A Mile Underground and a Boat Ride from Hell – Welcome to the Echo Bazaar

The year is 1889. Three decades ago, London was stolen. The Who, Why and How of it are mysteries – and these days only revolutionaries and anarchists say ‘stolen’ any more. The sun is gone and the city is lit only by glowing fungus, bioluminescent insects and by the gas-light of Mr. Fires.

 But Londoners can get used to anything. It’s quiet down here with the devils and the darkness and the mushroom wine. And a fantastic Bazaar has sprung up in the middle of Fallen London where anything can be bought or sold if you know what to ask for. Hell has established an embassy. Death isn’t so bad after all.

 The Bazaar is located at the heart of Fallen London, in the Neath, a cavern of impossible size, by the Unterzee, a tremendous saltwater lake. They say it’s the skull of some defunct pagan god. That doesn’t sound very likely. Although it would explain the dreams.

 Echo Bazaar is a browser-based text adventure game by Failbetter Games You have a limited set of actions you can take right now (10), and a limited amount of total actions per day (70). Once you use an action, you’ll get another in 7 minutes, and another 7 minutes after that, until you’re back to ten, or you use all your actions for the day. Like many such games, you use your actions to undertake challenges and grind your statistics. With each challenge, you learn more about the world of Echo Bazaar.

You start out as a Mysterious Stranger being held in New Newgate Prison. Right from the get-go Echo Bazaar allows you to determine how you escape and as the game progresses you’ll have the opportunity to decide who you were before your capture.

The game is loaded with ‘storylets‘, short narratives that drip-feed you a little more of the Neath with each click. Storylets generally involve one or more steps, each of which usually offers at least two ways of doing things and allows you to tailor your experience to play to your stronger Qualities (which determine how Dangerous, Watchful, Persuasive and Shadowy you are). There’s no combat in the traditional sense – you will be told how difficult the challenge is relative to your Quality level, and if you decide to give it a whirl, the game makes some behind-the-scenes calculations and tells you the result.

Choose - but choose wisely.

For example, you decide to explore a storylet in which local police want you to learn more about the activities of a Person of Interest. You have two choices: you can follow them around and observe their activities (a Watchful-based challenge), or you can try breaking into their apartment (a Shadowy challenge). Attempting a challenge always increases the associated skill, even if you fail. In many cases, you can re-try the challenge (at the cost of an action).

On top of that, there’s also a deck of Opportunity Cards, which provide diversions, developments and plot twists to improve your Qualities or expand your story.

So what’s the point? Well, there’s no single over-arching storyline that everyone has to work through. But there are several longer plot lines that you can work through. Maybe you’ll try to track down the people who killed your lover. Maybe you’ll gamble your soul against the Devil. Or maybe you’ll just spend some time exploring Fallen London and experiencing the cool lore. It doesn’t really feel like a game that’s about winning or losing – consider this blurb regarding death:

Death in the Fifth City isn’t necessarily the end. If you’re stabbed or shot, someone may come along and sew you back together soon enough. If you’re drowned, you’ll wake with a hangover. If you die of old age or disease, or if you’re hacked to pieces, it’s a more serious matter. But in any case, once you die and return to life down here, you’ll never be permitted to return to the surface…unless you’re one of the few who find a way to immortality.

Consider my current game: I play the part of Mr. Ricochet, a Watchful and Persuasive gentleman who left a string of broken hearts on the surface when he came to the Neath. He is recently escaped from New Newgate Prison and his ambition is to win the infamous card game known as Heart’s Desire – but first he has to find somewhere to play it. In spite of himself, he is falling for a young model and is trying to determine the best way to make his feelings known. He lives in the guest-room of a modest dwelling belonging to a kind-hearted widow in Ladybones Road, and is currently investigating the suspicious activities of a struggling poet. He is also nursing a couple of nasty injuries suffered during his participation in last week’s mushroom forest race. Oh, and the nightmares are starting to get pretty bad.

Sign up requires a Twitter or Facebook account (and you can link them if you have both). While that might get some people’s hackles up, it’s worth noting that you don’t actually have to use your social media in the game. If you wish, you can tweet or post some trivia from the game once per day to replenish your actions, but it’s not mandatory. On the other hand, you can invite people from your Friends Lists to join you for social activities that can help ease your character’s troubled mind or give them a hand with challenges.

Fallen London

Echo Bazaar offers strong and clever story-telling in a unique setting thick with flavour and atmosphere. The desire to know what happens next – and the feeling that you are in control – makes for a delightfully addictive experience. Check it out.


One Response

  1. Update on Mr. Ricochet: it seems he was some kind of lawman back on the surface; a villain he helped put behind bars has apparently escaped and has been sighted in Fallen London, looking for Ricochet. Complicating matters further, a shadowy rival from years past is also rumoured to have entered the Neath, seeking to settle an old score…

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