Sunless Sea

Storytelling and exploration converge to dazzling effect in Failbetter's luxurious and unmissable curio.


Key events

FeatureBehind the sunless scenes

The complex, inside story of Failbetter Games.

A year ago, Fallen London and Sunless Sea developer Failbetter Games successfully pitched Sunless Skies on Kickstarter. The upcoming project was funded in four hours and its crowdfunding campaign concluded with nearly 400 per cent of the money needed to smash its financial target. In September last year, Failbetter won a award for being one of the best employers in the UK video games industry. The team gave enthusiastic quotes to Eurogamer's sister site about the benefits of working at the tiny, tightknit outfit. Failbetter, seemingly, was on a high.

Dragon Age writer and Sunless Sea creative director unveils Cultist Simulator

In the interests of transparency I should point out Alexis Kennedy has written a few articles for Eurogamer before.

UPDATE 4TH SEPTEMBER: It's been a lovely weekend for Alexis Kennedy whose Cultist Simulator Kickstarter has sailed past its 30,000 goal. He's now scratching at 55,000 with 26 days to go.

"In the Cultist Simulator setting, there are thirty Hours," Kennedy wrote.

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There's a long inglorious tradition of cannibalism in video games, from the many flesh-eaters of the Dark Souls series through the "strange meats" of Fallout to the gaping cosmic horror that is Kirby. In the last few years, though, developers seem to have really acquired a taste for it. Take this spring's The Wild Eight - a survival game distinguished by some neat firelight effects and the preposterous, yet strangely persuasive option to eat the corpse of your previous self, providing you can find your way back to it after you respawn.

Sunless Sea - Zubmariner review

'The air trembles. A breath of change passes.' As it ever has down here in the Unterzee, the subterranean archipelago where London wound up after the ground gave way, where islands jostle for position as you live the gloomy lives of a succession of sea captains. This time, however, change runs fathoms deep. Depending on the state in which you left your ship and fortune in Failbetter's masterpiece, the journey toward owning your first submergible vessel may be long and onerous. After all, the Admiralty doesn't sanction this arcane contraption. Most shipbuilders will shrug or recoil if presented with an order for one.

Sunless Sea - Zubmariner

Developer: Failbetter Games

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The first DLC for Sunless Sea - which Simon Parkin gave an Essential - is now available to download. The expansion, dubbed Zubmariner, allows players to kit out their zeefaring vessels for trips to the ocean floor; adding whole new areas for captains to explore and never return from.

Let's write it up as the perils of psychogeography. If you were visiting Failbetter Games for the first time - and if you were paying attention to your surroundings on the way - you might easily conclude, as you closed in on the wayward district where the studio is based, that you were moving through the kind of mindscape that created this singular developer in the first place. Lean in and watch the world go by! The stops on the DLR steadily move from the twee to the darkly ridiculous, Island Gardens and Mudchute hinting respectively at hidden archipelagos and Gormenghastly toil. And then Greenwich announces itself with a sinister curved building with a misted dome that claims to house a staircase leading to a tunnel that will take you under the river. Sure it will. Speaking of the river, the last leg of the journey is the Thames Path, where London suddenly draws in close, brown brick terraces pulled tight around cobbled streets, easing back only briefly to offer a glimpse of swift grey water with ancient machinery suspended ominously above. Finally, a church, and inside it the developer of Fallen London. Of course this is where they have been hiding.

Failbetter Games announces Sunless Skies

Failbetter Games has announced Sunless Skies, a sequel to Sunless Sea, live on stage at EGX 2016. The follow up to the Victorian exploration game is currently in the very early stages of development, with a Kickstarter campaign due to launch in February of next year.

As you have almost certainly guessed, Sunless Skies swaps the murky waters of the Unterzee for the open air, in a move best described as 'doing a Bioshock'.

Speaking to Eurogamer, Hannah Flynn of Failbetter Games said: "We hope Sunless Skies will be another helping of what players loved about Sunless Sea: the choices that make you close your eyes as you click, delivered in our finest prose, surrounded by atmospheric and lush art.

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Sunless Sea's first expansion to release in October

The first expansion for the excellent Sunless Sea, dubbed Zubmariner, will begin its maiden voyage on the 11th of October.

Once you've performed the necessary preparations to convert your ship into a submarine, the expansion - available for PC, Mac and Linux - will take you under the Unterzee, adding new ports and cities to explore. It's not all plain sailing, however, as Failbetter Games has also promised stranger inhabitants and new zee-beasts.

You'll also be fighting against your oxygen reserves and the limits of your zubmarine's sonar, which could just as easily lead you to a grisly demise as sunken riches. You can get a sense for how things work in this gameplay video from earlier this year.

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Pay what you want for Outlast, Never Alone and Retro City Rampage

Humble Indie Bundle 16 also offers cheap Sunless Sea.

Humble Indie Bundle 16 has launched and it's a good one. Pay what you want to receive Retro City Rampage DX, Outlast, and Never Alone with its Foxtales DLC. You'll even receive an 80 per cent discount on Outlast's Whistleblower DLC in the Humble Store.

Sunless Sea's Zubmariner expansion surfaces

Sunless Sea developer Failbetter Games has revealed the first footage of its upcoming Zubmariner expansion.

The add-on brings a new underwater area to the atmospheric world of Failbetter's roguelike. There's just a glimpse of how it will look in the narrated trailer below.

Your underwater craft is the same ship you sail on the Underzee's surface, although now it has been converted into a submarine mode. Your vessel will emit more light, which is nice, but you won't be alone under the waves - what looks like a giant manta ray appears to be stalking the player.

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Sunless Sea is getting story DLC with Zubmariner expansion

Sunless Sea is getting story DLC with Zubmariner expansion

Everything's better down where it's wetter.

Failbetter's text-heavy exploration RPG Sunless Sea is getting a story-based expansion pack called Zubmariner.

Set deep within the bowels of the Unterzee, Zubmariner will add all sorts of new locales and threats. One such destination is Wrack, the City of Delights, which Failbetter described on its official blog as "an arbour of shipwrecks, where the flesh of kelp brings intoxication."

There will also be a new monster called a Thalatte, which is "an exposed-looking collection of wattled and shining organs, like a half-completed vivisection, with a fanged orifice at the front." Basically it uses its giant mouth to suck your Zubmarine towards it, though it can also ram you or spit out copious amounts of toxic fluid.

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Sunless Sea more than doubles dev's best case scenario sales estimate

Sunless Sea more than doubled developer Failbetter's best case scenario sales estimate.

As of 25th February, Failbetter's Victorian Gothic storytelling curio had sold 100,000 copies.

In a post on the Failbetter website, analyst Adam Myers said before development began the London-based independent studio had estimated Sunless Sea would sell anything from 5000 copies at worst to 50,000 at best.

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Sunless Sea review

Do you keep the trinket or cast it into the water? It would be a symbolic gesture, sure, but the ripples through your story will be genuine. Drop the keepsake back into your pocket and you'll be keeping the preposterous promises made to a young lover after a drunken night together. Drop the keepsake into the sea and, eventually, she and it may be forgotten. Then you will be free to find refuge in the next warm and welcome body (and, so long as you make to back to port, there is always another).

Price and availability

Sunless Sea is available for PC and Mac on Steam for 14.99.

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Why has nobody made a video game of the Shipping Forecast? Because it's a five minute weather report broadcast a few times a day on Radio 4? Or because it's just too brilliant, and because it already does what most video games wish they could do - yank you out of your day-to-day life and transport you somewhere that's both coherent and completely fantastical?