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Review: City of the Shroud (PC)By Dragon0085 At 05.08.2018 08:28

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One thing that sticks out in City of the Shroud is the gulf in feeling of what it was going for, and what it actually is. The first hour, in particular, sets up a very impressive narrative that looks to be exciting, regarding various alliances and different viewpoints. Even the combat early on shows some promise, but as the game drags on, the good parts simply occur far too infrequently for the general slog the rest of this presents.

The story opens up as a faceless traveller comes to a city that is constantly under attack and is caught up in fights. Through this early section, the player bounces around to the five various factions, seeing their side of the conflict in the city. From here, it is a case of starting to go on what amount to various fetch quests across the map in a typical repetitive fashion of 'talk, battle, talk, battle' that serves as the pattern for most of the experience.

By far the best part is the initial characterisation of the factions. The initial depth and grey morality presented here is initially surprising. There are the city guards that are concerned with safety, even at the cost of morality; the priests that believe in the good, but secretly know they need money; the merchants that insist without their money the city falls apart; the downtrodden looking for justice; and the refugees who want hope. Each faction paints its own as great and tears apart the others.

This aspect is wholly refreshing, seeing a lack of clear choice, and really setting up the game for high expectations. Unfortunately, even early on, this is partly lost in very erratic writing that on the one hand can be deep and nuanced, but far too often is 'meme-y' and conversations are almost exclusively: "go get this item" "uh…okay" levels of depth. It is really sad, especially how early this becomes apparent. A disturbingly large part of the narrative is useless jokes, the main character bouncing around between jobs, and talk that does not go towards furthering either the story or character development. The world that seemed interesting to start with actually has very little that expands this meaningfully. It is hard to not think this might be due to the nature of an evolving narrative and not wanting to give exactly too much up front, yet unfortunately this is to the game's detriment.

Combat is another example of failed execution. On face value, it is clear that with City of the Shroud the team was going for a blazing, intense action version of a typical tactics game. Imagine a type of real-time Final Fantasy Tactics to get the idea. Characters regain AP very slowly, and with enough AP the player can click on the character and put in a combo that will do a move. Entering combos involves moving the mouse one of four directions to various pre-set moves. With that character having now acted, the player frantically clicks the next character to put their move in.

The problem, though, is even though there are different attacks that can eventually be equipped on your characters much later on, it never really actually matters, as combat is simply a spamming affair. The frantic feeling actually takes away from the strategy and fun of it. It becomes clear early on that the best strategy is to just mob all your characters onto one or two enemies, and simply just spam attacks when their AP is ready. As a result of this, each battle really becomes the same. It doesn't matter what class you have, or what class the enemy has; simply roll in, clicking attacks when full, and repeat. Given its hectic nature, any sort of feedback about effectiveness is lost, and largely it seems to not matter anyway.

The game suffers from some other minor issues, like despite unique faces for most characters, very often different characters will have the same face, and given how large the narrative is, it gets confusing. It takes a long time before it is even obvious these are different characters, despite having the same face. This is a negative as it literally would have been better having just a faceless picture rather than a hand drawn picture of somebody else that was already named and had a point in the story.

The lack of true progression in the characters, beyond just some simple pocketing of gems that offer minor stat boosts, is another disappointment. Gaining experience, or skill trees, or anything like that would go a long way to making the characters feel like the player's own creation. Instead, they are just faceless and replaceable, which is what most of the narrative begins to feel like.

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Final Score
With [i]City of the Shroud[/i], the premise is far better than the execution. The five different sides of the story is by far one of the best parts but is buried far too often in meaningless fetch quests and mediocre writing. The combat system would be better served if it was turn-based and deeper, as spamming is simply far more effective and not particularly fun.



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