City of the Shroud presents an interesting choice for those entering its fantasy world – literally. Superficially, it’s a mix of real-time strategy and the narrative branching of visual novels, though set in a fantasy world that lets players affect its ultimate outcome. In short, it’s a game where choices matter, and you’ll either be glad to skip the long-winded narrative drama playing out between characters or scratching your head wondering if it’s going anywhere. Personally, I found it to be like a cup of tea I had to take a few sips of before I could identify the individual elements I liked (and disliked.)
Being a simple farmer from the countryside, making a living has steadily become more difficult. Your character (whose name you choose, I named mine Auto) has to bribe their way into the into the big city of Iskenderun. Recently, the city has been the target of monsters that have been popping out of portals and attacking everyone in sight. Auto comes upon a monster that’s half-dead and fights it; after his victory he’s therefore deemed the “Hero of Portals”. Despite insisting otherwise, it seems he’s become the answer to everyone’s prayers when the city becomes a cesspool of civil war and separate powers vying for dominance. It’s your classic story of the reluctant hero – with isometric gameplay!
The decisions you make will affect how the story plays out for the city parsed out in episodes for the near future, but they don’t just rest on your shoulders. ALL PLAYERS affect how the story will play out with each decision they make affecting the future of Iskenderun. This means events in the virtual world are affected by those in the real one, with players able to impact its fate and ultimate destiny. Does that sound confusing? Yeah, it left me wondering how it would work too, but it’s not as complicated as it sounds. Basically, there are five ruling powers in the city and the majority of players who choose one or another will affect the events of the story as a whole.
How will this play out for those who don’t agree with the choices? Or maybe those who want a do-over (important in gaming!)? Nobody knows right now, but at the time of this review few elements have been significantly altered though I’m sure that will change. It’s a nice experiment, but tying such a large world to the whims of other people seems like more an option than a mandatory thing.
Regardless of its experiments, City of Shroud has its ups and downs when it comes to it’s real-time tactical combat. The standard grid-based system is used for movement in mostly 4V4 brawls that can either go great or end horribly. There is an option to turn on a pause system to let you pick out combos and hit your enemy as hard as possible. My main strategy for winning these brawls were “okay, how many hits can my character deliver in this timeframe?” and mashing buttons while hoping for the best.
There is an option to focus on the narrative side of Iskenderun for those who don’t like the combat. There’s no voice-acting which can be nice to just sit back and absorb this odd mix of fantasy and steampunk thrown into the pot. There were times the dialogue grated my nerves for how meta it could be, with an avalanche of jokes breaking the fourth wall and characters blatantly explaining the mechanics. I’m all for a good meta joke once in a while, but is it necessary to deliver it over and over? And don’t get me started on how many times Auto brings up the fact he’s just a “simple farmer” – I heard you the last five times! Mentioning it another fifteen is just overkill.
I’m not sure if saying “like” or “dislike” describes the range of emotions I felt when going into battle and interacting with other characters. The concepts City of the Shroud presents are interesting, like letting its player community decide the future of Iskenderun and building the world around the choices they make in real-time as a whole. On the other hand, the constant meta jokes and reminders of already clearly defined facts of the small world you’re expected to feel immersed in get dry after hearing them for the upteenth time.