The sea already is a harrowing place: from it sailors of old spun tales of gigantic beasts, hidden terrors and many other, unpleasant things. It stands to reason that when said location is transported to the underground – a labyrinthine cave of shifting archipelagos, hungry monsters and scheming devils – the horror would only increase; and it makes even more sense that if you go beneath this Unterzee, to the shipwreck-ridden seabed, the potential for terror and death gets even higher. And indeed, such is the case of Zubmariner, Sunless Sea‘s [Official Site] first major expansion.
The under-unterzee, or unterunterzee, is a place where sensible captains don’t venture into. Since that was clearly not my case, once I’d gotten my bearings and a decent-sized crew I headed to Fallen London’s southernmost colony, Port Carnelian, and this time it wasn’t to pan for sapphires. An entrepreneur there had summoned me with promises of an improvement to my ship, with it the capacity to explore the seafloor and meet its denizens, and despite having only started my life as a Captain of the Unterzee, it did not take me long to scrounge up the required materials.
Once that was out of the way – and given I’d already seen the Unterzee many, many times with prior captains, I was glad to see that getting the Zubmarine was not only straightforward, but could be unlocked for free on future captains – I submerged. I would later learn that it is safer to roam the surface and only venture into the sea’s depths when your log warns you of a nearby location of interest, but back then my captain was as intrepid as he was naïve, and braved the seafloor with as much vision as a bat in daylight.
Vision underneath the water is understandably limited, and nearly everything but that which your front lights illuminate is not visible to you. A sonar system replaces the surface’s Zee-bat, and it works as a double-edged sword: while it’ll notify you of nearby places of interest, it’ll also alert nearby pirates and horrors to your location. That was, sadly, a lesson Captain Francis learned too late.
What Zubmariner adds is visible from the offset: there are plenty of new locations, from Scrimshander, a city of bones where you must always leave with less of you than you came with, to Dahut, a mirror-city of London inhabited by the drownies and with breathable water; accompanying quests and events and more than a few sea monsters that would make their surface brethren seem as tame as a house cat (that’s hyperbole, Mt. Nomad). The quality of the writing that I’ve grown accustomed to is also present, with each city and location a new mystery to pour my eyes over.
What does the addition of the unter-unterzee change, though? Despite seeming like just an expansion in the most literal sense – more of the Sunless Sea – Zubmariner’s addition of content changed my approach to the unterzee by simple merit of adding more variables to the gameplay. While previously I would often drum my fingers over the table as I waited for my ship to get from A to B, the addition of more locations scattered beneath the unterzee and easily accessible from wherever you may be changed that dynamic: it now feels as if there’s always somewhere that merits a detour, some underwater enclave I’ve yet to visit or where I had a quest to do, and by being beneath the locations I already had to visit, Zubmariner’s seabed managed to create an entirely new area to explore without bloating my travel durations or increasing my downtime.
Zubmariner makes Sunless Sea better. It expands the world, its lore, gives you new places to visit, as quirky and mysterious as their surface counterparts, and does this while increasing the game’s density, as each leg of your zee travels will now have more to see and explore. While the highly-praised writing of Sunless Sea gains more stories and tales for you to read, it also gives you new ways to die, starve and go insane, and when I say that old zailors have renewed motivation to take their ships out of drydock, know that it’s not a riskless endeavor.