Sunday, February 20, 2011

Echo Bazaar

I stumbled upon Echo Bazaar while watching an Extra Credit video on The Escapist about non-combat gaming. Echo Bazaar also netted the "Best Browser Game" award from The Escapist, reason enough to have a look for myself.

So, Echo Bazaar is a browser game, with a link to social networks. That is you can sign into the game either via Twitter or via Facebook, although technically Echo Bazaar is not a "Facebook game". Echo Bazaar creates one of the most interesting virtual worlds you have seen for a while, Fallen London: A Victorian era goth version of London which sunk under the earth, and is now somewhere in the vicinity of hell. Thus you meet a cast of Victorians plus undead and devils, and you are trying to make your way through that society.

Helping you in that endeavor are your 4 character stats "dangerous", "watchful", "persuasive", and "shadowy". The success of any action you perform in Echo Bazaar is either based on sheer luck, or an ability check against one of these 4 stats. And even a failed check increases your stat, with harder checks giving you faster advancement. But of course the easier checks are more likely to succeed, ending you up with better rewards. Besides the stats you also have other "qualities" you collect as rewards from your adventures. For example you can have various connections to groups like the Bohemians, Society, Criminals, or Hell. Or you can have more mysterious qualities like being "Protégé of a Mysterious Benefactor".

Gameplay proceeds by you choosing either an opportunity card, or a "storylet". Opportunity cards are random, you start out with six of them, and if you play them, they slowly regenerate. Storylets are available depending on your location (Look for the grey Travel button to the right of the opportunity cards), and your stats and qualities. Every opportunity and storylet tells you a small story drawing you deeper into the world of Fallen London, and usually presenting you with several options on how to proceed. If those options include a skill check, the difficulty of that skill check is displayed. Choose an option, see how the small story continues with success or failure, increase your stats, and get other rewards. But you also risk to get negative qualities, like being haunted by nightmares or causing scandal, which you then have to try to get rid off.

Echo Bazaar is free to play. You can buy "Fate" points, which enable you to buy more actions per day, or unlock some exclusive story arcs, but it is totally possible to play the game without paying anything. Also it is totally possible to "solo" Echo Bazaar, but there are some actions you will need a Facebook friend for. Thus, don't hesitate to befriend me on Facebook and send me Echo Bazaar requests in case you decide to check this game out.

Echo Bazaar is full of danger, adventure, and intrigue, but it doesn't have a classic combat system. You might get into fights using your "dangerous" stat, and you might even equip a weapon or get wounded. But in the end that will be handled exactly like the skill checks you used to for example "Study the Hidden Language of Tattoos", or "Mock an Insufferable Poseur". Echo Bazaar has an unique graphics style, but no animations, and most of the story-telling is done by text. But unlike your usual MMORPG quest texts, the storylets of Echo Bazaar are quite interesting, and make you eager to explore more of the lore of Fallen London. My recommendation: Check it out!

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