It’s easy to get lost in City of the Shroud. Billed as a “real-time tactical RPG and social experiment”, the game blends delightful art, cheeky writing and a sharp, engaging combat system to keep you playing for hours.
City of the Shroud eschews character customisation and takes the surprisingly effective route of displaying you, the character, as a hooded figure (a figure in a potato sack might be a more apt description – and plenty of characters make digs at your unfashionable outfit throughout the game). In any case, you’re just a common peasant from the hills when you arrive at a gated city, Iskendrun, in search of a job and a better life. Of course, it’s not that easy. What you find when you step into the city is political machinations, monsters appearing from portals, and factional tensions.
The factional intrigue is the compelling component for me. A large part of the game involves speaking to the leaders of different factions, which all have very different priorities, solutions to the problems plaguing Iskendrun, and complicated relationships with each other. Of course, they all think that they’re in the right, and they all have compelling cases. This game demands hard choices – so no fence-sitting. As you learn more and speak to more people, the choices get more difficult, and of course, eventually you’ll have to pick a side. All these decisions are important – your choices in this chapter will determine the path future chapters will take (the aforementioned “social experiment”). I loved the writing, but there is a lot of reading and clicking, which won’t appeal to everyone.
The battle mechanics (inspired by fighting game mechanics) are a lot of fun, and the tutorials are handled deftly. Having a handy game character explain how to move around the map and fight is a time-honoured game convention, but that doesn’t stop it from being a little silly, especially when the controls get a little more complicated. The writers acknowledge this with characters reeling off very self-aware dialogue – it could come off cheesy and awkward, but instead it’s charming.
As you build your reputation in the city, you’re able to recruit different team members to fight alongside you, each with distinct strengths, weaknesses and combos you can take advantage of. While the combat style isn’t my forte, it’s easy to get the hang of, and also, happily, doesn’t have to be the focus of the game. I spent far more time running errands and helping people (boring, I know) than I did fighting monsters. The game allows for plenty of play styles.
With a narrative-based game like this, the writing is make or break. I’m happy to announce that City of the Shroud‘s writing is decidedly ‘make’.
Chapter One of City of the Shroud is out now on PC and Mac. You can buy it via Steam and the Humble Store. You have until September 10 to finish Chapter One and influence Chapter Two.