Parents' Guide to

Sunless Skies

By Neilie Johnson, Common Sense Media Reviewer

age 13+

Steampunk tale punishes all but the most diehard gamers.

Game Linux, Mac, Windows 2019
Sunless Skies Poster Image

A Lot or a Little?

What you will—and won't—find in this game.

Community Reviews

age 13+

Based on 2 parent reviews

age 13+

Deals with Important and Mature Themes with Grace

This game can go to some very dark places and deals with heavy themes such as drug abuse, racism, forced labor, violence, terror, and even more. There are very few depictions of violence and the train based combat isn't very detailed and therefore not very graphic, but the aforementioned themes are explored at length in text. Now, those themes may seem like a lot, and it very well may be for younger audiences, but it handles each of these topics with poise and tact. The game makes it clear when it depicts cruelty towards individuals that it is unjust and gives the player means with which to fight it. However, not everything is black and white and the game will force players to make difficult choices, is it better to violently oust corrupt leaders or work with them to create a fairer world? Where is the line between religion and cult drawn? Are manmade laws valid or are they all just social constructs? How much freedom is too much freedom? If someone's life is bitter torment, are they allowed to request it to end? You can see that this game asks extremely dark questions that play into its themes of lovecraftian horror. Nonetheless it approaches these questions in accessible ways that allow teenagers to tackle them, as uncomfortable as they may be. Another area this game shines is its incredible writing. The developers make no secret of their love of writers such as Samuel Beckett and Joseph Conrad. Their writing is flowerily and imaginative, it is hard to get through ten minutes without learning a wonderful new word. It is delightful to read and can spark a love of literature. Perhaps my favorite part of this game however is its positive portrayal of gender and sexuality. The player can choose their gender allowing them to role-play as a male, female, agender, eldritch horror, or any number of identity. When exploring the world you will come across individuals of many different genders and sexual orientation and it is never played for laughs or ridiculed, some characters though take extreme pride in their gender which is absolutely inspiring to see. It is never ham-fisted in its portrayal of gender either, but allows for a diverse cast of characters to appear naturally. You will come across a dying male pilot who laments that he will never again see his husband but rather than think "I'm impressed the developers put a gay character in!" you think to yourself "I am touched by the beautiful words of love that this man is saying." It is a sort of cunning equality that somehow permeates the game at every turn but never becomes gratuitous pandering. Indeed the developer, Failbetter Games, has been at the forefront of gender acceptance in videogames and constantly engages with its player base on how to positively portray everyone. This game will force the player to engage with it on an emotional, intellectual, philosophical, and theological level throughout and can teach great lessons about what it means to be human through its unique storytelling and environment.

This title has:

Great messages
Great role models
age 13+

Occasionally difficult but deliciously written RPG

Violence: Mild ship vs. other ship/bug/monster combat. When killed bugs emit a tiny blood splatter effect that quickly disappears. Most violence takes place within text descriptions, which can occasionally be graphic or disturbing-however nothing is ever shown. Gameplay and stories contain elements of Cosmic Horror, but not nearly as much as the previous game, Sunless Skies. | Sex: No visible sex or nudity. Occasional light allusions to sexual activity within the text. | Language: All language is censored within the game. | Drugs: Occasional references within the text to alcohol and tobacco consumption, as well as smuggling of fictitious drugs (such as hallucinogenic honey). A handful of character portraits depict still images of lit cigarettes.

Is It Any Good?

Our review:
Parents say: (2):
Kids say: Not yet rated

This beautiful Steampunk adventure starts strong, with a fantastic premise and a beautiful intro that promises a rich, atmospheric experience, but sadly, that promise is quickly broken. To be fair, Sunless Skies isn't strictly an adventure game. It's more like a “roguelike,” a kind of game characterized by randomly-generated dungeons and punishing gameplay, where the player can be permanently killed and have to start all over again. To enjoy roguelikes, you must be a patient, hardy soul. Though not set in a dungeon, Sunless Skies takes this unforgiving approach, and little effort is made to let newbies learn and progress. Risk and difficulty are high from the get-go, more or less ensuring failure and frustration for new players. Making things worse, there's no manual Save and auto-saves occur only at major ports. That means you're likely to spend thirty minutes chugging slowly around the map looking for your first objective, get killed by a raider, and have to start all over again.

If repeated restarts aren't enough to discourage you, the tedium of travel likely will be. Locomotives (even upgraded) are so slow that even the hardiest of players will be wishing for auto-pilot after an hour or two. It's a shame the developers went this roguelike route, because the decision's bound to shut out a lot of gamers. Sunless Skies is a beautiful, well-written game, and given a more inclusive approach (or at least broader difficulty settings), gothic horror/adventure fans would no doubt love it. As it is though, only a small subset of gamers will have the grit to withstand the punishment of lost game time and constant restarts. Less accommodating gamers must seek adventure elsewhere.

Game Details

  • Platforms: Linux, Mac, Windows
  • Pricing structure: Paid (Bundle including Sunless Skies and previous adventure, Sunless Sea available for $43.99.)
  • Available online?: Available online
  • Publisher: Failbetter Games
  • Release date: January 31, 2019
  • Genre: Adventure
  • Topics: Adventures, Trains
  • ESRB rating: NR for No Descriptions
  • Last updated: February 24, 2019

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