Welcome delicious friends! For a while now we’ve been meaning to get around to reviewing Fallen London here at MBU, but the recent release of its mobile app edition finally gave us an excuse to jump it to the top of the pile and have us reviewing another honest-to-goodness text based RPG.
Firstly it should be pointed out that that this review is intended to service both the established browser-based version of Fallen London in addition to its more recent app based counterpart. We will be leaning heavily on the pros and cons between these two editions to help players decide which way (or both) they want to play. Both editions use the same art and sound assets in marginally different layouts, with the story content remaining the same throughout. Failbetter Games Ltd have created a truly interesting world in which to inhabit and their own take on the text based adventure with this title that’s practically unique.
Graphically the game uses a mixture of textures and silhouettes to put across a macabre take on a heavily fictionalized Victorian London. You’ll select a silhouette that best suits the type of character you want to play, ranging from a fairly obvious series of gentleman and detective types straight out of ‘Sherlock Holmes’ to a collection of sinister looking cabal and secret society standards. The game relies heavily on its text elements from this point out but does offer icons for characters and events that are fully illustrated in a manner similar to a western comic book, and page banners in the silhouette style to give a sense of location within the world. Obviously the game relies on its text for most descriptive and narrative functions and this plays to its strength. layout differences are most apparent here between versions as a full-screen allows for various options to be displayed together whilst cramped phone displays require scrolling to take in everything you can do in some scenarios. Artwork is largely HD, with the odd exception of low res assets that have been pulled from earlier builds. You won’t notice this on the browser based version of the game but on a newer phone or large tablet screen it’s quite noticeable.
Sound and music is rare in Fallen London but used to good effect, especially on the loading screen for the app version, where it has particular importance in its use to build anticipation for the game itself. Used occasionally to highlight key moments this is an otherwise largely silent affair and with the accompanying text is perhaps best played on mute to allow the ambient nature of the setting take full effect.
Narrative is, of course, at the heart of Fallen London. This being a text-driven experience it is especially important that the game tell an interesting narrative whilst also accommodating player choices and painting a picture that’s appealing to the player, encouraging them to play on. Fallen London manages this with ease and uses key terms such as ‘Delicious Friend’ to brand itself into your memory. The story itself revolves around the concept of Fallen London as a location, buried deep inside the earth and controlled by a sinister power. The whole setting drips with echoes of Sherlock Holmes, the collected works of Charles Dickens and more than a small amount of H.P. Lovecraft. After creating a character you’re free to explore this environment and fail/succeed as you see fit, crafting the story around you as you progress.
Gameplay uses a few tried and tested elements from browser and mobile titles of the past, in particular the Energy system (here represented by a candle) that offers 20 actions a day before you can’t play any more and takes time to refill. Of course a real-world payment option exists to speed this up, but it would have been nice to see the game offer a pay once and play indefinitely option, with newer titles are beginning to embrace. Some story content also hides behind locked doors, which means that additional expansions to the base game can be purchased in a similar manner but these are not essential to the core experience. An account and working internet connection is required to play, with the browser based edition being the most stable (though ironically offline at the time of writing this review!) and the mobile edition sometimes failing to log in or taking forever to connect and update even on a secure and stable connection. Progress can also occasionally be lost in that edition, making continued progress frustrating but never losing more than the last 20 turns, which can be replayed with the benefit of hindsight. The game is text based and heavily stat-based, but treats itself more akin to a card game. Each location has a deck of events to play through or replay to build stats (of which there are 4 and these increase with use, win or fail a test) and a personal deck of random cards to your character gets put together from the missions you succeed in and characters you meet, allowing for the adventure to become quite customized after the first week of play. This works extremely well, though social features muddy the water a little by adding a friend network of the kind usually seen on Facebook titles, and the base game is huge with hundreds of options and locations to explore before you start turning to your own deck to forward personal goals. The game offers several starting locations after a standard introduction to better allow you to focus on the traits you want your character to build, though we advise keeping everything else topped up shortly behind your main stat in case you have to work your way out of a scenario that could dead-end on you.
Overall, Fallen London is a fantastic game that offers a lot of content to players and (on browser only) has an open source version of its system freely available for the player to create their own world and adventure. It’s at its most stable on desktops too, with the app equivalent feeling slower and considerably more buggy whilst taking up a surprising amount of memory for such a simple game. Cross play is possible however, and for anyone wanting to take their adventure on the road with them it’s a viable option, we recommend you try the online version first before downloading the app, to see if you enjoy the style.