Update (Thu 21st Oct, 2021): With The Forgotten City announced for Xbox Game Pass on October 28th, we're republishing this review to give you an idea of what to expect. As you can see, we were suitably impressed with it!
Original (Sat 31st Jul, 2021): On the surface The Forgotten City doesn't look anything too special. It's got some pleasing visuals and gets its fame from being based off a pre-existing Skyrim mod. You'd be forgiven for believing it would be shackled by that preconception, but it really isn't. The team at Modern Storyteller have taken the basis of that original mod and curated something truly unique which they can call their own. It's a story filled with twists and turns, and it's so far from its Skyrim origins that you would barely know its history.
Of course, some of those elements remain in play - namely when speaking to other characters, which you do a lot of. Unlike the RPG trappings of Skyrim, The Forgotten City is a narrative-driven adventure, filled with choices, interwoven plotlines and intrigue. It all stems from its plot, which may take a while to sink its claws into you, but once it does, it's hard not to be swept along for the ride.
Washing up on shore, you're rescued by a mysterious woman named Karen (a name which is often played for jokes). After being directed to some nearby ruins, you stumble across a portal and are swept to a hidden Roman city with a handful of other souls. None of you can leave, but more interestingly, none of you can sin, as if one person does, everyone else will suffer the consequences, resulting in the population being turned into golden statues. If all this wasn't enough, the game also operates on a time loop, bringing some roguelike elements into play.
Whenever anyone sins, the loop resets and you're forced to start from the beginning again. Items you've secured carry over, and any progress on your current quests remain in play thanks to a handy character you can send off to catch everyone up to speed. This gameplay feature, which could have easily been annoying, is used to fantastic effect, as you manipulate the time loop to work to your own advantage.
But the standout star for The Forgotten City is the writing. The ethical and moral dilemmas it puts you in pose some intriguing debates. What classes as a sin? How can you carefully bend the rule in your favour? It's questions like this that burn on your mind and keep you moving from one story beat to the next. It's all wrapped in a creepy undertone running through the entire game, as golden statues whisper when you walk past them, and turn to look at you when you're not looking. It's an atmosphere that suffocates you, making you feel as trapped as the characters within the game.
It's not all talking though, as there's also some light puzzle-solving and combat. Unfortunately, these elements just don't feel as natural as the rest of the game. Combat feels a bit stilted and the physical puzzles just don't have enough weight to them to really feel worthwhile. It all detracts from the real conundrum, and that's the time loop the characters are stuck within. Speaking to them all, learning their stories and playing certain members of the population against each other is the real star of the show.
All in all, The Forgotten City has surprised us with how engaging it is. The time loop mechanic is used to great effect and works much more than a simple gimmick, and the standout is the writing, which keeps you invested line after line. It's not a home run, with some overall clunkiness to the game and certain segments that could easily have been stripped out, but it's definitely a 10-12 hour adventure worth taking, with many paths and possibilities to uncover.