Per Aspera Ad Aspera
HIGH An interesting time travel narrative with Groundhog Day-like looping.
LOW Graphical hiccups and long loading times.
WTF The English accents on people speaking Latin can be slightly distracting.
The Forgotten City debuted in 2017, originally designed as a mod for Bethesda’s Skyrim. It went on to gain much attention from fans of that incredibly successful RPG — so much so that the studio, Modern Storyteller, continued working on it, added a soundtrack and has now released it as a standalone title.
After waking up with amnesia (as game protagonists are wont to do) the player is instructed to explore some caverns. Inside we will find a perfectly preserved ancient Roman city.
At this point it’s not clear whether the player has gone back in time or not, but he is somehow transported to an alternate historical reality filled with amnesiacs like himself that operates on “The Golden Rule.” Basically, said rule commands that no one shall commit any nefarious acts, or else the gods will intervene and everyone will die.
The game is played from a first-person perspective and takes place in this Roman city. The player is free to explore without a time limit, and the experience is structured as whodunit-style narrative adventure — the meat of the gameplay will be walking around, interrogating characters, and finding items required to solve quests or keys to open doors. There’s also one very interesting mechanic…
Basically, each time the player commits a sin (things like stealing money or attacking an NPC) the gods’ voices will boom from the heavens and everyone in the city will die. However, this is not a game over. In such case, everything will just reset Groundhog Day-style, but the player is allowed to keep all of the items and knowledge gained up to that point. With this in mind, dying soon becomes a swift solution to many puzzles, especially because some of the events simply cannot be anticipated the first time through.
The writing in The Forgotten City is of high quality (it’s actually quite a step up from what Bethesda usually delivers!) and all of the characters have clear motives and beliefs, with each one destined to play a part. Every NPC has a quest to be solved, and doing so will bring us closer to discovering what’s truly happening in the city. The player also plays a part, rather than simply observing passively — we can push events in the direction desired by doing things like supporting the current magistrate in the next election or, alternatively, his contestant.
The puzzles mostly involve obtaining the right item or convincing people to do our bidding, perhaps after coming back from the dead having gained enough knowledge to sway things — discovering someone’s true identity, for example. (Speaking of which, ancient Romans apparently left a lot of self-incriminating notes laying around…)
Great attention has been given to the historical reconstruction of this ancient Roman society, with the main character commenting at various times on how “barbaric” it all feels. Indeed, despite Rome being quite advanced among its contemporaries, some of its customs – especially regarding slavery and women – definitely feel like things of the past. The writers do comment on this from a modern perspective, but do so without going too far, which I felt was the right call.
There is also quite a bit of humor in The Forgotten City, which at times felt out of place. For example, the player’s character comments on a person being named “Karen”, with obvious references made to current memes (many of which also pop up in later conversations.)
Graphically, The Forgotten City looks the part, despite retaining its Skyrim origins. Unfortunately, the performance on my computer did suffer from extended loading times, characters having delayed responses in conversations and quite a few clipping issues. Nothing gamebreaking, but it was all definitely irritating. On the plus side, the characters are fully voiced with good performances despite a run of English accents coupled with Latin words. It felt a bit strange since everything else seems to value being at least moderately accurate, historically.
The Forgotten City is quite interesting as a new release that’s actually an enhanced and expanded mod that retains all of its key elements while being offered to players who might not be familiar with Skyrim. Despite the performance issues, it’s an adventure that will fascinate until the end, and the riddle surrounding The Golden Rule is one worth solving.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Modern Storyteller and published by Dear Villagers. It is currently available on PC, PS, XB. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on PC. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: The game is rated T by the ESRB, for Alcohol Reference, Blood, Mild Language, Suggestive Themes and Violence. While it never goes overboard, it does contain some moderate violence and some references which definitely make it appropriate for a teen audience.
Colorblind Modes: there are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game does feature spoken dialogue with subtitles available for all conversations. Text can be resized and the background can also be toggled. In my view, the game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: The game is controlled via the mouse and keyboard. The controls are remappable.
Years later, he got the idea that he was the most Sega-knowledgeable person in the world, so he opened a website in 1997, The Genesis Temple.
He's a sucker for great stories in gaming, he loves adventure and indie titles, but he never shies away from action and triple-A RPGs.
Damiano's been writing about videogames for 20 years, with no plans to stop. Say hi to him on Twitter at @damgentemp, or on his blog https://genesistemple.com (now dedicated to the history of video game design).