I have been given a commission by the Department of Menace Eradication to get rid of an infestation of Sorrow-Spiders that has overrun a building in Watchmaker’s Hill. I step around the blind beggar who is chanting outside the building and enter.
The smell of rotten fruit is overwhelming. I look around the dimly-lit interior and see nothing but moldering furniture. In an earlier part of my life I would have opened the curtains to let some light in, but of course that would be useless here. Sorrow-spiders are the size of a small cat, and both armored and poisonous. The best way to deal with them, although not the tidiest approach, is to hit them as hard as you can with a hammer. I take a tighter grip on mine and step forward cautiously.
Lately I have been playing quite a bit of Echo Bazaar, aka Fallen London. Echo Bazaar is a web-based, story-based game set in the city of London, which has been stolen by bats and carried far below the surface of the Earth to the Neath. It now sits just across the Underzee, a vast underground sea, from Hell and is home to the Echo Bazzar. The Bazzar and its strange masters have stolen other cities through the ages and London is the fifth city where they have made their home.
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.
You begin your time in Echo Bazaar in New Newgate Prison, a vast prison carved inside of a stalactite and hanging from the roof of the great cavern in which London is now found. You must first find a way to escape and make your way into the city proper.
In the game your character is defined by a series of qualities. The four main qualities are “Dangerous”, “Persuasive”, “Shadowy” and “Watchful” but you also gain other qualities depending on what you are doing. For example, as you plot your escape from the prison you gain an “Escaping” quality. The game uses these qualities to determine if you succeed at various challenges. For example, picking someone’s pocket is a test of your “Shadowy” quality and your chance of success of doing so will be based on your score in it. The other qualities function the same way, so your chance of escaping from the prison will be based on your “Escaping” quality.
With a swing of my hammer I smash a sorrow-spider, releasing an odor of rotting fruit and scattering twitching limbs about. My swing also smashed a hole in the wall and, looking through it, I see that someone has secreted a china doll with glass eyes and a velvet cloak within. I fish the doll from the hole and notice that someone has stitched the names of nine dead men onto the hem of the cloak. It is old information, but still of some value to someone.
Your qualities also determine what “storylets” you can participate in. Storylets are small story arcs or quests that you participate in. Usually the start of these are simply made available to you as your attributes increase but sometimes you get them at random. You can also find the starting point of storylets in “opportunities” which appear as a small deck of cards. You can have a certain number of cards in your “hand” at any one time and, when used, these open up additional storylets or give additional benefits to your character.
Like most web-based games Echo Bazaar limits the number of actions you can undertake in one day or at one time. You get up to 10 actions at a time and these regenerate at the rate of 10 an hour up to a maximum of 40 actions per day. You can get an additional 10 actions once per day by “echoing” content in the game to your Twitter or Facebook streams. This is optional and up to you but I find myself doing so simply to share some of the amazing writing in the game. (You can double the number of actions you can have per day by becoming a paying member but this is optional.)
A night which leaves you lost for words.
‘Exceptional’? ‘Unforgettable?’ ‘Ineradicable?’ Well, you can hardly bring yourself to regret it, although it raises concerns about the destination of your soul that you thought you were long past. You are quite certain, now, that she is not his sister; that he was human once, and in many senses still is; that they don’t have a single soul between them; and that she, at least, doesn’t feel she’s losing anything by it. You are not certain whether they knew all along exactly what you were up to.
By mutual agreement, the three of you decide not to take your breakfast in the dining room the next morning. A servant of unimpeachable discretion brings you tea, toast and marmalade, closing the door very quietly behind him.
The thing that I enjoy most about the game is the writing. The text associated with the storylets are brief but are wonderfully evocative (such as the example above). There is a wonderful sense of place in Fallen London as you move through it, experiencing the intrigue, romance and danger that make up this strange world. I find myself drawn to the game for the sense of discovery, waiting for my actions to replinish during the day so I can continue my character’s tale.
I destroy the last of the Sorrow-Spiders by tracking them to their hole and pouring boiling wax into it. I hear the sounds the spiders make as they die and suddenly realize that their screams exactly match the cadence of the chant of the blind beggar outside. I go to the window and look out to see the beggar grab his coin bowl and scurry off into a nearby tunnel. It appears there is more to this infestation than I realized. But, for now, my commission is complete. I return to the Department of Menace Eradication for my pay.
Echo Bazaar is one of the most enjoyable casual games I have come across in some time. I recommend that everyone head over to the Bazaar at echobazaar.failbettergames.com and try it themselves.