Review: Fallen London
I first fell into Fallen London last year. I was watching a web show, dedicated to games, called Extra Credits. If you haven't seen it, you should really give the show a watch! They have amazing insights into the industry, story structure and games, and just general rants on the state of video games and their direction. Very informative stuff.
Back to Fallen London. It was featured on Extra Credits' “Non Combat Gaming” episodes. It looked interesting, so I decided to give it a try. Fallen London was known as Echo Bazaar, back then.
It's a story based game. There's no 3D, no epic button combinations, no special code, or flashy special effects. No music. No sound effects. There are beautiful drawings throughout, but they don't move or animate. It's all about the writing and the story. Fallen London reminds me of an internet based “choose your own adventure”. And for a game that lacks the visual flair of it's brethren, Fallen London is indeed a deliciously addictive romp. The story of this amazing game reads as follows:
Three decades ago, London was stolen by bats. Dragged deep into the earth by the Echo Bazaar. The sun is gone. All we have is the gas-light of Mr Fires. But Londoners can get used to anything. And it's quiet down here with the devils and the darkness and the mushroom wine. Peaceful. But then YOU arrived.
Yes, it is very cool!
You can choose to use your twitter or facebook account to sign up. It's completely free to play. You do need to pay for more “moves”, but I'll get into that a bit later. From the outset, there's no need to worry.
You begin the game by creating a character. Character creation is simple: choose a dark silhouette of a lady, a gentleman, or something else, to represent yourself in Fallen London. There are eight portraits per gender, allowing for a choice between 24 silhouettes. Once your choice has been made, you're whisked into Fallen London.
To your left is a candle. Below this, a money symbol at 0.00 resides above the words Dangerous, Watchful, Persuasive, and Shadowy; a graphic representation of an animal face sits next to each “Quality”. Heading the top of the page is beautiful artwork portraying a black and green cavern, lit by small flecks of light. A story snippet sits to your right. In the center of all this is where you will craft your story, explore this strange new underground, and meet the seedy residents of Fallen London.
Truth be told, it confused me my first time. There was so much on screen that I didn't know what to do, or where to even start.
You begin your trek into the unknown by selecting the card, with the image of a vampyric top hat. You need to Click the opportunities deck to fill your hand... A click reveals a single card onto the screen. Clicking it brings you to your first story moment. Where the card once sat is a story snippet:
Fallen London: far below your cell window, the gas-lit city gleams. You must escape, and seek your fortune!
You've played an Opportunity Card. Click the deck again to draw another, and play that one to begin your escape.
You have the option to “echo this” which simply posts your current story on facebook or twitter. Below, you're informed with the image of a question mark that, “you've lost 1 x a Stranger (new total 0)”. This will make sense the more you play. Basically, after each story event, you gain and lose items to move on with the game.
Simply press “Onwards!” and you continue through your journey.
This brings you back to the card screen, staring face to face once again with the vampire top hat. It yields another card, this time an opportunity to escape from your prison. Your plan to formulate an escape plan is shown through text.
This is the flow of the game. You select a single card, the story unfolds, and you make a decision. In the beginning, you simply have one card and one choice. As you continue to move through Fallen London, break out of prison, and eventually become a permanent resident of this dark, forbidden world, the choices open up. More cards, more decision.
Every decision you make gives you items to use as you explore, and also raises one of your “Qualities”. There are four qualities in the beginning: Dangerous, Watchful, Persuasive, and Shadowy. If you decide to mug an innocent bystander on the street, this may raise Dangerous Quality. Decide to peek through the laced curtain of some women? You may see an increase in your Watchful, or Shadow, Quality. Or creepy, creeper, person...quality? If there was one!
At any rate, as your Qualities rise, different card options are opened to you. Most story elements are only unlocked once your Quality has reached a certain level. So, let's say you want to visit Mrs. Plenty's Carnival? You may need a Shadowy level of 10, and a Watchful level of 5.
At the time of this article, my stats are as follows: Dangerous: 36, Watchful: 36, Persuasive: 23, and Shadowy: 14. During my travels, I've also picked up a few more Qualities: Respectable, Dreaded, and Bizarre. All things considered, my character isn't that high a level. At all. This is still newby status.
The candle on the top left represents your “Actions”. Actions determine how many times you are allowed to select a card and make a decision. Every decision burns away one notch on the candle. You are allowed to make ten actions during game play. Each action takes 5:14 minutes, real world minutes, to replenish.
Once every Action is wasted, and you will go through them amazingly fast, you are left to either wait till maybe one or two have replenished, play those, and continue to wait. Or, you can purchase “Nex” through the “Nex tag”, above your cards. Nex costs real money. $1 will buy you four Nex, while $49.95 will give you a whopping 280 Nex.
For 20 Nex, you get a second candle, giving you up to 20 Actions in a single sitting, a game without advertising, and the ability to enter the House of Chimes, which allows for more story possibilities.
I've never purchased Nex. Usually, when I play, I burn through all of my Actions, and then leave the game open while I browse the net. Or, I go for a walk, draw something, or just work on different projects while I wait for it to replenish. And I have to admit, this keeps me coming back! I'd just like to blaze through the game, but the limit on Actions allows you to play the game in small increments...or stay tethered to it through out the day, praying the next time you open the game window your candle will be completely revived!
Fallen London is a wonderful game, filled with a beautifully written narrative, breathtaking artwork, and enough whimsical content to keep you coming back and playing for hours. It's a different type of game, but if love reading, Fallen London may be a good way to unwind and free your thoughts of the last gaming rampage. It allows you settle into something more akin to a good book.