Phenomenal writing and music are left adrift by sluggish and repetitive gameplay.

User Rating: 6 | Sunless Sea (Early Access) PC

The world of Sunless Sea is wonderfully imaginative but I just can't stick with it. 6 to 8 hours in, my first ship was sunk by two living icebergs converging on me from either side in the middle of a blizzard. I hadn't yet been able to afford any of the options available to pass a legacy on to my next captain so the vast majority of my progress was lost. Roguelike fans may call this a positive feature that adds a sense of danger and weight to your actions. I, however, am put off by it in this instance due to the plodding pace of play and the repetition of local lore when you rediscover a place you've visited in previous playthroughs.

Sunless Sea, having its roots in the text and static image based browser game "Fallen London" makes perfect sense based on its strengths and weaknesses. The clear standout feature is its fresh settings and scenarios brought to life with stellar writing. The art is rather minimalistic and not what I'd call great, but it has a dark and quirky style that adds to the atmosphere of the game. The music is moody, varied and full of personality, I just wish it played more often than the quiet ambience.

It's when Sunless Sea crosses into new territory, from browser game to full stand alone app, that it falters. The major features of its gameplay just don't mesh well together. This is a slow paced game with permanent death that also relies heavily on chance rolls. If I'm going to lose several hours of progress I'd like it to be because I did something wrong, that I can learn from, not because of a string of bad luck with the RNG (random number generator). With such hefty setbacks from dying, I found myself usually setting safe, repetitive routes with only brief jaunts into unexplored territory. This brings up another aspect: all journeys I took were ultimately cyclical, beginning and ending in Fallen London. I never found an income source that could allow me to sustain myself without returning to Fallen London to sell information on the places I've visited. This has the benefit of making the city feel like home, but it also makes for many boring return journeys through familiar waters.

In the end I quit playing shortly after my first captain died. I'm sure there are fantastic sights, sounds and stories that I'm missing out on. Unfortunately, there are just too many NOT fun activities stacked up between me and them.