The modding community is known for a great many things, such as new gear and quests, UI overhauls, more nudity than my hard drive can sustain, and most of all – doing the hard work of fixing the Bethesda ‘charm’. Every so often though, when the Gods smile on their abominable creation known as humankind, we see a mod rise from the clay into a fully-fledged game. Such is the story behind The Forgotten City. Based on the critically acclaimed mod by the same name for Skyrim, The Forgotten City swaps out the grand mythos of the Lusty Argonian Maid for Roman mythology. But is this game the second coming of Prometheus bestowing the gift of fire or more akin to the tortured life of Sisyphus?
The answer is both. This mystery-adventure game based in classical antiquity begins with you following the trail of an archaeologist down a literal and metaphoric well surrounding the titular Forgotten City. After selecting one of four classes and travelling back in time, you’ll be greeted by an array of golden statues that watch from afar and whisper esoteric obscurities. In this character and concept-driven story, meeting the vast cast of colourful characters is a necessity, but more important is coming to grips with the rule which all are subjected to here – The Golden Rule. A line in the sand none dare cross lest “the many shall suffer for the sins of the one”. You’re eventually informed by Sextes Sentius, magistrate of this supposed utopia, that one of the 23 denizens will eventually sin by nightfall, breaking The Golden Rule and invoking the wrath of the Gods, putting all in peril.
Sol has blessed this day forever
Given the amount of intrigue, mystery and importance put on the characters’ motivations within the story, the less said regarding specifics about the plot the better. Rest assured though, The Forgotten City is a stunning piece of interactive fiction. Its subject matter is handled with grace, intelligence and wit, ruminating on themes of collective punishment, power and achieving utopia, all of which are analysed through the lens of human morality. The Golden Rule binds all, from the lowliest farmer to the highest seat of power, and it’s in the grey areas of this rule that some pertinent questions arise around right and wrong, lawful and unlawful, and what constitutes a truly good or evil action.
The game strongly asks who it is that gets to draw the line. Is it the Gods, or does the line only exist within the inherent values of the individual? More so, can the line even be drawn? These ideas and questions rest at the forefront of the smaller stories that build on top of each other adding to an unimaginably great whole. It creates this thrilling feeling of chasing down answers to large questions and getting immense fulfilment out of discovering how an individual’s story fits into that whole. None of which would be entertaining if it weren’t for the real care given to the writing and voice work that’s thoughtful without falling into pretentiousness. Chatting to the same people is kept fresh by a mechanic whereby at day’s end, or as a consequence of performing a sinful action, you’ll be thrust back to the start of the day. This gives you the opportunity to explore new paths in dialogue given your already acquired knowledge on the person. It’s from this time loop narrative structure that the light gameplay captivates your inner conspiracy theorist, driving most of the puzzle solving.
Those familiar with Outer Wilds will have a very reminiscent experience here. Instead of zooming through space, transcribing ancient alien text and manipulating gravity though, you’ll be chatting with people and tending to their woes with smaller moments of combat scattered throughout. Solving these problems, and exploring and deducing from the evidence you find are inextricably linked in a way that makes the entire game feel like one large puzzle that begs to be solved. Cunningness and creativity will be required in learning someone’s story and all of its potential outcomes to then ultimately manipulate events to get your desired result. Like Outer Wilds, there’s also that fun element of accidentally stumbling into an answer for a different quest that completely changes your immediate goals.
Expected end date of the pandemic in Australia 2052
Such was my experience of blundering into the caves and decrypted ruins probably too early. These shadowy corners are home to creatures that exist outside of The Golden Rule. Assumedly, you should have the divine bow that allows you to turn anyone to gold and boot their encased bodies across the room, but I did not, making for a real unexpected horror game vibe. Although it was a predicament of my own making, that’s what I really love about these types of games – true non-linear storytelling; where the player can end up in less ideal circumstances because curiosity got the better of them and the game says, “Good luck, have fun.” I’d say if you’re someone who gels more with action games, you won’t find much here. There is just enough to counterbalance the process of dialogue and puzzle solving but not enough to fill a game with, no matter how fun it is to kick the statues.
When you aren’t scurrying around in some of the dank caves, it’s hard not getting lost in the wonderment of this Roman village. Each loop starts with a light that bathes the architecture in divinity and makes for some truly breathtaking vistas. Just moving through the streets and hearing NPCs hassle each other would be immersive enough, but there are also the ambient choruses that linger in the back of your ears. Modern Storyteller has done an outstanding job in really selling an ever-changing atmosphere, from serene tranquillity to moments of great strife, the audio-visual feedback is perfect in its tonal cohesion. Sure, it’s a little unnerving being stuck in a conversation with someone who won’t stop piercing your soul with their relentless gaze, but I found it to be an endearing throwback to Oblivion-style conversations.
There’s a bevy of really minor technical issues that once in a blue moon hindered the experience. The worst of these is the appearance that a quest is soft-locked, showing as completed when it really isn’t. However, I found I could always kill Decius, that snivelling little rat, to reset the loop and any quest would autocorrect itself. Other than that, the loading gates between areas occur at some strange times, say in the middle of a cavern or room. The loading times are quick, it’s more so the masking of the loading that’s a bit unorthodox for my liking, but it in no way diminishes the overall game.
It’s a sin to poop. Haven’t pooped for weeks myself. Send help.
Beyond some very small issues I believe can easily be looked past, The Forgotten City is a beauty to behold no matter the eye doing the beholding. When you come to understand and manipulate the story, it offers some extraordinary moments of contemplation regarding one’s morality and the laws we exist under. It’s what I would describe as a perfect game, one that forgoes the easily-rested laurel of bombast and places its sole focus on conceptualising genuine ideas beyond the thrill of aesthetic escapism. These types of games may not be everyone’s forte but I came, I saw, I conquered The Forgotten City, and I sincerely hope you do too.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- Modern Storyteller
- Dear Villagers
- PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X&S / Xbox One / PC
- July 28, 2021