The Forgotten City, developed by Modern Storytellers, is a full standalone game based on the popular and award-winning Skyrim mod of the same name. Originally released back in 2015, the mod saw the Dragonborn stumble upon a time portal to an underground city where “the many will suffer for the sins of the one”. Having played the mod earlier this year, I was excited to give the full release a try. I had heard of the mod for years before playing it, and was also aware of the long development time of the full release. With the full game finally launching last week, I was at last able to experience the story of The Forgotten City, completely outside of the constraints of Skyrim. What the full release of The Forgotten City amounts to is a vast improvement on the original, but the game is still held back by some limitations due to its origin, as well as some unfortunate technical hiccups.
The premise of the mod has changed quite a bit in this version of the story. A seemingly minor, but important change is who you are. You are no longer the Dragonborn, stumbling upon an old ruin, instead, you’re just a regular, modern-day person. Sure, this means you can’t shout or cast spells, but your role in the story hasn’t changed at all. The bigger change is in the context and content of the world. Instead of the citizens you meet being from Skyrim, they are now citizens of the Roman empire. This does mean the time gap is more pronounced than in the mod, but overall, the story is still the same. You are an outsider who has fallen back through time and stumbled upon an underground civilization. Someone is about to break “The Golden Rule,” committing a crime that will kill every resident of the city. Your job, as outlined to you by the city’s magistrate, is to discover who will break the Golden Rule, and then tell the magistrate, so they can be stopped.
Without going too far into the narrative, things get more complicated from here as you investigate the lives of everyone living in the city and discover many hidden secrets and plots taking place in the background. Every clue gives you a lead that you follow to piece together how the city will end, with your ultimate goal being to save everyone’s lives. This is done by solving problems, exploring the city and finding new ways to manipulate the time loop to your benefit. Oh yeah, you’re in a time loop by the way. Every time the rule is broken the magistrate opens a portal back to the beginning, with many of the puzzles revolving around you doing this on purpose in order to steal something or experiment with different outcomes.
All of this matches the description of the original mod, with one major difference of note. See, the original mod was a time loop without time passing. What I mean by this is while ostensibly you were there to stop the rule from being broken, you could spend as long as you wanted in a loop with that never happening. There was no time pressure, no event that facilitated the time loop. In the full release, however, throughout everything going on there is a day and night cycle that, once it reaches its conclusion, leads to that ever-important breaking of the Rule. This event can be manipulated for another outcome, but you must plan around it, and eventually plan for it, in order to move the plot forward. As well as this, there are now time-sensitive events that you must tackle at the beginning of every loop in order to reach the best outcomes. This requires you to act quickly early on and keep track of everything that takes place during the day in order to optimally manipulate events.
The time loop stays consistent for the most part too. Characters always respond to you as if it’s the first time you’ve met. I can only remember one instance of this not being the case — with Ulpius — where a decision I made with one character suddenly changed where he went at the beginning of the loop with zero interaction. This certainly is better than the Skyrim mod, where during my playthrough a character “died” during one loop without anyone killing her, and then remained dead throughout every other loop. Luckily, she was a minor character, but it was still strange to see a body on the street every single time with no explanation as to why or how she was there. Regardless, while there are technical issues here none of them are as severe as those seen in Skyrim. In the full release I only experienced about three crashes, plus occasional issues where dialogue options wouldn’t appear on screen for some time, as well as one instance where Ulpius once again ran into a wall for a bit before course-correcting.
The other major issue I found had to do with controls. This is one of the rare games on Xbox platforms that allows for full keyboard and mouse support. Curious to try this out, I plugged in my keyboard and mouse and played almost the entire game with this control scheme. The game controlled really well like this and gave me a new appreciation for a keyboard and mouse, something I very rarely use to play games. However, on Xbox the implementation is spotty, as if you use a controller to start the game, or turn one on at any point, the game pauses if the controller loses connection. In addition to this, sometimes buttons were unresponsive, with buttons needed for things like loading a save after dying — and on rare occasions even dialogue — not responding to my presses. I was never able to load a save after dying with the mouse or keyboard and I hope this is something that can be fixed later, as I enjoyed the option and wish more games would implement it.
In general, completely separate from the glitches, this game is just janky. Other than the technical issues, this jank remains charming for the most part, with stiff facial animation that honestly feel fitting for something that was once contained in a Bethesda game, along with combat that feels ancillary to the game itself and a remnant of its origin in an RPG with combat. Even the stealth system, something the game basically never requires or rewards the use of, is taken entirely from Skyrim. While the stealth and the combat might feel pointless in the long run and personally didn’t add to my experience, they also don’t take away anything and for some may act as nice pace breaks where you switch from solving problems and puzzles to shooting golden zombies in the head. There was even one moment where I shone my flashlight on an enemy covered by darkness that genuinely scared me, though that isn’t a high bar to clear as I scare easily.
The music and visuals both do their jobs perfectly, with the city itself being well designed and being a nice blend of all the cultures and people that have lived in it throughout its existence. The music is period-appropriate and is enjoyable to listen to, but can overpower some dialogue moments throughout the game. The sound design never distracts, other than the issues with the music, and instead the sound and visuals both aid the tone and atmosphere of the tale being told. While the graphics didn’t blow me away, they fit the game and other than the previously mentioned faces, never distracted me. The best visual and audio touch is the golden statues, guardians of the Golden Rule and remnants of previous settlers, who attack when the rule has been broken. They often whisper to you, with their sudden head movements often surprising me and making me enjoyably uneasy. Sometimes I would look away and then catch one staring at me and jump slightly, though once again I am a coward so your mileage may vary. These statues are echoes of those who came before and give the whole area a morbid tone that is effective, with their poses of fear acting as an eerie backdrop to the setting.
The charm and gratification from this game is in the investigation. Talking to these unique and mostly well-written and acted characters to assist them and get ever closer to uncovering the mysteries the city holds is always exciting. It feels good to put pieces together and slowly make your way through puzzle after puzzle. Some of these solves are quick, offering instant gratification that carries momentum into the next mystery. Others take longer to piece together, with some requiring multiple steps, moving pieces around or the exploration of new areas. While many of these segments are taken from the mod, I was happy to see new sections of the story added in this version. Generally speaking, even having played the original, I felt I didn’t always know what was coming next.
At times the game even subverted my expectations, with some of the conclusions from the original game being either repurposed or entirely changed, with these alterations keeping me on my toes. However, the places where certain mysteries had either completely or mostly identical solutions did disappoint me slightly. This didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the game, but it was a shame that an element of the ending was so obvious to me, and my expectations were sadly met in this instance. However overall, the changes made to the story of the mod work to the game’s benefit, and I imagine those like me who played the original will find enough new content to warrant playing this story, with those who never touched the mod finding even more to dig into.
Outside of talking to people you also solve puzzles with your bow, which is capable of turning solid matter into gold. While you certainly will solve some puzzles by yourself, too often the statues will whisper “helpful” hints at you, frequently giving away the solution to a puzzle sometimes even before you knew there was one. For example, at one point the best way to escape some tricky combat sections is to trap the enemies chasing you. Before I even knew there were enemies to trap, the statues told me exactly what to do, giving me no opportunity to figure it out for myself. The same thing happened a little earlier, when a puzzle required me to steal something and the statues told me of this option as soon as I got close to the thing I had to steal. There was no way to turn this off or even alter the frequency of these hints, which occasionally frustrated me. However, since writing the first draft of this review an option has been added in the settings to turn these hints off entirely. This feels like something of a half measure but it will still be welcome to many. While they can be helpful, more often than not the statues are far too willing to assist and just make the puzzles incredibly easy.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with The Forgotten City. Modern Storytellers did an admirable job keeping the core of the original while improving and expanding on its scope. The improvement of the time loop itself is well appreciated and some changes to specific things carried over from the mod kept me on my toes. New segments and plot lines also kept me invested and the detachment from Skyrim and its lore felt freeing. At 10 or so hours for a full playthrough, it’s up to you whether the experience I’ve described warrants your money, but I certainly think this is an expedition through history and mystery worth taking. I will certainly be returning to improve my number of loops and find anything I missed.
The Forgotten City
The Forgotten City goes from a Skyrim mod to fully fledged experience, improving on the original in every way.
- Beautifully designed location
- Well written
- Uses the time loop premise efficiently
- Builds on the mod while remaining fresh
- Over-eager helper statues
- Combat feels like a remnant of the mod
- A few compatibility issues with mouse/keyboard
- Occasional bugs and a couple crashes