Imagine this: on the cusp of the 20th century, the British Empire takes to the cosmos. Using unique flying locomotives, its people set out to explore the galaxy and carve out a new frontier for the future. Pirates, hostile life forms, and a handful of different factions inhabit this universe — but most important of all are the Judgements, special god-like beings that take the form of stars. Something is wiping them out, though, and you, as a captain of your own crew and space train, have the choice of investigating their deaths, using their downfall as an opportunity to expand British control, or simply ignoring it all and paving the way for your own future.
That, in summary, is the experience that Sunless Skies offers. And while it may seem convoluted and insane, the reality is that Sunless Skies offers one of the most engaging and expansive role-playing game (RPG) experiences in all of gaming.
Survive and thrive
The universe of Sunless Skies is vast, varied, and unpredictable. Hostile space creatures, hidden treasures, and groups of other people to fight or befriend are only a fraction of what this incredibly unique setting has to offer, and no matter what you choose to do, you'll have a ton of fun doing it. Encountering these things is only half the experience, though; to explore, you'll need to carefully balance out supplies, fuel, money, and crew health, as well as look for better weapons to ensure the safety of you and your crew as you adventure into the unknown.
These survival elements admittedly cause Sunless Skies to start off rather slowly, but once you get past the initial stage of the game, the benefit of the design shines through brilliantly. The need for resources will bring you to all kinds of different hubs for trading and social mingling, and with charming text adventure-inspired mechanics, you can interact with others, make choices, and discover quests that open up new possibilities for exploration, upgrading, and more. Once you take advantage of these opportunities, you'll likely need to restock once more — and thus, the gameplay loop begins anew. If you die, you get to start again with a new ship and a new character that can pick up where the previous one failed, much like a roguelike game. This gives you the chance to try out different skillset builds, too.
Combat in Sunless Skies is fluid and engaging, thanks to the streamlined control scheme and enjoyable movement mechanics. Your locomotive can be armed with a variety of different frontal guns, but lining up attacks can be tricky. This is the vacuum of space, after all, and objects in motion stay in motion. This means that you'll need to master the art of when to chug forward, when to brake, and when to simply let your momentum carry you as you rotate and twist to get a shot on your target while trying to dodge return fire. This system isn't too hard to pick up, but there's a surprising amount of nuance to it that makes learning its intricacies a joy.
Overall, Sunless Skies is simply endless fun. Certain parts of the game are procedurally generated to prevent running out of things to do, but there's so much content and depth to the experience that I'd be surprised if people ran out of activities anyway. One criticism I do have is that it can sometimes feel like there's too much empty space between these activities, but it's nothing too bad.
Saying that Sunless Skies' colorful two-dimensional steampunk art direction is visually appealing would be a grave understatement. Sunless Skies is without a doubt one of the most eye-catching indie RPGs available right now, and the graphics alone nearly make it worth buying. Whether you're spending your time in the brightly-lit trading hubs or bravely venturing through the intimidating darkness of the Eleutheria region, these visuals will captivate you.
The game also runs excellently, just as it did when I previewed it last May when it was still in Early Access. It's always great to see emphasis put on polish.
Should you buy Sunless Skies?
If you like expansive RPGs with engaging combat, a beautiful setting, and near-limitless roleplay potential, then Sunless Skies is definitely for you. For just $25, this is one of the best games you can get on PC right now.
- Excellent roleplaying.
- Unique combat system.
- Looks amazing.
- Great performance.
- Slow start.
- Too much empty space sometimes.
Sunless Skies is available now on PC for $25. You can get it on Steam or on GOG.com.
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