Turning a Skyrim mod into a full game is an impressive feat on its own, but to then make it something worth playing is a whole different ball game. The Forgotten City, from developer Modern Storyteller, feels a lot like The Elder Scrolls titles of years past. However, contrasting the main quest of Tamriel's northern region is a tale actually worth seeing through to its end.
Transported back in time to an ancient Roman settlement, you stumble upon a small community governed by The Golden Rule. It dictates that should anyone commit a crime, everyone will die and be turned into solid gold. You arrive on the day of a government election, and the current leader strongly suspects someone is about to break it.
That twist turns The Forgotten City into a sort of murder mystery before the murder actually happens, with finding out who the budding perpetrator is becoming the main objective of the game. The other side to this coin is that The Golden Rule doesn't affect you since you're trapped in a time loop. If you or someone else commits a crime, you're able to restart at the point you first entered the village and start again with all knowledge gained still intact.
Combined with the fascinating premise, it's here where the game's fantastic writing comes into play. Clever and witty on its own, dialogue is heightened when you comedically re-introduce yourself to characters a second, third, or even fourth time. Speech options often let you recite what they're going to say — much to their surprise — and then allow you to actually get the jump on the story by telling people to do your bidding for them. If you know someone is about to die, you can tell another person to save them while you focus on a different narrative beat.
Much of The Forgotten City revolves around this mechanic: work your way through different story threads to try and solve the mystery, and if a crime is needed for progression to trigger, commit one and then rewind time to return to safety. The first time it happens is quite the sight to behold, and the novelty doesn't wear off on subsequent loops. The charm comes from manipulating time to your advantage, exploring different options to see if they lead anywhere and doubling back if there's a dead end.
You'll do so through conversation, and we mean a lot of conversation. Every member of the community can be chatted to, all with their own little story to tell and dialogue options to explore. Revelations can spin off into their own side quests or help to form a piece of the larger plot. And so talking to other people is what you'll be doing most of the time, reporting back with important updates or triggering a time loop to ask someone about their secret before they've even decided to tell you. It's a really neat concept that has been capitalised on successfully.
Funnily enough, this is where The Forgotten City resembles Skyrim the most. It does that thing during conversations where the surrounding area sort of falls by the wayside and becomes blurred as all attention is placed on the person you're talking to. Not a complaint by any means, but something we couldn't help notice considering its origins. Hopefully one of the few things future games borrow from Cyberpunk 2077 is the ability to freely move about the place whilst having a discussion.
Outside of conversing with others, there's honestly not a lot else to shout about. There are stretches of light combat, but it's poor. Clunky controls and questionable button mapping makes picking off enemies a bit of a chore, with certain encounters that almost feel like they're designed to kill you if you don’t immediately spot the trick. While these sorts of engagements clearly weren't the focus for the Modern Storyteller team, they still sour an otherwise worthwhile experience. Cut them completely and you've got a better game.
It also doesn’t run particularly well on PlayStation 5, with technical flaws somewhat common. Scenery doesn't always spawn in properly, leaving the area momentarily devoid of any colour as you walk through a door. Hitches and pauses during gameplay bring the experience to a standstill for a second or two. Then set pieces and animations don't always play out properly — one body could be reliably suspended in mid-air during our playthrough. There’s nothing game-breaking here (and we're sure future patches will see to these issues), but it's not without its problems.
For fans of storytelling, The Forgotten City is a solid recommendation. Freed from the shackles of Skyrim, the full game tells a captivating story elevated by clever and humorous writing. With the interesting time loop mechanic creating further situations full of comedy and intrigue, settling down across a few evenings with The Forgotten City will delight. We just wish the combat was either improved or not there at all, and the technical setbacks weren't quite so rampant.