When my Sleeper escaped their ramshackle life on the fringes of Erlin’s Eye at the end of last year, they left behind a lot of unfinished business. I had to stop short my efforts to help Bliss make a go of her repair bay business, and Tala was left to finish making her brand-new distillery on her own. Yatagan agent Rabiyah probably has my name on an employment blacklist, too, after I upped sticks without telling them, and the spores of mushroom algae I’d been cultivating for Riko over in Greenway were no doubt left to rot and moulder somewhere. Instead, I jacked that all in to smuggle myself, my engineering pal Lem and his tiny daughter Mina onto a ship headed for some far-flung star out in the void. The Sidereal ship wasn’t going to wait. It was now or never.
Fortunately hitting an ending in Citizen Sleeper doesn’t mean the end of your save. Booting it back up again for this month’s RPS Game Club, I wanted to play out a different ending to my Sleeper’s story. Turning my back on Lem and Mina still brought its own kind of sadness, admittedly, but I wanted to dig into the game’s trio of free DLC episodes first and foremost, as that was another thing I never got time to start last year. I’ve only played through the first chapter, Flux, so far, but man alive, it was not an auspicious start for the refugee flotilla ship hoping to make a new life for themselves here. In fact, I don’t think it could have gone any worse, such was the monumental failure of my collective dice rolls and decision making. But despite absolutely beefing it in Flux, I also came to realise an important lesson. It’s okay to fail, and that failure can often make the consequences of your actions feel all the more poignant. Sure, it might not feel nice, and yes, I wish it could have gone better. But sometimes the odds really are stacked against you, and you’ve just got to roll with it.
As the game itself warns you before kicking off its Flux storyline, this is very much intended for late-game Citizen Sleeper players. It’s demanding, tense and difficult, requiring absolute focus and minimal distractions from any other ongoing storylines you might be pursuing. You’ll want to start it when you’re having a bit of a quiet moment, otherwise you’ll likely run into even further problems than I did.
You see, there’s a lot going on in Flux – more, arguably, than you can feasibly hope to achieve in the 12 cycle-deadline you’re given before grouchy ex-spacer Eshe puts her plan into action. The aim is to try and sneak an entire flotilla’s worth of refugees past the Eye’s strict quarantine zone that’s currently preventing them from docking their ship. You’ll need to find them safe passage so they can start their lives afresh – much like how you yourself started out here at the beginning of the game by sneaking inside its walls in a beaten-up shipping container. The setup has a pleasing sense of having come full circle in Citizen Sleeper. The only reason you’ll have made it this far, after all, is through the kindness of others, and the chance to now do the same for these refugees allows you to pay all that forward in a very powerful way.
But Eshe and her best friend Peake are who leading this mission are at slight loggerheads on how to proceed. Eshe will ask you to secure food, water and scrap components for the flotilla so they’ll have something to start their new lives with once they get through the cordon. Peake’s biggest concern, on the other hand, is actually getting the ship through the cordon in the first place, adding another three potential action routes to your to do list to ensure the best possible outcome. It’s a tall order, and one you won’t (likely) be able to complete fully.
It all started out reasonably well. Over the course of a few cycles, I made good progress bartering with the Greenway commune to let me have a slice of their algae pie for food, and I think I did a decent job of securing water, albeit by siphoning some off the top of the Greenway lads’ supply rather than formally asking for it. Peake’s requests don’t kick in until a bit later, you see, and it lulled me into a false sense of security. I thought I was on a path to victory, so I spent the next few cycles trying to buy up the scrap I needed. Then disaster struck. After successfully completing my algae negotiations, only then did I realise that was just the first step in this grand food plan. I hadn’t actually been collecting any food up until this point. All we’d been doing was talking, and I’d need to spend at least another six dice rolls to actually hit my required food quota for the flotilla.
At the same time, though, my credit reserves were dwindling fast. I didn’t have much in my pocket to begin with, and as the number of my daily dice rolls started shrinking in line with my deteriorating condition, I realised, ‘Hang on, I need money for a booster, stat, or I’m not even going to see the end of this.’ With the clock ticking and my health getting lower, I had to start sacrificing what few precious dice rolls I had left to earn enough cash to get my shot.
All this was compounded by a sudden request from Bliss, who had another urgent repair job come in. I hoped this might solve my cashflow problems, so gradually I threw a few dice rolls at this too. I was lucky here. After a streak of good luck allowed me to finish up the work in double quick time, my jaw then dropped when my payment was nothing more than a handful of shrooms. Gosh darnit, Bliss. I was counting on some credits.
But then I got a call from Tala. The distillery was finished, and she was in need of the exact mushrooms I’d just inherited to give it a first outing. I rushed over, starving at this point, as I also didn’t have the cash or the dice rolls to feed myself either. After a circuit-frying taster session that actually ended in a semi-decent drink, we toasted our success. Turns out, distilled mushroom juice does wonders for your energy levels, and I left the bar full and satisfied, with the promise of being able to fling more mushrooms her way for another jolt of energy, too. I’d solved my food problems for a spell, but my condition was worsening by the day. I needed that booster fast, so I made the decision to sell what little scrap metal I’d accumulated for Eshe to save up the cash for it. I didn’t want to part with it, but needs must at this point.
Another cycle down. I’d fixed myself up with a fresh booster, and I was ready and raring to go to try and salvage this slow-moving car crash. I clicked out of my apartment, but who should show up but Bliss’ assistant Moritz. He tells me that the missing payment had suddenly come through, and suddenly I was flush with 300 new credits to my name. The day after I sold off all my scrap! It was a ludicrous sum that could have easily bought me three boosters and probably the rest of the spare scrap I needed for Eshe, if only I’d hung on a single, extra cycle. Gosh darn damnit, Bliss.
By this time, I was three cycles out from Eshe enacting her plan, and I was nowhere near getting anything done. I’d successfully got the water she wanted, but that was the sum total of everything I’d achieved over the last nine cycles. But even with a full stack of dice back in my hand, I now had another problem. I hadn’t made any progress with Peake’s plan of attack, and it was only really now that I realised it had just as many layers to it at Eshe’s. This was terrible news, and I knew now that trying to tackle everything just wasn’t going to happen. I needed to decide what nodes to pursue and which ones to ditch completely.
Eventually, I chucked all my dice at a single task: hacking into the quarantine administration so the ship could pass unheeded through the cordon, assuming it even got through the rest of the dock’s security protocols and wasn’t caught, of course. Success – and with only a single cycle to spare.
Alas, there was nothing else to be done at this point. I’d made a lot of bad calls, thrown a lot of bad dice… I’d failed in almost every respect, fulfilling just two of six possible tasks I’d been set to give these people the best possible chance of survival. I felt like I’d spectacularly let them down, and I reluctantly ended my last cycle before the big day, fearful of what was to come. And yes, the end result was not pretty. While my plan to hack the quarantine barrier worked, Eshe and the ship were caught and was promptly arrested. She didn’t even manage to get the water onboard. Peake was distraught, and they fled the scene immediately, angry, hurt and disappointed that I’d been so utterly useless.
I wondered for a long time afterwards what I should have done differently. The odds were against me from the start, no doubt about it, but could I have been luckier? Should I have healed faster? Or could I have been smarter about what to target in the limited amount of time that I had? ‘Yes’ is probably the answer to all of these questions, but it was just as likely to have been ‘No’ as well. It was certainly my first major failure in Citizen Sleeper, that’s for sure, and in some ways I felt fortunate that it had taken this long for my Sleeper to hit such a major bump in the road. But ultimately I realised that such deliberation was pointless. As my Sleeper themselves concluded after the dust settled: “What is done is done. No matter how many times you turn it over in your head.”
Of course, just because I biffed the flotilla’s entry into the Eye doesn’t mean their story’s now over. Citizen Sleeper’s second DLC episode, Refuge, continues their plight and picks up a couple of cycles later, heralded by a terrible dream you have about an ominous wave coursing through the galaxy. I’d heard whispers of something to this effect from other characters I’d met around the quarantine zone, but at the time I didn’t think anything of it. Surely a ‘wave’ couldn’t have been the reason why this flotilla of refugees was waiting outside the Eye in the first place… But now? I think there might be some truth to it, and I’m both scared and intrigued to see how the consequences of my actions are borne out in this second episode. I hope there’s still room to redeem myself and salvage something from the wreckage of my poorly thought out decisions here, but I’m also curious to see exactly what happens when I’m starting from a point of such abject failure. I have no idea what lies ahead, but cor, wouldn’t it be something if I managed to turn it around? It would be the ultimate comeback story, and I don’t think I’d be feeling quite so excited to jump into Episode 2 if I hadn’t royally beefed this so much.
But there’s another reason why I’m glad I failed like this. Up until this point, life had been going pretty smoothly for my Sleeper out in the Eye, and despite the odd stumble here and there, I’d managed to resolve most of the game’s storylines fairly satisfactorily. Now, though, it brought those smaller victories into sharper relief. It made me appreciate the good luck I’d had so far, and that – this incident aside – I had a lot to be proud of in this little corner of the universe. If nothing else, it’s lit a fire in my belly to make up for all my earlier nonsense, and I’m determined now to put things right with Eshe, with Peake and with the flotilla. The Eye is my home, after all, and they have every right to want to call it theirs, too.
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The release of Citizen Sleeper’s new downloadable content (DLC) reminded me that total failure is sometimes inevitable – and that’s okay.
The game itself follows the story of an average Joe who slowly discovers that he has the power to affect the dreams of people around him. He soon discovers that his choices in the dream world can have major implications in real life. Accustomed to having such control over his environment, it is a shock to him when he finds that sometimes even his most carefully thought out decisions end in total failure.
This was an incredibly powerful lesson. By playing as the character, I was reminded that failure is sometimes an unavoidable part of life, and it is okay. No matter how hard we try, sometimes the results simply don’t turn out how we want them to. What’s important is that we take the experience of failure and move forward. Instead of getting weighed down by the loss, use it as a stepping stone towards something greater.
The story was incredibly memorable and immensely powerful. It was a reminder to us all that it’s okay to fail sometimes. In our lives, we may not be able to control every outcome, but what we can control is how we react to it. With this in mind, I was able to accept my own failures and continuously learn from them.
All in all, Citizen Sleeper’s DLC has taught me that total failure is sometimes inevitable – and that’s okay. Without accepting our losses, we would never fully understand how to craft our successes.