By Jaime Skelton (MissyS), Editor-in-Chief
Three years. The Lord Chernobog has made his promise: should we satisfy his demands, he will usher in a new age of glory. I look upon the city and gaze at the five estates towering above the commonfolk. Now was the time for them to put aside their differences and work toward a holy purpose. Now was a time for discipline and for sacrifice, a time to root out the sinners and reward the virtuous. There was much work ahead, but the fate of our world was at stake. I would not fail them.
It is a rare but wonderful treat when Lovecraftian tendrils wrap around gamers, presenting them with a dark, twisted nightmare realm. So when Kitfox Games brought forth The Shrouded Isle, a town management game with a dark story and putrescent look, the appeal was instantaneous. Here, players must not seek to escape the darkness but fully embrace it, rewarding ignorance and punishing virtue.
In The Shrouded Isle, the player takes on the role of the head Priest and overseer of a town pledged to the service of the “Lord” Chernobog, a dark god that demands ultimate worship. The time is three years from a promised date of the Lord’s return, and it is your responsibility to guide the faithful so that when the date arrives, Chernobog comes as promised. To accomplish this, you must rely on the assistance of Five Houses – Kegnni, Iosefka, Cadwell, Efferson, and Blackborn – each with their own responsibilities in shepherding the masses and their own level of favor with you.
The game takes place over the course of three years divided into four seasons. Each season grants three turns (one per month), bringing the game to a maximum of 36 turns. During this time, you must manage five traits: Ignorance, Fervor, Discipline, Penitence, and Obedience. You must also keep each House appeased enough that they do not rebel against you. Should any trait or approval rating fall behind the minimal threshold, you will have one season to repair it to an acceptable state. Should you fail this, it’s game over.
To accomplish your great goals, you must rely on the assistance of seasonal advisors from the five Houses. Each House has six advisors, and each advisor has their own randomized personality in the form of vices and virtues. Both vices and virtues offer additional effects when the advisor acts during a turn, in the form of a penalty or boost to their related faith trait. These may be minor or major, and it is part of your responsibility to discover the traits of each House member for reasons soon to be apparent.
After inquiring at each House to try to discern traits, and selecting an advisor from each, you will be able to begin the Season. The season consists of three turns in which you can try to boost one of the five traits by putting your House Advisors to the work they were born to do. There are three caveats to this. First, you may select one to three advisors each month. At minimum, one advisor must act, but you simply can’t ask everyone to work, either. The more Advisors that work, the lesser the effect of each’s work. This also impacts the second caveat: you will gain favor with the Houses you choose to rely on, and lose favor with those you do not. Finally, the third caveat: each advisor’s vice and virtue will also affect the faith traits when they work, meaning every action has consequences in multiple areas.
This is one of the two key reasons to discover the Advisor’s vices and virtues as soon as possible. Each season, you can make inquiries about traits at the House so long as you have sufficient favor with them. Putting an advisor to work also helps uncover their personality traits. Rooting out the worst vices is crucial in deciding what advisors to put to work, but more importantly, it will help you decide who to sacrifice.
Yes, sacrifice. Each season, you must choose a sacrifice from the five Advisors that you put to work during that season. At its most basic level, the choice of your sacrifice will cause a loss of favor with that House, gains with the remaining Houses, and affect two other faith traits in the community. If the sacrifice’s vice and virtue have not been discovered, are “forgivable” (minor), or their virtue is major, you will take a significant punishment in these values. If, however, the sacrifice has a major vice, then the negative impact is very minor. Additionally, each season Chernobog will whisper to you and ask for a specific sacrifice and trait to be raised. Appeasing Chernobog by bringing forth the greatest sinners is the best way to win the game, as it minimizes negative impacts and boosts your favor among the community.
So the game progresses. Each Season, you choose five advisors that you hope will have the least damaging and most positive impact, or whom you wish to root out major vices from to send to the sacrificial altar. You balance each House’s favor, and each faith trait, and then – if you succeed at the end of three years – the twisted primal God will reward you. There are a variety of lose conditions, and miscellaneous achievements, that you can also work toward in your playthrough.
While many of the elements are randomized, giving The Shrouded Isle a rogue-lite feel, replayability is minimum. I spent several play throughs learning the game and honing my strategy, battling poor RNG and early mistakes before I finally conquered the game with under five hours played. Aside from completing achievements, there’s nothing left to accomplish, nor enough challenge in a replay, to justify playing further. The game’s $10 USD pricepoint on Steam makes this a fair trade-off, though I feel a hard mode or new game+ variant would sweeten the deal.
Final Rating: Good (3.5/5)
The Shrouded Isle is a great game in its current state. The gameplay is cerebral and randomized enough that a simple walkthrough will not suffice. The atmosphere of the game, with an eerie soundtrack and putrid color schemes, is fitting for the Lovecraftian tone. Unfortunately, these palettes are rather harsh on the eyes, but there are only three options to choose from. This leaves players who want to play, but cannot stand the options, forced to adjust their monitors instead. The hours that I spent working toward my first victory were addicting, compelling, and satisfying. Without significant replay value, however, The Shrouded Isle falls short of greatness. It’s worth a purchase and worth playing, but unless the game develops further, it will remain one of those games that gathers dust on the digital shelf.
Note: A game key was provided for review purposes.
The Shrouded Isle Game Screenshots