Fallen London – A review

I came across Fallen London a while back, but didn’t really have the time to commit to it. Recently I’ve started playing again and I thought I’d pen a few words on the subject, for those who might consider giving it a try.

Fallen London is browser based game (though there is an iOS app for it as well) in which you guide your character through a fantasy version of Victorian London, in a choose-your-own-adventure type of setup. You gain one action every ten minutes, which accumulate up to a maximum of 20 (or more if you subscribe) – this ensures that the game is experienced at a sedate pace, which is actually a strength, given the sheer volume of lore and background to be found during your explorations (apparently it has 1000,000+ words).

Your character starts out incredibly simply; you choose a name, a gender (including “none of your business”… an option rarely seen in games) and a portrait… that’s it. Other character aspects develop organically during play – if you want to be sneaky, you take illicit jobs and become sneakier; if you want to be social, you undertake social tasks and your persuasion increases. There are also chances to pick a profession and your long-term ambition; again, these are naturally introduced early in the game.

Most of the tasks in the game can be grouped into two types; one off events and more substantial storylines. The one off events are generally simple choices, perhaps deciding which side to aid in a conflict or choosing between a safe option and a riskier, but more rewarding one. The game uses these to present background and atmosphere, as well as allowing you to shape your connections with the factions in the city.
The more substantial storylines will involve a longer scenario; setting up a big con, tracking down a killer, gather material for a book. These generally involve many decisions, skill checks and greater rewards and connections at the end. These are also the stories that will raise your profile in the city and unlock further storylines.

The one downside of the game is that there is occasionally a certain amount of grinding involved in some of the scenarios; things like finding so many clues to resolve a case or increasing your level of acquaintance with someone before you make a move. Unfortunately, these are a somewhat necessary evil as this is where you will spend a lot of time increasing your skills (the game does have a nice mechanic where you improve faster by failing tough challenges than by succeeding at easy ones). However, you can mitigate this effect a little by doing the grindy bits when you don’t have much time to play (you can blow through your 20 actions in two minutes as part of your morning routine) and exploring more interesting sections when you have more time.

It’s definitely not a game for everyone. It’s not a video game, where skill is rewarded and you’re trying to win; it’s not even really a choose-your-own-adventure game, where you’re moving through a narrative, albeit one that you have some control over… it’s probably closest to an actual pen and paper roleplaying game, with a huge setting, some resource management, NPCs you keep running into, bits that you never quite get round to exploring and genuine choices that affect your character.

It’s free, so if it sounds like your thing then give it a try… and if you do find yourself walking the streets of Fallen London, look up TheSilentScholar… I’d be happy to make your acquaintance.

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