When you think of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, what comes to mind? A fantasy adventure where you fight dragons and guards complain about arrows in their knees? A game that is somehow still releasing on more platforms despite being over a decade old? How about a large modding community with thousands of mods to choose from?
Why is any of this introduction relevant? Well my friends, The Forgotten City originated from a high production quest mod for Skyrim! Have I played that mod? Sadly, I have not. The whole weeks of testing and tweaking to make a giant selection of tasty mods work together thing usually resulted in me punting Skyrim back into the depths of my Steam library.
You may wonder, why should I buy a standalone version of something that already exists for free as a mod? Well, there are some key differences that make this version distinct and very much worth your time (and will save you the headache of modding to play it)!
The Forgotten City is a game infused with historical settings and mythology. While the original was based around Skyrim‘s lore, this standalone version has been reworked to be set within a Roman ruin. The player wakes up to Karen, a friendly stranger who saved them from drowning in the nearby river. Another person was with you, but they left to investigate some ruins down the road and never returned. The player sets out to find them, a choice that soon turns into a complex, time-looping mystery within a lost Roman city.
Within the city are residents of multiple skin colors, sexual orientations, and backgrounds. While the city’s residents are predominantly Roman, a Greek and Egyptian person are present too. The story is heavily tied to the myths of all of these cultures and how they influenced one another. In addition, players will discover all sorts of artifacts from the era with little blurbs describing their purpose. As your character is from modern times, you can choose to disagree with various, now problematic, Roman ideologies, such as the use of slave labor.
While the core concept is retained from the mod, the script was re-written and heavily expanded for this version. Characters have been re-imagined, new twists have formed, and there are new endings to discover. There is enough new and rewritten content that old fans will have a good time.
As far as content warnings, I should note that there are instances of domestic abuse and suicide. However, in the good endings these can be prevented or otherwise resolved.
While the plot has separated itself from its Skyrim roots, the gameplay is unapologetically Elder Scrolls. Walking, sprinting, and jumping feels oh so familiar. Dialogue menus have options floating on the right of the screen with your conversation partner situated in the center of view. A bow is present for some minor combat sections, a remnant from the original mod. The simple character scripting and path finding even feels Elder Scrolls.
At its core, The Forgotten City plays with time travel. Specifically, time loops. The player is given a limited time in which predestined events will happen that will result in the breaking of the Golden Rule. When the rule is broken, the residents of the city will be cursed and turned to gold. This is a fail state in which the player must restart the loop and try again to prevent this from happening. All the while, you must investigate the origins of the city and uncover who made the rule and for what purpose.
Time limits typically stress me out, but these are rather forgiving. Players are given 10 or so minutes before a guaranteed end of the loop. Otherwise, if the rule is broken, you can simply dash away and loop again. The player retains all items and knowledge through the loops so very little is lost should something unfortunate happen. This feature also has interesting intentional exploitation, like stealing overpriced medicine, thereby breaking the rule, and then giving that medicine to someone on the next loop.
Once a quest is completed, players can tell good guy Galerius to run around and complete these tasks for you in the next loop. The Forgotten City respects your time and offers nice shortcuts to cut down on the tedium of repeating quests you already accomplished once.
As far as accessibility, subtitles are available with font size options and backgrounds. Objective markers are toggle-able if you want to explore on your own. Controls can be rebound and multiple console brand controller icons are available. Dialogue automatically advances, which can be problematic if you want to take your time reading the subtitles between choices.
Graphically, The Forgotten City is both beautiful and a little uncanny. The environments are gorgeous with atmospheric fog, god rays, and super shiny marble floors. A photo mode is provided so you can take fancy shots of the architecture. My favorite photo filter was one that made the environment have a pixelated look similar to that on the original PlayStation.
The human models are more hit and miss with hair looking dated and eyes lacking that shininess that brings them to life. A few female characters have proportions that result in uncanny vibes. Facial animations are a bit off at times, particularly with the lip sync and exaggerated eyebrows for some expressions.
Michael Allen has created a truly beautiful soundtrack that reminds me of Jeremy Soule’s work, Skyrim and Oblivion, but also has its own distinct sound. Gentle harps and haunting choirs fill the air as you explore the city. The music does a good job at giving the city a heavenly paradise vibe with a mysterious and sinister undertone. While combat is not a key focus of The Forgotten City, the tracks for combat situations are fittingly aggressive and pounding.
I found it a shame that a Roman amphitheater existed in the game, but completely lacked theater dynamics. While I normally wouldn’t mind small details like this not being implemented, a major scene happens in this area and it is actually hard to hear the dialogue if you stand in the intended seating area to watch the events unfold.
The voice acting is of a high quality, leagues above what you will find in most mods and indie titles. Multiple accents are present as characters are from different regions. While some voices are more standout than others, I think the cast did a good job.
The Forgotten City is a narrative gem in an age where you really only get this kind of experience in visual novels or obscure indie games. While you can role play to some extent with the different starting backgrounds and some dialogue choices, the game generally expects players to pick good options and aim for achieving the best ending.
Despite having educational value, this is a game is better suited for teens on up. Phallic imagery is present in some museum replica pieces (if you are sensitive about that sort of content) and there are some dark and potentially disturbing themes. Younger children may also find the game confusing to navigate or the philosophical conversation puzzles frustrating.
Note: GameOctane received a digital code from the publisher for the purpose of reviewing this game. Any code or product intended for review is distributed to the team to review and stream for our audience. All opinions therein are from the author alone.
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- Enjoyable writing with an intriguing narrative
- Diverse cast of characters that works well narratively
- Good quality voice work
- The environments are gorgeous with keen attention to architectural accuracy
- Beautiful, soothing, and sinister music tracks
- Fun and forgiving time loop mechanic
- Respects player time with shortcuts on subsequent loops
- Decent accessibility options
- Occasional confusion on how to advance certain quests
- A few particularly uncanny NPCs.
- Dated hair models, dull eyes, and some weird expressions at times.