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About the Story
Poet or Assassin? Lover or Spy? Choose your fate in Fallen London, a gothic metropolis a mile beneath the surface of the earth.
Rock Paper Shotgun
Impressions: Fallen London
The strangeness of the world is the main reward for play. Itís dripping with lore, obscure and refreshingly odd, and the writing is the equal of the inventive setting. While the stop-start nature of the interactions may irritate some, it hasnít bothered me in the slightest. In fact, itís probably the only thing thatís prevented me from tearing through all the content in a few hours, although that said there are apparently 400,000 words to be read. And how ace is that? Not 100 locations, sixteen levels or 20 enemy types. Itís a game measured in words and they are words to be savoured.
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Number of Reviews: 8
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Fallen London is a game specifically designed to get you playing it in bite-sized bits throughout the day, every day. It accomplishes this by limiting the number of turns you are allowed to play, and then replenishing this resource by one whenever ten minutes of real time pass. When you log into the game, you can play the maximum of 20 turns; after that, you will be allowed to play a new turn every 10 minutes. This means that optimal play requires you to log in every 200 minutes (slightly over 3 hours), while the temptation to get back to their website and play one more turn will re-arise every 10 minutes. (Probably while you are trying to do productive work.)
There is -- of course -- another way in which you can replenish your turns, which is by paying real money. You can restore 20 actions by paying $2.50. Tempting you to spend real money on replenishing turns is in fact the only reason that Fallen London uses a real-time limited number of turns; for the rest it is just a frustration-creating device that has no advantages for the player.
Of course, getting people to pay real money for more turns almost requires an in-game economy where turns can be exchanged for in-game benefits. In order to supply this, Fallen London sets up a core game system that revolves entirely around grinding. You'll have to increase four main stats, dozens of story stats, and dozens of ingredients in order to unlock new stories... and of course in order to improve your ability to grind and increase your main stats, story stats and ingredients, which can then be used to ... well, you know how this works.
Many of the game's grinding loops are based on trading time for security. You might, for instance, decide to become a great writer. You'll need to increase your "Potential" to do that, which you do by writing stories. If you try to write an easy story, you'll have a high chance of success, but your Potential will increase only a little. If you write a hard story, you have a low probability of success, but the potential reward is great. You can, however, increase your probability of success by writing more pages of draft material. This costs turns. So you will be spending dozens of turns clicking just the same few links again and again in order to create draft material, always wondering whether the time has already come to hazard your investment on the roll of the dice, or whether you should spend a few more turns in order to increase the chance of success.
This design is not just terrible, it is detestable. Fallen London wants to seduce you into logging in again and again, every couple of hours, or even every ten minutes, so you can engage in meaningless grinding that will allow you to improve some numbers on the screen, the prime use of which is that they'll help you in grinding more to improve them even further. While it may not quite be the interactive fiction equivalent of World of Warcraft, it certainly tries to get close. If you value your time and have even the slightest tendency to lose yourself to addicting game mechanics, you'll want to stay as far away from Fallen London as possible.
So why do people spend time with this game, and why do they even enjoy it? This has much to do with the game's primary strength, which is its writing and atmosphere. A Gothic, Victorian, subterranean London may sound trite, but Failbetter Games manages to make Fallen London feel fresh and engaging by taking the material in all kinds of weird and mysterious directions. The player is thrown into the deep, and is left to construct a coherent vision of the world from the many tiny fragments that he or she is given. Combined with the generally very good prose, this makes Fallen London a world that one is eager to explore and learn more about.
What is ultimately disappointing, though, is the quality of the story that arises. Fallen London feeds you many "storylets", but they rarely come together to form a "story", a greater narrative in which your character develops, acts, and changes the world. Two phenomena that show this problem vividly are the infinite repeatability of storylets -- you can just go to the same person again and again and play through the same story involving them again and again -- and the utter abstraction of most of what happens. For instance: you follow someone through town, and as a result you get... 10 whispered secrets. Not 10 actual secrets, with actual content, but the value "10" next to a piece of in-game currency called "whispered secrets". Or you spend dozens of your turns writing a literary tale, and when it is finished... the game doesn't even tell you what the tale is about. Of course, limitless grinding requires repeatability and abstraction, but it is here in particular that we see how the basic game design of Fallen London, while it might lead to money being made, is incompatible with achieving excellence in what ought to really matter to a story game, namely, story. The game continually promises to give you a great narrative, and it consistently fails to deliver.
Fallen London is a game on which a lot of creativity and obvious talent has been spent and, I'm afraid, wasted. Reactions to the game vary wildly, though, so you might want to try it out for yourself -- if, that is, you think you can resist the lure of a game that always wants to tempt you into wasting your time grinding to increase meaningless numbers.
I've been playing Fallen London for at least 5 years now, with a few different characters. I never wanted to review it before because I was worried it would be transitory, and that once the company went under no one would ever be able to play the game I had written about.
But it has been doing better than ever, and has in the last few years added a ton of new content which has significantly improved it.
In form, it is similar to old facebook text games like Mafia, where you have a bunch of numbers for resources and items that change around as you click. The difference is that this has really nice backgrounds, a ton of well-written text (I think a couple million words?) and a card-based system for storylets.
The game is set in a version of London that was sold to dark Masters by queen Victoria. It was taken underground, where the laws of physics no longer apply and death isn't permanent. Hell is a neighbor, and fungus and candles replace plants and sunlight.
It really is two games in one: the first is a time-gated system of customizable stories, with sixty or so actions spread throughout a day (or 80 if you pay a monthly fee). These stories include sweeping epics of revenge or battle against extradimensional beings that changes entire countries or the world, as well as smaller stories like fighting a spider in the sewers.
The other game is a carefully-balanced resources game. Each 'click' has an optimum number of resources available, growing larger until the endgame, and some powerful items take months to save up for. Some hardcore players compete to buy extravagant items like a hellworm or a cask of immortality-inducing cider.
Many storylets are re-used; so, you can bust a 'tomb colonist' (kind of a decayed sentient zombie) out of prison over and over again. Some are only done once, like deciding whether to support a local mob boss or his cop daughter. The re-used ones tend to occur in 'grinds' which are pretty common in this game, although much less than they once were in the early game.
To me, the best stories are:
-Making Your Name, early storylines that help you progress the four stats: Watchful (used for detective work with a Sherlock Holmes substitute, archaeology or university work studying bizarre magical languages), Persuasive (used for romantic and creative work, including writing operas and engaging in courtly romances), Dangerous (used for fighting duels and capturing monsters), and Shadowy (used for pickpocketing and elaborate heists)
-Ambitions. These are stories that span the entire length of the game, starting from something simple (usually tracking down an old friend or lead) and ending up dealing with godlike beings. They include a horror story, a revenge story, an adventure story and a sort of legend or fantasy about wish fulfillment.
-The final stat-capping storylines. These include the railway, an end-game segment where you become a railroad baron, building a railway to hell that gets stranger and stranger the further from London you get; the University Lab, where you discover the dark secrets of the Masters; a series of wars that you lead as a general in a bizarre place; and elaborate thefts that make you a legendary thief.
The game can be 'completed' without paying, but the monthly fee makes grinding a lot easier and provides access to some amazingly good short stories called 'exceptional stories'. Older exceptional stories are available for a fairly hefty sum, but they are generally worth it (especially ones by Chandler Groover and Emily Short).
There's a lot of interesting material up front in the 'making your name' segments, so it's worth checking it out just to see the overall style and feel.
Edit: Looking at the other reviews, I'd say their criticisms are absolutely true (stories can be shallow, clues and hints are items instead of actual stories). I just can't give 4 stars after having played this game for hundreds of hours and honestly investing over $100 or $200 in bits or pieces after years.
I think that's an excellent title. There is some really neat writing here. I really like some of the story lines that build up. But after playing for some time you reach a point where I felt like, "Wait, that's all? It's just more of the same." And it is. Again, great writing! I love the environment, the setting, the building of the setting, and everything else related to the story. But the story itself just sort of IS. Not a great deal happens. And I get that's the way the story and site are setup, but it still leaves me wanting more. Of course, that might be the idea behind the way this is setup and written, in which case it really hits the mark! So head on over and read some, I don't think you'll be disappointed. But you might not make it all the way to the end (is there an end?)
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