City of the Shroud Impression
City of the Shroud offers some interesting ideas. Most interesting of these is how the episodic RPG is being created so that player choices in who they help during the game will influence the direction of subsequent chapters. Unfortunately, the current state of the first chapter makes getting to the point where the story becomes influenced by players’ choices a tough proposition
The game puts players in control of a new arrival at the city of Iskendrun, where various factions are vying for control. Making things worse against this backdrop are the appearances of portals from which dangerous beings emerge. After being one of the few people seemingly able to actually fight off these beings, the player character is hailed as a hero and springs to the attention of the factions.
Though the setting of Iskendrun stands out a bit initially thanks to the game’s graphical style and Middle Eastern architecture, there is very little to give it much character. There’s nothing memorable about the city itself and the game’s narrative is chock-full of fourth-wall-breaking sarcasm that provides some brief amusement but makes it very difficult to feel involved in the city’s problems and get attached to its inhabitants, many of whom share the exact same portraits to boot. The quests are also not particularly interesting, often being item hunts that are liable to be interrupted by combat for one reason or another, resulting in a setting that disappears from memory almost immediately.
The first portions of the game give players quick tutorials on the combat system and puts six character archetypes at their disposal. City of the Shroud offers what sounds like an interesting mix of real-time-with-pause, grid-based strategy, and fighting-game-style inputs, but this mixture fails to gel. Some of this could be fixed by better balancing — the heavy price of movement is a particular annoyance, especially when some enemies will just teleport out of attack range — or some more depth, but in general the mixture is a bit awkward to get a proper handle on. It’s especially apparent once players can get a full party of four controlled characters. Even just a switch to being fully turn-based feels like it would result in a marked improvement.
Outside of the combat and clicking through visual novel sections there’s not really anything else to the game. There’s no character progression — players just form a faceless party of four by selecting from the six archetypes — no items, and no equipment. Players can engage in one-on-one multiplayer battles or random encounters, though as every battle is seemingly against those same six character archetypes, these get tiresome very quickly.
It’s neat to see new ideas like those in City of the Shroud. However, the current experience doesn’t have the solid foundation necessary to get players interested in what comes next. On the plus side, there is certainly a lot of space for the game to grow, but it needs to do so quickly if there’s going to be enough support for its plans of a player-influenced story to come off successfully.