Updated: Aug 9
The Forgotten City is fascinating. Originally birthed out of Skyrim mods and developed now into a fully-fledged game by Modem Storyteller, it's a story-rich travel adventure which digs into some philosophical concepts fitting of its ancient setting. To uncover the secrets of the plot woven together by the small development team, they have you interacting with the unusual world’s many characters to learn their stories so that you can piece together the central mystery of a looming catastrophe.
Both the narrative and gameplay revolve around a time travel groundhog-day style mechanic. This seems to be the hottest trend in gaming currently, not that I'm complaining. As shown here it's a fantastic tool for enabling satisfying trial and error puzzle solving for the player. The game begins with a brief prologue in which you set up your character. You are then lead along a creepy path which effectively sets the tone of mystery and uneasiness prevalent throughout the whole game. There are towering golden statues with eyes following you as you enter, ensuring that you know that nothing will be quite what it seems at face value. At the end of this path is a portal to take you through to an ancient Roman civilisation and from that moment on, you are released from the linear guided trail and it's up to you to figure out the rest.
To set the premise of the plot without delving into the details, you are told this is a world in which nobody can commit crime or sin otherwise everyone in it will die. It’s their one golden rule and someone is about to break it. You must figure out who it is. To do so, you must talk to the vibrant cast of characters, each with their own goals, stories and secrets to figure out the culprit. Whilst poking around in everyone’s business you uncover all the complexities and ambiguities of the rules which these people abide by, primarily what could constitute a crime or sin in this society, as well as the realisation that you may have to push the boundaries yourself. And when the inevitable happens, the reset button is pressed and you are sent back through time and you start all over again, keeping both your items with you and your new knowledge.
The game does an incredible job of giving you a variety of intertwining threads to pull on and follow. Many are so compelling in their own right that you are happy to go on as many tangents as the game will throw you just to help people out and learn as much as you can before the next reset. Knowing that whatever you do will only strengthen your position in the next run empowers you with such an incredible sense of freedom. It begs for you to push as many buttons as you can find, try to break things, explore the worst paths in a way that a lot of games never do. In most games making the wrong decision is punished by death or some kind of defeat. Here that's not the case. Whilst in many ways having a lack of consequence to your failures does lower the stakes of the gameplay, the trade-off for experimentation is worth it and the plot is built cleverly enough around it to have you wanting to succeed regardless.
A game such as this is only as good as its writing and as the awards its won show, the writing here is top-notch. The dialogue finds a good tone between its ancient setting and some modern references that work well and often provide quite a whimsical vibe. Each character has their unique role to play and don’t come across as mere plot devices but as people who have found themselves in this dire situation along with you. As people whose events will happen with or without your interference but whose fate can be dramatically altered by your choices and their subsequent domino effect. It’s compelling. Each interaction with a character pulls away one more layer of the overarching mystery and opens up new possibilities for you to go back and see other character's situations in a new light.
As you would expect some of the cast are given more of the spotlight than others but The Forgotten City is a fine example of the theory of the setting being a character in itself. Considering it wasn’t originally designed to be this way, placing the game in an ancient roman micro-city works remarkably well. This time capsule pocket set in the rocks feels perfect for creating an insular world where every detail matters to the plot, and also like the only place and period fitting of the philosophies it touches upon. It throws up debate and conversation around themes such as morality and choice which are perfectly represented by its surroundings.
All of this is very deliberately said in as vague a way as possible as it would truly be unfair to mention any of the specifics or plentiful moments that make this game such a joy to play through. There are multiple endings and several ways for scenarios to play out. With how well executed each element of the story is you will want to see them all and learn every last detail yourself, as well as just experiencing the power and fun that comes with being a time-traveling detective. If you enjoy solving mysteries and playing story-focused games then I would highly recommend checking this out.