Happy Birthday Sunless Skies! Is it weird to think of a video game as having a birthday? Or do they just have anniversaries? Either way, a year ago Sunless Skies finally launched and expanded the Fallen London universe more than ever before. Still, even after spending much time in development and beta testing, there were still changes to be made, and Sunless Skies is quite a different game today than it was at release. So we’re going to take a look at some of those changes before we look ahead to the release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch with the upcoming Sovereign Edition.
Sunless Skies' Recent Updates
The biggest change came with the Wayfarer update, which introduced a completely new map of Albion, making it more compact and easier to navigate and quicker to get around. These are all pluses. Having to redo an entire map you already explored is not, and I’m still personally salty about it. That being said, London feeling more claustrophobic, as opposed to the boundless wilds of the Reach and Eleutheria, is a much better change for the aesthetic. I’m sure I’ll get over the remapping eventually.
Next best update was the addition of new officers: the Chiropterous Hoarder, the Amiable Vagabond, and the Sky-Worn Urchin. While the (spoiler) reappearance of Mr. Apples isn’t exactly a good thing, getting a new Quartermaster most definitely is, and your new officers come with their own interesting storylines. While I’m still not sure anything tops the Inconvenient Aunt storyline in terms of sheer over-the-top factor, new officers expanded the world greatly. They connected the game back to Fallen London more closely, showed another effect of the Winchester War and added the Skylarks who fit in so naturally. Plus, officer secondments are great fun when you need to get rid of one or two and make some quick cash or connections, which was an unexpected but welcome addition.
Of course, no game would be complete without bug patches. Here are some of the most entertaining ones, taken right from Failbetter’s own patch notes:
• Activating Full Steam Mode will no longer cause the Dendrified Vagabond to play a jig on his harmonica.
• Resurrectionists are no longer referred to as Grave Robbers.
• The Empyrean Outrider’s projectiles no longer shed hair.
• It is no longer possible to sell more items than you possess.
• Interlocutors at Regent’s Tears will no longer shift identities in the middle of a conversation.
• The Heart-Catchers will now assist a captain whose death has been prophesied only once. After all, one foretelling of doom is happenstance; two seems like attention-seeking.
• The Dismal Chamberlain will no longer attend funerals when his personal circumstances preclude it.
• Only spider-sweepers may sweep the well.
• Tackety scouts have had their brandy rations rationed and should now be less of a menace to passing traffic.
Sunless Skies One Year Later
So, with all of these new updates, tweaks, and fixes, how different of a game is Sunless Skies from when it debuted? A lot has changed, in addition to the points mentioned above, and trading, combat, and survival mechanics have all been adjusted, which makes for a very different experience in and of itself. Trading is easier, not just because of the addition of the Albion-Eleutheria Relay, but the mechanics have been tweaked for better balance. Likewise, some of the stupidly difficult enemies in combat are less stupidly difficult, and the relentless chases have been made to relent—looking at you, Logoi. Terror, on the other hand, has become harder to handle, which really focuses the game's challenging aspects.
At the same time, the core story and gameplay is still the same as it was a year ago. Those looking for the chilling prose of Fallen London’s early days or seekers of insane Sunless Sea-like difficulty will be disappointed. Curiosity, I'll admit, was what drew me back in personally to revisit the game. There's more story and more about the world to explore for those of you seeking a larger challenge, and easier combat and trading for those who sought an easier entry point before the difficulties of survival and story take over.
Sunless Skies has a charm that’s all its own, and the additions and changes over the past year have worked wonders to draw it out and bring it into its own. While it’s not cheery by any means, it offers a warmer sense of humor and keeps the biting sarcasm and bizarreness that the rest of the Fallen London universe is known for.
And, of course, we did get the most important update of all, which should most definitely not be overlooked: a train horn! It really completes the game and the aesthetic quite nicely.