Hello, delicious friend. London has been stolen. Well, that depends on who you talk to, actually; it's never very wise to talk about politics, and the status quo has a number of powerful supporters. It has something to do with the Traitor Empress... or perhaps Hell... or perhaps... No, too dangerous to even speculate. Anyway, however it happened, London is Fallen. You've left the Surface and now make your home there, in the Neath. Why did you do so? Write your own narrative in this fascinating multiplayer roleplaying browser game from Fail Better Games, Echo Bazaar. Please note that you must sign in with either Twitter or Facebook to play the game.
Although dramatically different in tone and setting, Echo Bazaar is perhaps best compared to perennial JIG favorite Kingdom of Loathing, so if you've ever tried that game you'll get the hang of things relatively quickly. You have a "candle" which is your bank of 10 actions, and you can spend them by playing cards, doing storylets, and using objects. This action bank will slowly recharge over the day back up to ten actions. Once per day, you can "echo" a usually creepy statement on Twitter or Facebook to refresh your action bank back to 10. Over the course of an entire 24-hour period, you have a hard limit of 70 actions, and once that's used up, you'll have to wait until the next day. If you spend real money in the form of "fate", you can buy more actions per day or upgrade your action bank to 20. You also occasionally get Fate free for completing certain missions.
Your character can be male, female, or undetermined, and your gender doesn't really affect anything other than the pronouns and similar things. What does affect your destiny is your stats: persuasive (charisma), dangerous (strength/constitution), shadowy (dexterity), and watchful (wisdom/intelligence). Playing cards and stories usually involves a challenge to one of these stats. The relationship between your level in that stat and the difficulty of the task has a wide range from "straightforward" to "almost impossible". When you succeed, you generally get some objects as a reward, an increase to the challenged stat, and maybe an increase in a storyline or trait. When you fail, sometimes there's no penalty at all, but in higher levels there is increasingly a negative penalty, generally an increase in one of the four menace categories: suspicion, wounded, scandal and nightmares. When these levels get too high, as the game puts it, "something bad may happen."
But you're not alone in this, at least hopefully not. You can call upon people who are Twitter and Facebook friends with you who also play the game. You can ask them for help with diminishing scandal, unburden yourself from your nightmares, have a friendly game of chess, and much more. While the game is certainly playable without many friends or even any at all (I only have two), the game is really best played within a social framework. That includes the PvP "Game of Knife and Candle".
Analysis: Often with these kind of games, there's not a lot of tech support even if you are spending real money, and if you're not spending money, well, forget it. I was pleasantly surprised that when I ran into a problem on Echo Bazaar, the bug report I sent (which I imagined would vanish into the ether) received a response that same day. The Echo Bazaar staff member helped me get everything fixed, which was wonderful, because otherwise a few days of game play would have been wasted. This kind of prompt and efficient tech support to even players who haven't spent money is the kind of thing that really makes loyal players.
The game also has a slow but steady flow of new content, and they're not simply adding content to the end game to please their longtime players. They have also been adding new storylines, cards, and ventures to the early and mid-game sections. In addition, they usually have special events on real world holidays which will be added to your profile, such as Halloween's "A Veteran of All-Hollow's Eve" ("You've seen things. RUBBERY things.")
A last word of recommendation: although you can play via Facebook, playing via Twitter is really what the game was designed for and it's where the "action" is, so to speak. All the NPCs have Twitter accounts, and the nature of what you echo (#ebz) is designed around Twitter hashtags. Plus, it just looks really out of place on a Facebook page. I had to field a worried call from my mother that my Facebook page had been hacked. Don't upset your mother: play on Twitter.
While prerequisite of signing in with either social network might be a turn off to some players, if you take the plunge you'll find a surprisingly robust role-playing experience full of dark fantasy, dark streets, dark humour, and... well, you get the idea. The game offers up some genuinely intriguing story full of tongue-in-cheek moments, mixing serious intrigue with surreal fantasy. With a lot of polish, a lot of content, and a lot of style all its own, Echo Bazaar is one of the most unique RPGs out there, and definitely worth a look.