are a lot of scenarios that will cause you to lose skill points and equipment past the entry levels require you to hit a skill points threshold. So you might run into the situation where you learn too late that you shouldn’t spread everything out evenly or be one point off from being able to equip something.
Combat also makes a return, and I feel it’s a bit easier than before. Granted, this might be because I came from the harsh Unterzee that may or may not have made me too fearless for my own good and that I spent most of my time in The Reach. Your weapons rely more on a cooldown system as they will cause heat to build up when fired and you aim by aiming your locomotive at them. You can also dodge to the sides, which uses a bit of heat when done as well. However, if you overheat, you have to wait for it to cool back down before firing again unless you want to take on Hull damage. As you play more and encounter enemies more, you’ll learn about how they attack so you can anticipate what they’ll do so you can easily dodge and then attack. You should still pick your fights though, especially since you seem to be the only one without homing weapons, and some enemies are terrifying to face. You may even have to take damage while running (driving?) away as enemies can be faster than your locomotive. But it isn’t like Sunless Sea where you should avoid combat until way later on. It’s actually pretty fun, especially when you mount weapons that are an upgrade from what you get at the beginning and attach armor. Not to mention that enemies can hurt each other (you’ll occasional come across locomotive scuffles) and even die just by hitting themselves against rocks too much (which is hilarious to see).
Sunless Skies is also bigger. While the Unterzee is one big map, the High Wilderness is divided into four regions which range from how dangerous they are. You start in The Reach, which is one of the more forgiving ones, and it’s best not to rush into going into the other regions. But once you do feel ready, you’ll go to a whole new environment and new challenges to face. You can spend a lot of time in The Reach and still get a lot done without having to go to another region like Albion (which hosts London). Though here, you can’t really keep your eyes away from the game for too long as you can easily ram yourself into rocks or a port.
And when you die and pass on your legacy? You don’t actually start over almost from scratch (assuming you were able to plan ahead) like in Sunless Sea. In Sunless Skies it’s actually much easier as a lot will transfer to your next Captain. Your locomotive, anything in your bank, map, some story items, and half of your Sovereigns and experience. Some quests are also remembered though, so you can’t redo them to get the reward again or to see what happens when you go down a different path. This makes it way easier to get back into the swing of things and while you’re not dreading death because you’ll have to start from scratch all over again, it shifts to dreading losing your progress on your ambition or other quests.
Remember how the Journal was a confusing mess and it was difficult to tell where you were at with a specific questline, where you had to go, and navigating through it was a nightmare? Well it’s better here! It’s definitely clearer to tell which quests are active, which ones you completed, and where you currently have to go and/or do. Though, I wish you could hide completed quests so they don’t clutter up the bottom or maybe organize them in some way.
I’m sure one pressing question that is remaining is if it’s worth getting Sunless Skies on Switch. I’d say yes. So far, I haven’t ran into any performance issues and I like having it on the Switch as this turned out to be a game I did not want to stop before I was ready to. Plus, it’s easy to relax while listening to a podcast or watching a livestream while I go about my travels. And, at least in handheld, the text isn’t hard to read. It’s well worth picking up on the Switch.
The only aspects that did not work well was that sometimes when you go check the Prospects you accepted, the text box would go up past the screen causing you to not being able to read it all; viewing requirements have a semi-rare chance of showing the previous screen’s requirement rather than the current one; and it does have the tendency to forget you’re on a screen with choices, mostly when you scroll down on a screen with choices you don’t have the requirements for, and take your cursor away (making you go into another menu to bring it back). I still wish there were touch controls though. I kept thinking there was and being disappointed that nothing happened.
While I was pretty unsure about Sunless Sea for the longest time, Sunless Skies grabbed me by the first hour. Heck, I was barely able to detach myself from it to even write this review. This isn’t going to be for everyone, as you are going to be traveling a lot and it is a slow burn, but it’s a great game if it does appeal to you. And it’s going to last for a long time as you try to explore every inch, complete quests that you pick up, learn about what’s happening in the different regions, and going into the different ambitions.
If you ask me which Sunless game I like the most, I feel I lean more towards Sunless Skies to be honest. While I love Sunless Sea’s setting and the dread when you’re sailing, Sunless Skies is more friendly at the beginning and the difficulty curve is better. There are some aspects I miss from Sea, and some that Skies doesn’t do well in, but I still enjoyed Skies more.