Sunless Skies, the follow-up to Failbetter Games’ Sunless Sea, has officially launched. It looks like it’s smooth sailing ahead given the glowing reviews from fans and critics alike. In fact, you can check out our official review of the game as well, which already explains many of the game’s features.
Now, to be frank, the game has been in Steam Early Access for a couple of years now, so the game’s mechanics and features are known to most ardent fans. However, if you’re a newcomer looking to explore the unknown, we’ve got this guide for you containing a number of tips to help you as you begin your journey.
Get ready to
set sail fly, Captain, and be careful not to eat your crew. Actually, you should. They’re delicious.
Of Or Iron – Your Stats Matter
When you start your first character, you’ll have to choose your backstory of sorts — your affiliation and the stats associated with it. Later on, once you start leveling up, you’ll also be able to choose from various facets, each with stats that they can increase. The question is, which stats are actually important? Is it your Hearts or your Iron? Veils? Mirrors?
The answer is all of them — but that wouldn’t be completely accurate in the early game either. For starters, Veils and Mirrors are probably the more important ones. Whenever you destroy other vessels or encounter wrecks, there’s a stat check for either Veils or Mirrors (more often than not). In turn, you’ll get rewarded with fuel, supplies, or even your choice of which cabin to ransack.
As you get further in the game, you’ll then want to look at the options for your locomotive. The items that can be outfitted all require certain stats. Mirrors is a requirement for an early upgrade to your ship’s hold (inventory space) as well as a few weapons and armor platings. Veils, meanwhile, becomes the go-to stat for later tiers of inventory upgrades. Iron is used for weapons and armor as well, and they’re stronger and sturdier than the ones that require Mirrors. As for Hearts, they’re a required stat for crew quarters.
2. Butcher: “Fresh Meat!” – More Supplies
Speaking of ship equipment, remember that each ship has a limited number of slots. Any equipment you have is tied to a specific slot:
- weapon types are for the small or large armament slots
- armor is for the plating slots
- crew quarters are for the bridge slots
- extra hold space, mining drills, and other utility items are for the auxiliary slots
You might be asking, then, which ship equipment is the best early on? Well, it’s certainly not weapons. The early ones you find — the “Jerusalem” rocket and Marauder Mangonel — might not be fancy, but they get the job done. You won’t even replace them until dozens of hours have passed. It also won’t be your crew quarters just yet, no matter how juicy those folks are (more on this later). So which is it?
Why it’s none other than the “Durendal” Pressure-Canning System! This allows you to “butcher” some mobs for supplies. It also lets you collect supplies from swirling anomalies. What this means is that you’ll generally never run out of supplies again. There are even some areas in the map where mobs like Cantankeri are plentiful and there’s a port nearby. Kill them, butcher for supplies, sell those, and make a few sovereigns.
3. From Point A To Point B – The Map Layout
Finding various stations can be a daunting task. As your fuel and supplies dwindle, you’ll start wondering if you’re getting closer to your destination or if you’re now lost. Your scout (a bat) will ping interesting locations. Sadly, it also uses up supplies and might not lead you anywhere. Later on in the Eleutheria region, icons won’t even tell you what type of location is scouted!
A general rule of thumb when you enter a new region is to head to the center of the circle. This is usually where the main hub is located (as you can see in the image above). From there, bits and pieces of information — such as trading opportunities — will come your way.
You’ll then be told of the locations of other stations via trading prospects. For instance, you might learn that Port Avon is in the north of New Winchester or Magdalene is to the west. Plot your course by looking at your chart and tracing a straight line to that direction, while scouting with your bat from time to time in case pathways take you to new areas.
Be warned that each new game will also change the locations of some areas. For instance, in one of my earlier games, Titania was said to be to the northwest of New Winchester. In another save (as you can see in the chart above), it’s to the east.
4. Making Money And The Best Ship To Buy
Once you’ve gained your bearings, the next step is to understand how to make a lot of money. The answer is via prospects (trading opportunities) from bazaars, which I mentioned earlier. Think of it like a stricter way of “buying low/selling high.” You pick up these prospects from bazaars in main hubs — it’s as simple as “collect 3-5 specific goods and sell at a bazaar in another port.” You can find these goods at various markets, wrecks, defeated ships, or even anomalies in the map.
Later, once you make your way to Port Prosper, a character will task you with destroying Tackety vessels. You might’ve encountered these ships, which are yellow in color and different from marauders in that they won’t shoot you on sight. Destroying these will give you quest items which you can turn in for more gold and even “favors” to exchange for other quest items.
You can also collect reports when you visit stations. In The Reach (the first area), you can turn these in at the nearby Victory Hall or Company House. Lastly, a port called Lustrum will let you disembark some crew members so they can mine for a certain good that you can sell later on.
As for the “best ship,” well, the Moloch might be the most expensive, but it will always depend on your priorities. In my game, I wanted to complete more trading prospects. I also wanted to amass a lot of goods to put in my bank so that I’d be ready when a new contract came up. While the Moloch was still my end goal, the Atlanti-class outrider helped immensely during the mid-game. With 18 space in the ship’s hold for various items and 3 auxiliary slots, I was able to roam around with the butcher tool or a mining drill plus two hold upgrades.
5. The Crew And You – Less Is More?
The more you explore, the more you’ll realize how much you need to manage fuel and supplies. For the latter, more crew members also mean increased supply consumption (don’t worry, your officers don’t eat up supplies at all, unlike regular crew). So what exactly are your crew members’ functions?
- When you’re out of supplies, crew members can, uhh, “fill this role.”
- Some events will require a crew member (ie. salvage duty in a wreck).
- Some quests will require a large number of crew members (ie. Nature Reserve exploration).
- Some will require crew members to be stationed at a port (ie. mining in Lustrum)
- If your total crew slots/population has more “vacancies” than living ones, Terror rises faster.
- When Terror is high, some crew members might go mad, and you’ll need to take action.
- Alternatively, when you’re down in the dumps, you might have the option to speak to a crew member to make the problems go away (provided that most of your crew are alive).
- When all your crew members are dead, you die.
Generally, your crew members act as a safety net of sorts. The more you have, the better, since you can lose them every now and then by random chance or through events. However, a lot of crew members means easily running out of supplies as well. Ideally, you’ll want to have 20 crew for the mid-game.
6. Full Speed Ahead… Or Not – Strafing Your Way To Victory
What crew members don’t do is make your sky train move faster. Believe me, I learned that the hard way. Going in blind and playing for over 25 hours, I thought the Moloch-class liner — the most expensive ship in the game — would speed up my exploration. I had more than enough sovereigns for the vessel along with new upgrades. I had 30+ crewmen and my locomotive was ready to zip through the skies.
Then it turned out that the top speed of every ship in Sunless Skies was the same. Whether you spent 5,000 or 16,000 sovereigns, you’ll still inch along the map at the same speed as the first craft that you started out with.
During their Reddit AMA, I asked the developers why every ship, no matter how expensive, moved at the same top speeds. I was told it was due to balancing and design philosophies:
This is something we’ve changed in response to watching players play Sunless Sea. If one engine moves faster than the others, that engine is immediately the best engine. It also has profound balance implications for trading, survival, combat and other systems. All engines therefore have the same top speed, but different handling and acceleration qualities.
If ever you feel that exploration is too slow in Sunless Skies, you can always just “strafe” your way from one location to the next (by default it’s the Q and E keys, or the left and right shoulder buttons on the gamepad). Strafing offers slightly faster movement. You’re getting to your destination quicker, but it does take you out of the moment.
7. Night Terrors – Or How To Keep Yourself From Going Insane
While exploration might start to feel tedious after hours of play in Sunless Skies, you can’t fault the game for giving you a dose of atmospheric horror and dread. It’s not just the art style of different locales — from gnarled and twisted biomes to perpetual darkness — it’s also the “Terror” mechanic.
When you explore the unknown, that sinking feeling of trepidation increases — that’s Terror. As mentioned above, the more dead crew you have (vacated space such as 14/33 crew), the more Terror increases as well. Failed stat checks also lead to an increase in Terror, as well as encountering frightening locations in the game. The higher your Terror is, the more that random events — such as crew members going insane — might happen. If you let it increase unchecked, it also fuels your Nightmares. You’ll start having dreams of otherworldly and eldritch horrors, to the point that your character will suddenly die.
There are only a handful of ways to slow down the Terror mechanic:
- discover a “Wonder,” which are monuments in regions that fill you with inspiration; this stops Terror from accumulating
- visit hubs after a few days have passed
- various events/decisions in ports which can lower Terror such as joining a festival, admiring the view, or even relaxing on a bench
- events while exploring the world such as finding an abode, or perhaps as a result of a decision
- completing certain quests
- curing yourself in Magdalene’s (a port in The Reach)
The last one is actually very important in your early game. If you’re new to Sunless Skies, you will make mistakes, and you will find that your Captain’s morale is at a knife’s edge. Magdalene’s house of healing will take care of that — for a price. This can cost “savage secrets” or “visions of the heavens,” which are metaphysical goods you can acquire from various events, quests, or ransacking destroyed vessels. For instance, you can earn “savage secrets” from Victory Hall when you turn in your reports.
8. Learn From Your Mistakes… Or Just Erase Them
Sunless Skies will offer you one of the most engaging narrative experiences in a game. With numerous quests and choices to make backed by splendid writing, you’ll spend your time reading prompts or backtracking to locales. All of your decisions may come back to haunt you, though, because your progress will be automatically saved each time you dock at a port.
You can, of course, soldier on, sticking to your task or stumbling from time to time. A Captain dies and so shall you find a replacement who also dies in a short while. It’s fine. It’s your world. Or you can have backups of your save. You can find your save folder in: “Users/<your name>/AppData/LocalLow/Failbetter Games/Sunless Skies/storage/character repository.”
There you’ll see the “lineages,” or every new game you’ve started. If you like your character setup and have made your way to a port, you can make a new folder (name that “Lineage-2” if you’d like) and copy the contents of the previous one therein.
I’ve done this a couple of times early on. I was low on fuel and kept exploring a corner of the map. Although I eventually found a port, I realized that it wasn’t selling fuel at all… and the game already autosaved. Good thing I had a backup to load, thus bringing me back to a previous port. I held off on my journey and returned when I had more fuel in my boilers.
Apart from the above, you can also choose between “Mercy Mode” or “Legacy Mode.” The former is great for newcomers since it lets you load an earlier save where you previously docked. The latter is a strict, roguelike experience where dying means picking a new Captain.
Sunless Skies is infinitely more accessible for newcomers compared to its predecessor, Sunless Sea. The previous game had but one hub for the entire run, and trading wasn’t viable at all. In Sunless Skies, a main hub for each region and multiple ports open for trading and buying fuel/supplies allow you to make money easily while also improving your means of survival.
You’ll have enough challenges early on as you slowly inch your way across the map. And you’ll also slowly inch your way to a point where you no longer feel as troubled — whether by lack of resources or Terror gnawing at your heels.
We hope this guide has helped out newcomers who enter this dark yet dreamy, fanciful yet frightening world. Enjoy the journey, Captain.