The Shrouded Isle is brought to you Kitfox Games, who also made Shattered Planet and Moon Hunters. This game clearly is shift in terms of gameplay, when compared to the studio’s previous games.
The first thing that catches the eye when looking at The Shrouded Isle is clearly the game unique visual style and colour scheme that it has. Still, while some might think that this is a must in order to play the game, in the options menu there are two other colour schemes that you can select. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to use them, since after a few minutes of play, my eyes would hurt due to the colour contrast. In any case, I think the team deserves some points for originality and making something unusual. Along with the visuals, the music also helps to create a really eerie ambiance as well as a certain sense of dread that really add to the game as a whole experience.
In essence, The Shrouded Isle is a management game, one in which you’re doing your best to manage a cult on a secluded island. You play as the high priest of this cult that has been founded, and since then been isolated, on an island for 497 years. You worship Chernobog, a mysterious entity that, according to your long-lasting cult belief, is supposed to awake three years after the game begins, right at the 500th anniversary of your cult.
As the high priest of this cult, your role is to manage the village ignorance, fervor, discipline, penitence and obedience. With each one of these virtues falling into the responsibility of one of the five Houses that live in the island, the Kegnni, the Iosefka, the Cadwell, the Efferson and the Blackborn. Each one of these has their own unique responsibility that is vital in order to keep everything in order. For example, while the Kegnni are responsible for improving the villagers ignorance by getting rid of blasphemous materials such as books, the Efferson House is responsible for the punishment conducted against sinners, while Blackborn is responsible for enforcing the law.
Each House is composed by a few family members, with each of them having their own unique name that distinguishes them from the others, but you can name them to your own liking. With that said, you can perform inquiries in order to learn more about the traits of each individual. These traits directly affect the stats of your cult, for the good and for the bad, and, therefore, they need to be kept in check. With that said, you start by knowing pretty much nothing about their traits, and since you can only conduct a limited amount of inquiries per season on each house, you have to rely on these small descriptions of each villager that can give you some hints as to what each person is up to or better at.
This is pretty much where the core gameplay loop starts, you inquire people in order to learn more about their vices and virtues and then proceed to select an advisor from each House in order to form a council for the upcoming season. In this council you’ll get to pick up to three of your advisors to conduct activities during each of the three months that compose each season. These activities will be done on behalf of improving certain stats, either by confiscating goods, building monuments, investigating heresy, burning books or by flagellating sinners. However, selecting the advisor of one of the houses will trigger a negative response by the rest, so you have to balance out which ones you should select in each month in order not to jeopardize a specific virtue of your cult, nor to upset the rest of the Houses, because that might make them rebel against you if you don’t appease them in the next season.
Next up, once you start the tasks planned for the month, the game will present you with a report of the effect of each advisor’s traits, but if you have no information about their traits, you might not be able to know what the exact impact of their actions was on the community. Then, once a season ends, a ritual will take place, where you have to sacrifice one of your advisors. This is where you should use the evidence and knowledge about one of your advisor’s vices to your favour, because sacrificing an advisor without proof of their vice will upset their families. In the same way, a sacrifice can also inspire the villagers on a specific stat. Once the sacrifice is done, you’re back to the map screen and tasked, yet again, to select the next advisors for the next season. This is a process that will continue for three years, or less, depending on your performance and your choices.
Now, while I do think that the game provides a good degree of challenge where you have to find the best way to manage and balance the interests of each house, learn more about the traits of each villager and keep your village stats in check, I feel like the game sort of falls short from what it initially transpires to be. The game doesn’t have such a good amount of replayability as it may initially seem. Even though, according to the developers, there are six different “cinematic” endings, on my second playthrough I was already seeing the same lines of text over and over. Still, each time the game you start a new game, the villagers will be assigned random traits, so each playthrough is going to be different than the previous ones, but that’s not good enough for me. If you’re just looking for the challenge of managing your own cult, the game is pretty damn good, but if you’re like me and rather prefer a lot more variety in terms of random events, dialogue, text and lore, you might find yourself somewhat disappointed.
It’s worth pointing out that some people might not be too keen on how the game plays, yes it’s difficult, but sometimes there’s not really anything you can do in order to improve your situation, you just have to minimize the damage. Sometimes you can adapt to a new state of things but other times you suffer because of a choice you made previously, such as sacrificing someone that you shouldn’t. Honestly, it’s kind of hard for me to put it into words. Eitherway, while I would like to see all the different endings, the fact that the majority of the outcomes of each action feel like they’re already repeating themselves really puts me off.
In the end, despite my criticism, I do think that The Shrouded Isle is a game that might be worth your time and money if the management premise sounds interesting enough to you, as long as you’re not expecting a vast pool of different lines, scenarios, outcomes, events and a deep story to go along.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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