It’s not exactly common for me to find things I like in RPGs. For the most part they’re not really my sort of game, though I do enjoy the more tactical elements of turn based combat systems that many RPGs give you. Balancing one character’s needs and abilities against the party as a whole can be an interesting challenge, and that moment when you have to decide whether or not you want to sacrifice someone for the greater good is always tense.
City of the Shroud manages to check many of the same boxes as a turn based tactical RPG, but interestingly does it without actually being turn based. Instead, characters move and act in real time, with an action point system limiting the actions they’re able to take. Movement take a point or two, depending on whether you’re moving by an enemy or not, while attacks will take different amounts, depending on their strength.
These action points recharge over time, with different characters refilling at different rates. Given that you’ll often find yourself playing with a group of allies, party management is pretty essential during a battle. Fortunately, a simple dial based UI in the top left corner lets you keep track of their state, while a similar overlay in the bottom right corner shows you how your enemies are doing.
Even with this UI, you’ll find yourself rapidly jumping between party members to move them out of harm’s way or deal attacks once they’ve recharged enough points. All of this leaves battles feeling very dynamic and fast paced, forcing you to be actively engaged with all of the characters under your control rather than just your favourites.
While moving around the game’s grid based levels is as easy as right clicking on the square you want to go to, combat itself is far more interesting. To attack you click and hold on an opponent, which brings up the Combo Wheel, essentially a radial menu split into four sections. Dragging your mouse into any of these sections will lead to you locking that attack in, but if you have enough action points available you can drag into one of the adjacent sections as well.
Chaining these together will, in typical style, allow you to launch a more powerful attack, but where it gets interesting is that you can then combo these more powerful attacks. As you can only move onto an adjacent quadrant of the wheel, you’ll need to know where each of your attacks starts and finishes so you can combo them together properly. Of course, as the game is in real time, enemies can be quietly chipping away at your health every second you’ve got the Combo Wheel up.
While the game’s combat system is well realised, it’s the game’s writing that perhaps stood out most prominently. Set in a fantasy world with a Middle Eastern feel to it, City of the Shroud see you arrive in a city on the brink of a civil war. It’s a solid premise, but it’s the dialogue that deserves genuine praise, managing to be both funny and engaging throughout the short demo. The game’s developers, Abyssal Arts, have even managed to create a tutorial that drew a chuckle or two, something that seems nigh impossible.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to be so positive about the game’s visuals. While the cel-shaded aesthetic looks good, you’ll start to run into problems in larger battles. Characters simply don’t look distinct enough, with it often being hard to pick out one of your party from a crowd of enemies. Although you can use the game’s menu system to pick out those characters under your control, you still need to be able to navigate or target an enemy easily, something that feels frustrating at times, particularly if there are a lot of particle effects from area of effect attacks going on.
In spite of these issues, City of the Shroud makes a good first impression and it feels fresh and fun. The game’s real time system keeps everything moving at high pace while somehow capturing the essence of turn based combat, the Combo Wheel means you actually have to think about structuring your attacks instead of blindly using up your action points, and the solid, comedic writing helps to make the game stand out. If they can just make the visuals a little clearer in crowded combat scenarios then they’ll have a good core to build the game’s world out from.