Imagine a website that has never seen the sun: dark and gritty with slashes of color. Immerse the player into a steampunk world of Fallen London where whispered secrets hold the residents in thrall. Infuse the text with grim humor. Throw in a mixture of one-card turns for fast feedback (and sometimes unexpected results) and story arcs that take time to complete and you have a compelling game that is already going viral.
An obsession with scarlet stockings helps.
It’s been quite some time since I walked the desolate alleyways of Fallen London. The hazy fog surrounding the rooftops seems a bit thicker, the distance from the surface somehow even further than it was. This seasons fashions are quite gay and the shroom hunting season is already in full force. There have been many changes: entrepreneurs in the Neath are always searching for new opportunities. I found myself welcomed back into the social whirl without so much as a Where have you been?: in Fallen London one does not ask difficult questions.
My visit was meant to be brief, a quick run along the rooftops of the Flit to prove that I still could, a night drinking fine wines at the Shuttered Palace. My room at the Smoky Flophouse was just as I’d left it and there was a pot of stew bubbling on the stove – although how the woman knew I was returning, I don’t know. Secrets have their own value in Fallen London and I shall be sure to leave her a couple as a tip.
I was thrilled to find that the wine I’d left in the cellar has matured nicely and in fact as I went through my items, I found that there were opportunities for improvement that I had not seen before. There were many interesting discoveries within my inventory
I discovered a Brazen Urchin squatting on the rooftop and, in return for some currant buns, he filled me in on the gossip. Within a few minutes, I found myself embroiled once again within the intrigues of Fallen London. A grubby kitten appeared, winding its way around my ankles and mewing with a plaintive sound. I couldn’t possibly leave the poor thing to fend for itself. So we’ll remain here for a short while, the urchin and the kitten and I. It’s only Fallen London, after all. I’m sure I can leave any time I wish. I’m sure…
The year is 1889. Three decades ago, London was stolen by bats. Dragged deep into the earth by the entity known as the Echo Bazaar. It lies now in the Neath, a cavern of impossible size, on the shores of the Unterzee, a giant saltwater lake. The sun is gone. The tumbling white clouds are gone. There will never be another strawberry. But Londoners can get used to anything. And it’s quiet down here, with the devils and the darkness and Rubbery Men and the mushroom wine. Peaceful.
Well, it was until you arrived.
Fallen London is a web-based choose-your-own-adventure narrative story. If you are unfamiliar with the website, you can get a feeling for the game in my original article on How to Play Echo Bazaar but the details are out of date. The game has had a major overhaul including a change of name: Echo Bazaar is now Fallen London.
The revamp of Fallen London includes many great improvements while still offering a sense of wonder as I found myself immersed in the rich and detailed world. There’s no longer a need for a Twitter or Facebook account – you can sign up with just an email address. You can still receive one action reset per day by posting about the game publicly and, if someone signs up via your link, you receive a mug of musky and explosive Darkdrop Coffee, which restores an additional ten actions. So the emphasis is firmly on thanking you for spreading the word rather than pushing you to spam your friends.
The website appears to be lightning fast: I no longer resent the time spent clicking on a storylet just to see what the options are. There is no longer a daily limit for actions and the actions now refresh at a rate of one every eight minutes. There are ten actions available within the free play and twenty as an “exceptional friend” which now costs only twenty fate.
The slowness and the daily limit had been a particular annoyance to me – if I ran out of turns I felt held back and if I didn’t manage to use them all up, then I felt frustrated. The revamped Fallen London is a joy to play for these fixes alone.
There are interesting stories which include the option to progress using purchased Fate; however these seem to be uncommon and most also have “free” options to continue.
It costs $9.95 (£6.22) for 45 Fate. I spent 20 Fate to be an exceptional friend for a month, which gets me twenty turns per round rather than ten. That left 25 left over for the Fate-enhanced tales. I’m more than happy to pay ten dollars a month for some fun dip-in-and-out content, so as a social gaming system, this works really well for me.
Budgeting my Fate did not seem difficult and I quickly made decisions as to which story lines I wished to progress and which to leave by the wayside. This also gave me the reassurance that there would be plenty to do next month when I might revisit some of the forgotten story lines.
The crafting options are new and intriguing, items combined to make other items. I immediately found myself immersed in the mixing of wines and converting of secrets.
Chris Gardner from FailBetter Games told me more about this:
Our goal with Fallen London is to make everything a story. As the economy and game grew it was getting difficult for players to know how to get hold of specific items when a story required them.
We wanted a way to make most items obtainable when you needed, and that’s where the crafting system came in. You can convert lower items in each line into higher types, and convert some items from one line to another.
At the same time we didn’t want it to be a story-free clickfest. So each line ties into a particular conflict or mystery of Fallen London. As you convert items you learn more about the setting. Some of the secrets revealed at the higher ends of each line, especially, are especially juicy.
Most of the conversion actions have additional rare successes which reveal more information and give an additional, very generous, reward.
The puzzle aspect of the game has grown slightly: I have multiple story lines where I’m not quite sure what to do to progress but there’s enough to do that I enjoy the exploration. I’ve found myself simply wandering around the neighborhoods, looking to see who I might run into. There’s an additional layer of immersion within the game as I consider how to find items (locationally, through crafting or by getting the correct card).
If I have a complaint, it is that there seem to be many opportunities and storylets with an option involving the surface – which I’ve now learned means “send a message to someone on Facebook or Twitter.” Personally, I’m more than happy to scrawl on my own wall or twitter feed with cryptic Fallen London messages; however it feels aggressive to target someone else, especially as I have no means of seeing whether or not they are playing. An invitation to dinner or a request for an alibi sends an in-game message which the players can turn off if they quit the game, which means the only risk is that I wasted a turn. I’m less comfortable with writing on someone’s Facebook wall or directly contacting them on Twitter and I’m unsure if there is any benefit to the other player. I have not actually tried one and I’d be interested in hearing in the comments what you think of these and if you’ve used the option.
However, this is a minor niggle in a fulfilling world that I am glad to have rediscovered. I love the fate scheme putting my “subscription” into my control rather than committing me to a regular payment every month regardless of my schedule and playtime.
And also, there’s that grubby kitten. Her name is Theodore (I am apparently not good at sexing kittens) and she loves me, although she appears to fill the residents of Fallen London with dread.
If you haven’t played Fallen London before, then I would urge you to rush to the website now and start your adventure. You have the whole world in front of you. If you played before then I would recommend you return for a look around. As a free player, you can certainly get enough out of this to see what the options are and how you feel about the changes. Personally, I’m thrilled and enjoying myself again. I have big plans to buy a ship and see Polythreme … shortly after I finish the labyrinth of Tigers.
Come join me! We can share the cup of coffee…