Hunty and I have both found ourselves exploring Fallen London quite a bit as of late. Well, I have, at least- I think Hunty’s dead. This isn’t as much of an impediment to exploring as you may think, given London’s new location a few miles underground and a few miles upriver from Hell.
…. Maybe I should back up a bit.
Echo Bazaar is produced by a company by the name of Fail Better Games, located in the real London, not the Fallen one. The premise in a nutshell is that at the height of British power in the Victorian era, the city is stolen by bats, brought underground, and transformed into a twisted, supernatural version of itself. In addition to the city’s normal population of society schemers, notorious highwaymen, starving poets, and daring rogues, the city now hosts a variety of supernatural denizens- devils doing their trade in souls, the Clay Men who provide cheap labor, the wandering spirit of a serial murderer named Jack-of-Smiles, and the Rubber Men, who appear to be immigrants from my neck of the woods. As you begin the game, you’re a new arrival in Fallen London, come to seek your fortune… As soon as you escape from jail.
Despite what you’re probably now imagining, Echo Bazaar doesn’t take itself terribly seriously- while the above setting could certainly become a Lovecraftian world of creeping unknowable horrors or a pedestrian Goth outing, the writing remains relatively lighthearted throughout. Your character reacts to most every event, no matter how creepy or disconcerting, with a dry British understatedness. The writing is really quite clever, and definitely the highlight of the game.
The game’s structure itself is fairly standard for the Facebook-game variants; you’re given a number of actions a day, which accrue with time. You can spend an action to play any one of a selection of ‘storylets’- actions you can take depending on your location and current statistics and inventory. These will generally produce a challenge for one of your statistics; you will randomly succeed or fail at these based on your statistics and the difficulty of the challenge. Either outcome improves the appropriate stat; later on, failing will also produce “menace stats” which will eventually cause you to come to a temporary Bad End- such as death or, even worse, scandal-induced exile.
Login is handled through either a Facebook or Twitter account; posting about the game on Twitter or your wall will give you some free actions. There are apparently a great many players who have kept a twitter account for the purpose of playing Echo Bazaar alone. The game runs on the standard free-to-play model, with optional transactions- real money can buy ‘fate’, which can be traded for ingame advantages. None of these are necessary, although some storylets must be unlocked with Fate.
Echo Bazaar’s setup makes it ideal for casual play- it’s a very easy game to play off and on, taking some time a few times a day to spend your actions and move on. The clever writing and the persistent mysteries of Fallen London have kept me coming back (albeit with the occasional break).
Hunty says: I was playing this a ton for a couple of months, but got burnt out pretty quick. On the upside, it’s a China-Mieville-themed Mafia Wars. On the downside, it’s a China-Mieville-themed Mafia Wars. I think I’m too completionist to play open-ended games like this, but as far as open-ended games go it’s pretty great!