The Forgotten City by Modern Storyteller has an interesting development history. When you first play you may notice some control and mechanical similarities to an often-rereleased Bethesda title. And that’s because it started life as a Skyrim Mod.
Now available as a stand-alone game on PC and console I picked this up for the Xbox Series X for a low full price, anticipating from the trailer and word of mouth that it would be well worth the meagre asking price.
I was not disappointed.
What’s it about?
You wake up near a river with no memory how you got there and are informed by a woman that she dragged you to safety. You are tasked with going into some ancient ruins to look for Al Worth, a man who had gone in before and has yet to return.
Into the ruins you go, falling down a trapdoor and into a long abandoned Roman city littered with golden statues in various states of activity. (Mostly running in fear).
Once you get over the fact the statues are moving to look at you in as close to the Dr Who episode Blink experience I would ever want, you get pulled into a portal and find your self in the same under ground city but back in time.
Through discussions with the NPCs, you learn of ‘The Golden Rule’, that if any sin is committed by anyone in the city, everyone will be turned to gold. Which, as far as communal punishment goes, is at least a glow up.
There are those in the city who do not believe The Golden Rule is real. An election for a new leader is undertaken, with the challenger intending to relax the rules.
Now if you can run through the whole day without committing any sins yourself, you will find the rule being broken anyway, and as it turns out, it isn’t a lie. The booming voice declares ‘The many shall suffer for the sins of the one’. A mantra written on many a plaque in the city. Then golden archers come to life and begin their gilded massacre.
Fortunately, the portal you came in through is open again, and you must run through and be sent back to the start of the day.
That’s right. This is a time loop.
After playing 12 Minutes recently I’d have thought I might be bored of time loops, but it seems I have quite the appetite for that particular trope. Plus, a love for ancient history and polytheistic pantheons.
The graphics hold up well enough, they might also be from an older time, being the Skyrim mod they are, but they certainly don’t look out of place on a modern console. Frankly the Bethesda dead expression style is charming at this point. I never felt that this game needed more realistic faces, nor did it ever hinder the enjoyment of the game.
The dialogue from the NPCs is what really shines in this golden world. Voice acting is wonderfully done and for the most part the conversations feel natural. There are some humorous responses you can deliver resulting in confusion from the NPCs.
While your overall task is to stop the time loop and put an end to The Golden Rule, along that route there are several problems to solve for the citizens. Some proving vital for the main story others just endearing world building.
For example, you can learn of one citizen’s secret love for another and help them get some flowers to deliver to her. Which plays no significant part in solving the mystery but does feel good to do.
Another you can trick a conniving merchant out of a fair amount of coin, which sounds mean spirited, but trust me, he deserves it.
The game is heavy on dialogue and light on combat. There still is combat in sections, these were my least favourite part of the game, but having been asked if I’d rather they weren’t there I had to say no. As they do offer a distraction from the usual dialogue information gathering that is the majority of the game.
It takes place in small areas that once done, do not need revisiting. Though when I did come to this part I was thrown, the enemy are fairly terrifying. But if you’re not a fan of combat in your puzzle game, I’d still recommend you play this, as it was easy enough to not require second attempts.
The mystery itself is engaging and kept me thinking. Once some of the pins dropped, just prior to where it was explained to me in game, I had a huge feeling of satisfaction. Not out of smugness but that the game had hidden something so well but right under my nose, knowing I was playing something written very well.
This is a mystery game. It’s for those who love to speak to every single NPC in a game and usually an extra time just to confirm they’re definitely just repeating the same line.
The characters you meet, though be it for a short time, feel like people I’d love to know. There stories are deep enough that I felt connected to them. In a way that left me rather emotional when the game ended.
I don’t often show any emotion to a film or game, being a robot and all, but something about this one got to me.
While this won’t be for everyone, those who skip dialogue to get to the shooty bit beware, I highly recommend this to anyone who loves a perfect spun narrative.
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