A Roman city lies in the middle of a large mountain, hidden from light and prying eyes. Only 23 people call this secret society home, and they seem to live together harmoniously, but looks can be deceptive. Time has taken its toll on every soul, but they can never go, and more urgently, they cannot sin, for even the smallest white lie or theft will rob everyone of life. An angry god rules this cave, and any concern triggers a curse called “The Golden Rule.” The offenses of previous generations can be seen in this city – dire warnings not to sin, no matter where you are or what you do. These people need your help and somehow they are calling you 2000 years into the future.
Armed with technology they have never seen before (like a flashlight), you are now a part of their world – a newbie that these people don’t seem to fear or question. But why? The Forgotten City skillfully plays this mystery through a beautifully written story with meaningful player choices that make you feel like you really are making your way as the story unfolds.
The name “The Forgotten City” may sound familiar to Skyrim players as it is the title of one of the game’s most popular mods, downloaded more than 3 million times and so narrative that it won an Australian Writer’s Guild Award . The creator of this mod is Nick Pearce, and he’s taking a second round of his time-traveling concepts in this superb stand-alone game of the same name. While Skyrim’s dark fantasy setting is dumped for a lighter aesthetic, it still clings tightly to the Elder Scrolls formula. That’s totally fine, because Pearce and his Modern Storyteller development team play it like a popular violin, bringing the characters, their world, and their explorations within it to life in fascinating ways, even if the tech behind it feels a little dated.
When you set foot in this hidden Roman world, you will find that it has everything people need: gardens, water, extravagant houses, but no way to leave. You come through a wormhole and quickly discover that your first motivation is to get to know all of the residents. This task unfolds in detailed discussions that almost always ask you numerous questions. Most of The Forgotten City’s gameplay consists of conversation. Thanks to the excellent writing style, you leave most of these chats with a better understanding of the characters, their motivations, and what they’re up to – not to mention the fascination with the big narrative that unfolds around them. I don’t want to reveal too much of the plot or the mystery, but lots of conversations initiate quests (both critical path and optional) that you can activate and pursue. Most are of the easy way of finding someone, interviewing someone, or maybe even setting a trap, but most add up in a considerable way when it comes to getting leads.
The golden rule that these people are subject to applies to you too, and you might be tempted to break it from time to time in conversation or while exploring the city. A lie could bring you an answer or you could steal a potion that you need to cure someone’s illness, but these acts can fail anyone in the process. It might seem foolish to do these things, but this is where it gets interesting: when people lose their lives, you will have to return to the wormhole to reset time. If you can do it, you will keep the knowledge and any items you looted, but society will reset to number one. You now have information to help you solve the puzzles faster. You can also use the information you learned about people against them as they will be amazed by the knowledge you weaponize.
Time travel is used in a great way, and much like it is in the movie Groundhog Day, change parts of the same day every time you reset it. Modern Storyteller knows that people don’t like repeating the same things over and over and has come up with a few solutions to speed up events that you should be repeating. Depending on how you play your hand, you can get four different endings. A few come quickly, but the real ending takes around 10 to 15 hours. I managed to see two of these endings (and a timeline shows where the others that I missed take place in the larger narrative). Both of my conclusions were a bit shocking in their construction, but satisfying in the way they closed the door on society and my time traveler.
As the story progresses, some quests focus heavily on a mix of combat and environment navigation. The combat and jump mechanics are a bit rough (feels like Skyrim). Even so, these sections stay fun, turning the bigger secret upside down, and most importantly, giving you a nice break from the conversations at the right time so that the experience doesn’t repeat itself.
The Forgotten City does a great job of making you feel like a skilled detective and making you run around town with sizzling tracks. The only downside to this fuss is that it misses out on some of the more important moments in the visualization. When characters do something other than talk, they often move in strange ways, and the environmental events (like falling debris) are pretty choppy. You won’t learn much from facial expressions or body language either, as the characters are all primarily expressionless but luckily are saved by exceptional voice and typing work.
Regardless of the visual flaws, The Forgotten City is a unique game that will captivate you with its world and its words. I got a huge kick out of using time travel as a detective tool and found it pleasant to chat with many of the characters (even if they hold a lot of dark secrets). If you’re looking for a different type of game that will get you piecing together a story in a different way than you’d expect, don’t sleep on this resourceful experience. It’s one you won’t soon forget.