We've covered Failbetter Games' free MMO RPG Fallen London before, but back then it was called Echo Bazaar, and quite a lot has changed in three years. The game, which blends an eerie feel with steampunk style in an alternate London that literally takes place in a massive subterranean world, requires a free account to play, and to get the most out of it you'll definitely want to consider making a "dummy" Twitter or Facebook account solely to make use of the game's social features since the experience is definitely better with friends. Why? Because in this cut-throat, mystery-laden pit of danger, deceit, and debauchery (my three favourite d's), you'll need all the help you can get to survive everything from pacts with devils
Fallen London's basic gameplay is actually quite simple, presented in text-based choose-your-own-adventure style, with all the intricacies left to the storytelling and world building. You'll create your character and, once you escape from prison (where you were doubtlessly unjustly jailed), explore the city through the use of Actions. Free players can have ten total Actions at a time, and since every choice you make costs one or more, once your Actions are all spent, you can't do anything until they regenerate, which they do at a rate of one per ten minutes. (The game will continue running in another tab or window if you allow it.) Depending on what Qualities your character has, which are statistics like Watchfulness or Persuasion that increase from certain activities, you'll find a varying number of different Storylets available, which act as independent plotlines for you to play in. These could be as simple as finding a place to live (and enough Secrets to pay your rent, perhaps by deciphering infernal writings), or as complex as a massive storyline with enormous rewards and consequences, such as discovering the truth behind the death of a loved one. Opportunity Cards can also be played to unlock other stories, but be careful.
Note that while the game is fully playable for free, you can purchase additional actions or special exclusive storylines using "Nex" for real money. These are completely optional. If you wish to subscribe and become an "Exceptional Friend" for the price of 20 Nex monthly (around $5.00USD), you'll get 20 actions at a time instead of the usual ten, and be able to access the House of Chimes, where you can gamble and take part in additional storylines.
From now until the end of December 2013, enjoy double actions free! Free players get twenty total actions, which subscribers ("Exceptional Friends") receive forty!
While Fallen London is structured to be the sort of game you can pick up for a few minutes whenever you have some spare time, if you love a good story (or a good many stories), then chances are you're going to want to spend a lot, lot more with it. The game reveals its world in snippets and casual observations as you play and explore, and the result is an intriguing and mysterious place with a ton of depth that eases you into its unique setting and always leaves you craving more instead of hammering you with exposition. The fact that you'll still have to spend the same Action point grinding a Quality as you would advancing a far more interesting story can grate, especially since so many of the stories are locked unless a particular Quality is at a certain level and you have enough of a particular item. While there are a lot more new things to experience, the item and Quality requirements for most of them seem to have jumped substantially, which means there's a lot more grinding than there used to be... especially when it comes to some things now requiring more than one action right off the bat.
Still, the game excels at providing an enormous wealth of options to keep you busy while you wait for Actions to regenerate, and with piles of new locations, stories, and special events, it's going to be a long, long time before you see it all. Fallen London is the sort of amazingly creative and yet casually engaging game you always hope to find, and there's no time like the present to give it a spin.