Sunless Skies: Sovereign Edition is a great improvement and follow-up to the excellent and underrated Sunless Sea. These titles are a unique mixture of open world exploration, resource management, and text adventure, providing a completely unique mixture that is deep and engaging, probably unlike anything that you have played before. Sunless Skies was originally released on PC and now has made its way to Xbox to deliver an intricate and challenging experience; one that is also incredibly engrossing and engaging. It’s more than worth checking out if you’re into wonderful writing, roleplaying systems, and survival games.
You start as a first officer on one of the flying locomotives that are abundant throughout space. Your captain dies under mysterious circumstances and you take her place. This thrusts you into a wildly imaginative world where Great Britain has begun colonizing the stars. It’s a setting that is both sci-fi and completely fantastical and whilst this kind of world-building is always great to see, Failbetter Games have managed to thoughtfully create this world from top to bottom. There is a rich amount of backstory and lore going on, with connections to their previous games in place.
Really enough can’t be said about the writing. In fact, that is the reason to play this title. Other aspects are good, don’t get me wrong, but the writing is something else. I felt whisked away to another place and the multitude of characters you meet are all fascinating and human, having their own motivations and secrets. The places that you see are insanely creative and oftentimes captivatingly described with gorgeous prose.
The various officers that you can recruit are all fascinating and diverse. Each one’s personal stories are riveting and, again, just insanely inventive and creative. You’ll be flying with everything from a psychotic princess to a parasite-infested daredevil – really there isn’t a missed sentence in this whole story. If you’re a big reader, Sunless Skies: Sovereign Edition is a no-question purchase.
However, it’s not just about narrative, lore and textual reading – there is also a game here and a quite good one at that. You fly around a large, open map with your flying train and crew, needing to manage both fuel and supplies in order to survive the long treks between locations scattered across space. Each location has a variety of text-based activities that you can take in, often connected to other locations on the map. These are all interesting and connect to the larger context of the plot.
You complete quests and action trade for various resources throughout the map, making money and progress as you head through the experience and world. It’s a satisfying gameplay loop that keeps you going, as you meet up with creatures and other ships that you deal with while travelling. As you make more headway into the world, you get better trains, weapons, and additional resources in terms of crew. It is hugely satisfying to start in the world as a weakling, running from every enemy, before turning into an absolute beast and being capable of running the show.
Sunless Skies: Sovereign Edition can be punishingly challenging, depending on what you are looking for. The regular game mode works a permadeath line in which you can only carry through a few items to each new captain. However there is also a “Merciful Mode”, complete with an autosave that kicks in after docking at any area of the map. It is worth playing on the permadeath mode, however that can be difficult to swallow so the option is appreciated.
That said, even with these options, this is a game that may not be for everyone. Despite the satisfying gameplay loop, Sunless Skies is a very slow burn. You will often spend huge amounts of time simply flying between ports with very little to do. While generally it did not bother me too much, after long play sessions that in itself does begin to drag. The act of constantingly trading resources back and forth can also grow pretty tedious in the long term. It’s fun for a while but spend too long doing it, and you’ll find that things really start to grind.
Sunless Skies: Sovereign Edition is a really unique and interesting experience, and there are not many other titles that can pull of this kind of genre mix. It works out in a great way too – it’s deep, intricate, complex, and deeply engaging. Further to that, the story is investing and written gorgeously. Even though the gameplay has some hookups it is generally very satisfying and so if you are interested in interactive narratives or just looking for something completely different to the norm, Sunless Skies will not disappoint.
Pick up a copy of Sunless Skies: Sovereign Edition on Xbox Series X|S and Xbox One