Sunless Sea’s new real-time combat leaves the dock

Sunless Sea update

Sunless Sea is a grand old time, even when it’s extremely unsettling – a nautical adventure in an underground, Victorian sea. The game’s all about collecting stories and exploring the utterly bizarre world, but there’s combat too. It was turn-based, and clever, but ultimately the execution was a bit dull. 

The whole point of Early Access, if we’re being optimistic, is for developers to see what works and what doesn’t, and this has lead to them throwing the old combat system out of the nearest port hole. Failbetter Games announced the change a couple of months ago, and after a couple of weeks of testing, the Steel update is now live, providing captains with real-time high seas battles.

Battles kick off by targeting and firing on an enemy in real-time, or when an enemy spots your ship. The principle of illumination remains, but now captains can sneak up on enemy monsters or ships by turning off the lights.

When combat begins, the battle UI appears, and firing arcs and weapons ranges surround the ship. Firing isn’t instantaneous, either. The firing solution takes time, but can be activated early, reducing the chance of a successful hit. Illuminating the target makes the time it takes a firing solution to complete shorter.

The system sounds like it retains the spirit of the turn-based version, but with a bit more dynamism since you can keep moving your ship during the battle. And judging from the video, fights are a bit quicker, too.

Along with the new combat system, Failbetter has made the ocean a lot busier, adding 10 new named islands to explore – they don’t have much on them yet, though – and a slew of unnamed islands dotting the sea.

Take a gander at the next page for the full patch notes.


  • Combat is now real-time and takes place on the sailing screen
  • Weapons equipped to your Forward, Deck and Aft slots will now give you access to attacks
  • Each attack has a Range, Firing Arc, Damage amount and Warmup time
  • While an enemy is in your weapon’s firing arc, the firing solution will increase
  • Once a firing solution is over 50%, you have the option to fire. Your % through firing solution is equal to your chance to hit, meaning if you wait for 100%, you are ensured a hit.
  • If the enemy is in your headlights, the firing solution will increase at double the speed
  • Your Iron level will increase the damage your weapons do
  • Your Mirrors level will reduce the warmup time of your attacks
  • Your Veils level will reduce the range at which enemies will spot you
  • To engage your enemy, simply click on them with your cursor or hit the Tab key (you can also toggle between possible enemies with Tab)
  • Using keys 1-3 will fire your currently equipped weapons in combat
  • When you manage to avoid an enemy, it will begin to search the area it last spotted you
  • When an enemy spots you, they will engage in combat
  • Running with your lights off will reduce the distance at which enemies can spot you
  • Organic creatures will not fire missiles at you, but will instead ram your ship and deal damage to you
  • When you defeat an enemy, they will drop loot crates, allowing you to pick up rewards
  • Entering combat will hide your officers from the HUD
  • Enemies will attempt to avade you if you have locked on to them for a while
  • Certain organic creatures will submerge beneath the water, making it impossible to target them
  • You are unable to fire through terrain or objects in the sea, and instead have to wait until you have a clear line on your opponent
  • Using The Unclear Device during combat will cause your enemy to lose sight of your for 10 seconds
  • Using a Rattus Faber Assistant during combat will repair 10 hull damage
  • Using a Lump of Blue Scintillack during combat will fill all of your attack solutions instantly
  • You can leave the combat interface by pressing the cross at the end of the attack bar, as long as you are not currently being pursued by a target


  • You can now toggle the display of your officers using the cross next to your avatar
  • The cursor has been reworked


  • Beasties no longer spawn randomly over time, but instead tiles are automatically populated with a random number of beasties when you enter them
  • As a result of the above, tile populations are more random, but you will no longer be mobbed by constantly respawning enemies, it will be possible to clear a tile and then leave
  • Enemy populations are currently much lower than before while we balance combat


  • The Zee-bat has been reworked and should now be providing more accurate information
  • The animation of the Zee-bat has been improved
  • You can now dismiss the Zee-bat message with the Z key


  • Weight now has a more noticeable effect on speed
  • Terror increases much more slowly now while we balance combat