The casual pace of unraveling the mystery through conversations and testing the golden rule was intriguing and kept me wanting to find out what happens next in The Forgotten City.
The Forgotten City is a mystery adventure game of exploration and deduction developed by Modern Storyteller and published by Dear Villagers. The game released on July 28, 2021 on PC, Xbox and PlayStation, and a Nintendo Switch release will come later this year. I previewed this game back in June and have been enjoying playing detective in this meld of Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider, in those slower paced exploratory scenes from that era. Starting next to a river with no memory, we fall down a rabbit hole of intrigue and mystery as I tried to solve this whodunnit investigation and puzzle game set 2000 years ago in a cursed and historically authentic Roman city.
You may or may not be aware that The Forgotten City started life as a mod for RPG Skyrim, starting in a Dwarven hallway and eventually evolving into a vast underground cave. Now, the team and Modern Storyteller have created a fully fledged standalone 3D game with a slightly different setting and much different gameplay. Where Skyrim is a full RPG with loot taken from vanquished enemies, skill and stat progression and action combat, The Forgotten City takes a lighter, more casual approach with an emphasis on story and exploration. It’s more than a walking simulator, but not as action packed as an RPG. There is some combat, though it can be optional, as well as puzzle solving. So long as you’re not expecting a 40-hour+ epic like Skyrim or a Fallout game, then you’re going to enjoy this one.
The start of The Forgotten City has you talking to a hooded lady named Karen where you get to choose one of four archetypes to play the game – Archeologist, Soldier, Fugitive or Amnesiac. Apart from different conversation options with the people you meet, each archetype has slight bonuses to help your gameplay. The archeologist has knowledge of ancient history and will give insight into Roman times, the soldier starts with a modern pistol but only has 10 bullets and there’s no way to get more. The fugitive gains 25% sprint speed and the amnesiac is 50% tougher to take down. I chose archeologist given we were heading into ancient times but the choice and advantages of each made me think about what kinds of situations I’m going to witness ahead.
When talking to the initial NPCs you meet in this mysterious city, moral dilemmas are ever present, and if you annoy one person, it may lock you off from other story options later. Once you meet Magistrate Sentius, you learn there is only one rule of law here – The Golden Rule. “The many shall suffer for the sins of one.” Breaking the law will anger the gods and turn everyone to gold. As I was running around town, I noticed these golden statues of humans, but they were in various poses depicting fear, running away, crouched down, praying. I wasn’t sure of their significance initially but slowly the truth became clear and ideas of solutions popped into my head. I often didn’t have the items or conversation options to advance those ideas, but through exploring every corner I could find, things slowly revealed themselves and it was exciting theorising possibilities.
The graphics in The Forgotten City are amazing, depicting life in Roman times extremely well with relative historical accuracy in terms of clothes worn by NPCs, architecture of the buildings and layout of gardens. I liked finding historical information about items from the past, like the old kiln and stone age equipment to forge items. The environment art is stunning, particularly in places that give an overview of the city, revealing out-of-reach places that could possibly be explored later as I currently didn’t have the means. The modelling of the characters is generally well detailed and sometimes their expressions mismatched the tone of the dialogue at the time. Any minor graphical gripes I had however were quashed by the incredibly good voice acting across all characters.
After talking to several people, I started obtaining main and optional side quests. One such quest was to find a healing potion to help a woman who had been poisoned. There was only one person with access to the potion, but he was charging like a wounded bull and none of us had the gold he was asking for. He even had the potion on public display in a market stand, knowing full well that if someone stole it, they would break the Golden Rule. I thought if I crouched and hid behind the cart while he walked out of sight, I could swipe it without him noticing. I hid such that he couldn’t see me by line of sight and grabbed the potion. Success, or so I thought. I heard a whisper, “follow the magistrate”, then suddenly the ground started shaking, the screen went grey, a menacing voice stated the golden rule and the golden statues came to life, aiming bows with arrows at me.
I saw the magistrate running back up towards the entrance where I arrived and was prompted to chase after him. Arrows whizzed past my ears, and I finally caught up to him as he stood in the doorway to the portal I arrived in. As I approached, his body suddenly turned to ash, leaving his skeleton behind and I was whisked into the portal. The game then looped me back to the start with colour returned and I was repeating the same conversations with the same NPCs I previously spoke to. In my inventory, however, was the healing potion. I was able to run down and administer the potion, revive the poisoned lady and then talk with her.
It’s here my spidey-senses started to tingle as you realise that with the bits of information you pick up from dialogue, and the fact you can take something with you into the next game loop, that a more sinister plot was at hand. Some people know more about this than they initially let on, and so this Groundhog Day style of game loop presented itself, and made me strategise how to manipulate this loop to my advantage. I found out the hard way that you can die once the gods have been angered and you don’t make it back to the portal in time, so it’s not just a simple case of break a rule and have no risk getting back to the portal. Though once the rule has been broken and you’re on the run, you can quickly pick things up if you know where they are and can avoid the deadly arrows from the statues.
There are four endings to The Forgotten City depending on who you interact with and how you interact with them, whether you took more risks or chose to impact the world as little as possible. I’m not going to say anything further about the plot as each player should unveil the mysteries on their own at least once. Parts of the story are unavoidable, then depending in what order you do things, you may get an alternate ending to your mates. Having finished the game once, I’m content without having to do another play through and definitely got value out of the experience. It’s a game I can happily return to in the near future to obtain one of the other endings.
Overall, The Forgotten City is a fantastic emulation of Roman times and I really enjoyed manipulating the time loop mechanic. The casual pace of unraveling the mystery through conversations and testing the golden rule was intriguing and kept me wanting to find out what happens next. This was all backed up by outstanding voice acting and visuals that really invested me in each character. This game is easy to play and well worth a look.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis