Taking a trip to Fallen London

Fallen London is an example of narrative engineering by Failbetter games. You may have noticed it in the corner of your Facebook, a slightly derpy picture inviting you to explore an underground world. I clicked that link last summer and have since spent many hours playing. The game has a system in place to keep you from wasting your whole day in front of the screen, though, you get ten actions right away each day and then you have to wait ten minutes for the next one until you reach the cap of forty actions. This is not take- over-your-life World of Warcraft, this is more of a book you pick up for an hour so whenever you feel like it.

As soon as you join, you’re in prison. You don’t know why exactly, but your goal is to escape. Spoiler alert: you do not have to spend the whole game in prison. Once you leave the prison, you decide what neighborhood you want to be a vagrant in until you can find lodgings- that’s the game’s Victorian setting in action there with “lodgings.” Each neighborhood has a quality it develops. Watchmaker’s Hill is fro the Dangerous (where I started), Spite is for the Shadowy, Ladybones Road is for the Watchful, and Veilgarden is for the Persuasive. Each quality has its own long-term goal. The Dangerous ambition is hunting a ferocious monster and I have been at it for probably half a year now. Every single adventure has a progress bar, though, and that keeps you motivated.

The game looks like this:

This is in Watchmaker’s Hill. The candle is how many actions you have left. The cards are special little storylets called Opportunities that can be played whenever. They are sometimes part of continuous storylines, depicted by the gold border, and sometimes just stand-alones. The left side is all of your stats- like echoes (the currency of Fallen London) and the bear there represents the Dangerous quality. The right bar is an interesting fact about the city or a song about the Starveling Cat, a very popular folk creature in the city.  I love reading these because they are some of the strangest tidbits of information, like: What is moonish light?

You can share these on Facebook to get your actions replenished, but it’s completely optional.

The image on top of the page reflects where you are in the game, Watchmaker’s Hill is very marshy hence the green and the mushrooms. The “Storylets you’ve already unlocked” section is where most of the fun is. The higher your skill level, the more you can do, like tracking a serial killer or rescuing shipwrecked Clay Men (golems, there’s a lot of prejudice towards them in the city but my character helps them out).

Once you play through the four basic areas, you can unlock more areas by leveling up and collecting items. For example, I want to unlock the Labyrinth of Tigers mentioned in that sidebar. I need 5000 rats, but that’s fine because I already have 4066. I think they’re for the tigers.

Fallen London (formerly Echo Bazaar) is free, mildly addicting, and constantly adding new features. The FAQ is so helpful and includes such exciting information as:

“How much content is there in the game?

Over 400,000 words, or more than four longish novels.”

Even the error messages are wonderful.

So, take a trip to Fallen London, and maybe stay a while.

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