We hold gold to the highest regard. It's a universal currency, one that always drives a high value. During the Olympics, the gold medal is the most sought-after award, only available to the best of the best. The Forgotten City revolves around gold as well. If The Forgotten City disappointed me, I could easily say that it's ironic that gold is a driving theme here. But that's not the case. This former The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim mod took my breath. One could say it's deserving of a gold medal.
The Forgotten City is an adventure game developed by a small team of individuals. The team at Modern Storyteller presents a recreation of their highly popular Skyrim mod of the same name, created as a brand new, standalone adventure. It's not every day you see a mod turn into an actual game, and remarkably, The Forgotten City never needed Skyrim, to begin with.
The Clever Narrative of The Forgotten City
To understand why The Forgotten City is so special, a bit of information on the story is required. Players take the role of an adventurer who washes up on the shores of a river in present-day Italy. You're asked by a stranger to walk into some mysterious ruins and find her friend. Soon enough, players are in way over your head after finding that they've been thrown back in time 2000 years ago, now stuck in an ancient Roman city. Inhabited by citizens from all walks of life, you soon find that this city is more than it seems.
Indeed, this becomes quite evident when you notice that there is no way out of the city, and more puzzling are the statues of gold. Golden people struck in all kinds of poses, in agony, mostly. Soon you find that if anyone commits a sin in this city, everyone turns to gold because of a so-called "Golden Rule." Currently, this city is peaceful, but soon it will know chaos. The leader of the city tasks players with finding out who will break the Golden Rule, which should save everyone from damnation.
So what's the first thing I did? Why break the Golden Rule of course. Morbid curiosity took over, and I stole some currency from a chest. This Golden Rule turned out to be no myth, and the statues came alive, shooting arrows at every single person in the city. I made my escape to a portal opened by the leader of the town, looping me right back in time to when I first arrived in the city.
As it turns out, The Forgotten City is an incredibly compelling—and frankly much more interesting—take on Bill Murray's "Groundhog Day."
The gameplay loop of The Forgotten City revolves around trial and error. You're tasked with questioning villagers while discovering their motives—if they, perhaps, will break the Golden Rule. The more you learn in one loop, the more it'll pay off in the next. There are times when you'll say something and anger an individual, preventing them from talking to you. It's a crafted narrative that incentivizes exploration with the many dialogue prompts and forgives you for the errors you make. So long as you remember what to say and explore new rounds of dialogue the next time, you can hopefully save the city from ruin.
My only complaint in regards to writing is how The Forgotten City acknowledges time travel; or rather, how the characters acknowledge it. Should you go through another loop in time and arrive right back to the beginning, it seems to treat many characters as having talked to the player already. If you travel to the start, you're a fresh face to this city, not someone known to these characters. There are some exceptions, but you do not, for example, have to talk to someone over again to take a quest they give.
Gripes aside, there are so many engrossing storylines in The Forgotten City via its quests. The town doctor one day up and disappeared, locking themselves up in a mysterious temple. Meanwhile, a servant to one of the city's rich is poisoned and desperately requires an antidote, but the stand-in for the missing doctor is totally out of their league and hardly knows how to help. As you can see, the characters are individuals with established relationships and backstories, making The Forgotten City a gripping tale.
The Forgotten City has around 20 or so characters, most of which remain memorable. Each character feels unique from one another and all play a part in this narrative players must unravel. The most fun I had was exploring the motivations and backstories of said characters. The quests provided by various characters also pose enjoyable and intriguing situations. Exploring each quest is something that players should commit some time to, even if they know the answer to the mystery. In short, The Forgotten City is written extremely well. Modern Storytellers lives up to their name.
The Subtle Gameplay and Exploration of The Forgotten City
This title is very dialogue-heavy, and as such, you'll spend most of the time talking to other characters. This makes up the bulk of the gameplay: questioning, going through dialogue prompts, and such. Even still, I found The Forgotten City to be captivating for not only its excellent writing but in the delicately crafted city itself. There is much incentive to explore this city for secrets that help you unravel the mystery or contribute to actual questlines.
This is not a linear game, and so you're able to go about solving these quests in any order you like. I found that taking some time to just explore and look around is a pleasant experience. The Forgotten City tells a lot, but it also shows a lot, too. Just like how Bethesda puts little details into the environment of Skyrim to tell stories—like a burned cart on the side of the road with bodies strewn everywhere—Modern Storytellers convey little vignettes in the nooks and crannies of the city. I found an amphitheater with golden statues in the stands, while a body sits in front of a lectern with his hands raised to the sky. My mind filled in the gaps as I imagined this scene before the previous inhabitants turned to gold.
It's fun to hear the stories of characters in The Forgotten City, but if you take some time to poke around, you'll find plenty of untold secrets and wonder waiting for you.
There are moments in the gameplay that are more action-oriented, but they are few and far between. Further, the beginning of The Forgotten City asks you to choose your backstory, which slightly adjusts the gameplay for your character. If you were a character searching for ancient ruins, you'll be given special dialogue prompts throughout. If you choose that your character was on a covert mission, you'll be granted a gun with 10 bullets. Another allows you to move faster, while the last reduces the damage you take. For the most part, these feel useless. There's not a great deal of combat, so two of these perks already seem pointless. Moving fast is great and all, but it's not a game where you ever need to rush. The extra dialogue options for certain situations are welcome, but not needed. In the end, it doesn't feel like a very impactful decision.
The Forgotten City | Final Thoughts
The Forgotten City made its transition from Skyrim to a full-fledged title very well. This title is gorgeous, and clearly, a lot of time and effort was put into making the city itself feel like something straight out of Rome. The mosaic tiles adorning the ground and beautiful temples are a sight to behold, and even better, you can soak in the sights with a built-in screenshot mode. The only fault I can really poke at in terms of presentation is that there were a few times where the audio drowned out the dialogue of a character, but overall, it's a well-done game, indeed.
Most Skyrim mods stay that way—a mod, nothing less, nothing more. The Forgotten City is a rare example where the source material made for an excellent game. I'm shocked at how beautiful, clever, and well-thought-out The Forgotten City is. It would be a shame to write it off as anything less than one of the finest stories told this year. The Forgotten City is truly as alluring as gold.
TechRaptor reviewed The Forgotten City on PC using a copy provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Nintendo Switch.
- Intriguing and Well-written Mystery
- Developed Characters and Questlines
- Exploration Feels Rewarding and Incentivized
- Graphically Impressive and Historically Accurate Feel
- Some Leniency with Time Travel
- Character Background Choice Seems Useless