Few worlds are more wonderful and surreal than those created by Failbetter Games. Whether you're strolling through the streets of Fallen London via text adventures or sailing the open starlit sea and trying to retain your sanity, you can always be guaranteed one of the best written experiences in gaming. Surreal, humourous, serious and often downright insane, it's one of the few settings short of Discworld capable of accomplishing almost anything; switching from one theme to the next with remarkable ease. With Sunless Sea's staggering success, an expansion was inevitable, and Zubmariner now offers players the chance to delve below the black waves.
The ability to turn your creaky cargo vessel into a submarine obviously comes with a slew of new opportunities. Besides a number of new story opportunities from exploring the various shipwrecks and deep abysses littered throughout the game, previously inaccessible locales can now be visited on a whim. A variety of new ports can be found throughout the game, all with their own stories or themes, from a mysterious tobacco salesman to what must have been a Stingray villain envisioned by Alan Moore. Each naturally comes with its own risks, but the scale of the quests and the requirements involved means that it easily adds another dozen hours of life to the game. Not to mention that many have some very surprising outcomes, even for those familiar with the setting as a whole.
However, what's more noteworthy than anything else is that Zubmariner doesn't stand on its own. The new content is beautifully intertwined with existing quests, figures and locations, and there is an entirely new web of story opportunities to be found. Even beyond this though, the actual core mechanics of zubmergining and the enemy layouts have been written to conflict or contrast with one another. In one location, zubmerging to avoid giant enemy crabs can reduce risk of your ship being destroyed while ferrying cargo to a distant port. On another though, even along the relatively safe waters about Fallen London, what's down there can be even worse than the things scouring the surface. There are also more risks and rewards involved as well, as you can never fully tell if the luminescent sights ahead lead to a shoal of fish for extra supplies, or a very violent Wreckship looking for prey. Everything here is a gamble, and this new uncertainty makes the world far more engaging even after countless hours of gameplay.
What is also notable is that players aren't simply handed this new experience. Instead, finding it needs to be earned and requires a trip to distant ports, not to mention considerable expenses. While the payoff is well worth it, the new experiences feel genuinely earned as a result, and it's a refreshing switch-up from the usual Bethesda style "go here, speak to person, now you have new content". This isn't to say that those who can't find this lack new stories for themselves though. Many islands now have brand new twists or strange shifts in their story arcs which have never been seen before, including some distinctly apocalyptic quests surrounding the disarmingly peaceful Mutton Island. These are definitely tough, but they're nevertheless a joy to play.
If there's one thing to really, truly criticise here, is that's the undersea environment can seem oddly empty at times. While the open nature of the setting and the tension of going entire trips, unsure if there is some vast enemy warship remaining out of sight is one of the key appeals of the game, Zubmariner can leave you feeling as if there should be more to it. Quite often you might find yourself diving purely to help avoid more treacherous combat because it's so empty. Combined with the relatively few safe ports of call, despite encouraging exploration the world there isn't quite so brimming with life as you might expect. It makes for difficult start after all your hard work to get there, at least until you bump into your first big sea monster.
Overall Zubmariner continues to improve upon one of the single most underrated games of 2015. As a free update, the improvements to existing missions, revamped mission objectives and new markets are very welcome indeed, and helps to give this game new life. There has never been a better time to pick up Sunless Sea. If you missed out first time, grab this one at the earliest opportunity.
SUNLESS SEA - ZUBMARINER DLC / DEVELOPER & PUBLISHER: FAILBETTER GAMES / PLATFORM: PC / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW