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  • Writer's pictureNate Hermanson

REVIEW: The Forgotten City is an unforgettable narrative experience

Updated: Feb 8, 2022

Could you keep yourself from committing a sin if it meant keeping your neighbors alive? Would you bite your tongue and resist the urge to put even the worst people in their place just to ensure the survival of everyone you knew? Should you?

For some of us, the answer might be obvious. For others... well, if the pandemic has shown us anything, the answer is divisive.

Modern Storyteller's The Forgotten City grapples with that question and other heady philosophical ideas all across its time-twisty looping adventure. And we would gladly go back to the start if it meant more time with this wonderful game.

In an ancient Roman cistern, two men talk on a dimly lit platform. One is dressed in commoners robes, the other in full Roman battle armor. It is a screenshot of the game The Forgotten City, as noted by the logo in the bottom right.

Just the Facts

Developer: Modern Storyteller

Publisher: Dear Villagers

Platform(s): PC*, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S and X *platform reviewed on

Price: $24.99

Release Date: July 28, 2021

Key provided by Tinsley PR.

The Forgotten City, developed by Modern Storyteller and published by Dear Villagers, is a time-loop murder mystery adventure game where talking things out is preferred over bashin' baddies. It releases digitally on July 28 for PC, PS4/5 and the Xbox family of consoles and aims for a Q3 2021 physical release for all consoles.

Born out of a Skyrim mod released in 2015, The Forgotten City already has award-winning pedigree. It was the first-ever mod to win an award just for its script — and from the Australian Writers' Guild no less.

Nearly six years later, Modern Storyteller rises once more with a completely original version of the story they told in 2015. Gone are the references to ancient dwarves and the ability to Skyrim shout your way through the place. And in its place, with the mod as its foundation, is a historical tale of Greeks and Romans.

It's hard to talk about the story without giving away too much, so we'll give you the CliffsNotes overview.

You wake up in modern day, saved by a stranger pulling you out of a river. After a brief "how do you do" and a minimalist character creator, one thing leads to another, and before you know it you're walking through a mysterious portal in an underground town. You find yourself sent back in time 2000 years.

The Forgotten City is the game for those of us who pump points into charisma when building characters — for those who live to persuade and search out the right piece of information to get their foot in the door.

Upon arrival, you are taken to the Magistrate, who lets you in on a few of the town's unique quirks. 1) There's no escape. You just kinda live here now. 2) This town has been enchanted by the gods and if any villager commits a sin, the entire town is doomed to suffer.

Once you've wrapped your head around that, he informs you that you were actually brought here for a specific purpose. The Magistrate himself is responsible for the portal and he needs YOU to investigate — because if you went through that portal, that only means one thing.

Someone sinned. And the Magistrate needs to know who and why to keep his people safe.

Stuck in a loop repeating the same day, it's your task to find out who is going to commit the sin and stop their mistake. By doing so, you'll save the townspeople and potentially send yourself back to your present day. But there's one hitch: You have to try to do it without committing a sin yourself. No fighting, no stealing, no easy way out. You meet with townsfolk, paw through their belongings, and explore beautifully rendered Roman villas, all while making sure everyone stays squeaky clean.

Where the game goes from here I dare not spoil. Moments in even the first hour are worth experiencing yourself. The story is a deeply philosophical one, and its loops let you ponder the questions you're forced to reckon with. There are moments of levity, of horror, of romance. Twists and turns that, even when they become clear to you, are nonetheless impactful when you have the answers delivered straight to your face.

A close up first person perspective shot of a conversation. The player character is speaking to a woman in white robes named Equitia. She says: "A new face! Ave, and may Vesta watch over you. I'm Equitia. To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?" Just to the right of her face are dialogue options that read: "What's your story?" "Do you know a way out of here?" "What do you think about The Golden Rule?" "I'll be going now." It is a screenshot of the game The Forgotten City, as noted by the logo in the bottom right.

The game's main hook is instantly enchanting. Time loop games have become more prevalent in the last few years, like the legendary Outer Wilds and the upcoming Twelve Minutes, but it's still a niche that isn't explored enough in games. The Forgotten City just nails every aspect of it.

As you loop and gain the knowledge and perspective needed to fulfill your ultimate purpose, there's a thrill to the rhythm of finding just the right item to progress, only to uncover some even bigger mystery around the corner. There's a persistent motion to the beginning of your quest, as you fill in pieces of a puzzle you didn't even know you needed. As you meet characters with conflicting motivations and desires — characters that are conspiring with and against each other — you try to piece together those relationships and use them for your cause.

When you land in this devastatingly dangerous town, it can be easy at first to feel detached. To not be able to connect to the ancient Roman setting and its inhabitants. But as you progress and come to know the characters, you quickly change your tune. From the affable farmer Galerius to the boisterous tailor Georgius, the cast of characters endears. You are empathetic to their plights and become invested in breaking the loop to save them from their fate.

It helps that these characters are brought to life brilliantly by the ensemble voice cast as well. Shoutouts to the gravitas that Roger Ringrose brings to Magistrate Sentius, the weasely grifter vibe that comes through in Andres Williams performance of Desius, and the self-righteous pompousness that Christopher Kent imbues in Malleolus. But really, the entire cast can take a bow for their work in the game.

Other games that attempt what Modern Storyteller has with The Forgotten City often miss the mark. Their systems too rigid, their writing forced, their characters wooden. None of that is the case here.

With the references to Skyrim and high-fantasy completely removed in this reimagining, replaced instead by actual Greek and Roman mythology, it creates a fuller experience as you learn not only about the townspeople, but also about actual legends and history.

The game pays its respects to history in an admirable way — the team recruited multiple cultural consultants to help nail every aspect of Roman culture. And the "lessons" you can learn here aren't forceful edutainment at all, but are instead naturally laid into conversations with each character. There's a reason the mod won a National Writers' Guild award; these folks just know how to craft a story full of great characters. I'm not saying this is the most mind-blowing piece of fiction I've ever enjoyed, but it's incredibly well-paced and structured, particularly for a game with an erratic time-loop mechanic. And at just 8 to 10 hours — depending on the routes you choose and how deeply you delve into each character and the overall mystery — The Forgotten City hits a perfect length.

The stuff that earned them the award in 2016 is still here and may just net them a few more awards when it's all said and done.

In a Roman marketplace, two women converse. One is wearing bright yellow robes, the other a white shirt with a red toga over the top. Behind them a golden statue looms and watches over them. It is a screenshot of the game The Forgotten City, as noted by the logo in the bottom right.

From the outset, The Forgotten City makes it clear. This is not an action game. This is not Skyrim. Combat is meant to be minimal, and even the few moments when combat does come up are easy to handle. Meaningful conversation is the way to victory in the end.

The Forgotten City is the game for those of us who pump points into charisma when building characters — for those who live to persuade and search out the right piece of information to get their foot in the door. It's about dialogue trees and finding a way to push each character's "buttons." Be sure that if you push the wrong ones, you may be locked out from a character until the day loops again, wasting precious time on your journey. And with four unique endings to nab, including one true canon ending, there's no time to waste.

That said, something born of Skyrim can't shed ALL the Skyrim. The classic Bethesda-style cinematic dialogue camera comes through big here, pulling you up close and personal in every conversation. It's not here to help you detect lies or notice any facial tics like you would in a game like L.A. Noire, but instead simply to immerse you.

It's a shame then that the lip sync and facial animations aren't the best — not unlike Skyrim itself — because it really pulls you out of the moment in the early going. The developers promise to only further polish these animations by launch. And to be honest, if you let yourself get sucked into the story, those problems are likely to fade into the background.

Another Skyrim-ism that seems to have made the transition: a few poor quest triggers. There is a near constant guiding force helping to keep you on the right path throughout the adventure, but there are still things that aren't obvious to trigger certain quests or moments in the story.

Certain moments need specific people in specific places, and you might find yourself puzzling over all the moving parts, even when you know what you might need to do. But even that can be chalked up to an unintended consequence of the dynamic world, with characters constantly on the move, each one going through a routine you can learn as you play.

I've got a few nitpicks aside from that — a generally wonky volume mix that can BLAST your ears at times, slightly iffy movement when playing with a controller. Small things.

But when I take a moment to loop back to the good... The Forgotten City is damn great. It's a story that had me hooked from beginning to end with layers I eagerly peeled back, before realizing I was staring at an epic worthy of being told amongst the Roman and Greek greats.

video games are good and The Forgotten City is . . . GREAT. (9/10)

+ a well-written and acted mystery worth sinking into, mostly non-violent, a bit of a history lesson baked in

- few odd quest triggers, minor technical issues, hard to talk about without spoiling ;)

A wide shot of a Roman landscape. Golden statues stand on pillars amongst the walkways. In the distance, zipline ropes can be seen strung along buildings. It is a screenshot of the game The Forgotten City, as noted by the logo in the bottom right.

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