For the past 495 years, a sinister tradition has ensnared the residents of a remote island village. Beneath the waters surrounding the isle lies an ancient god who shall awaken in five years’ time to bring forth a new era for those He deems worthy. The Shrouded Isle puts you into the role of a high priest devoted to the god known as Chernobog. You have five years to sacrifice all the heretics on the island to prepare for His awakening.
Originally created by developer Kitfox Games for a game jam, The Shrouded Isle takes inspiration from the works of cosmic horror writer H.P. Lovecraft as well as modern political strategy games like Reigns and Long Live The Queen, where you must keep different approval bars high enough so as not to upset or alienate the wrong party. Time passes by on a three-month relay, and at the start of each season you must pick one cult member from each upper-class house on the island to act as an advisor underneath you. You will choose which advisor performs their duties in order to find sinners, and this will affect the different ratings between each faction as well as different attitudes the villagers hold. For example one villager may have a high ignorance, but their obedience is low. The key to keeping Chernobog happy is to ensure these approval bars aren’t reduced to a critical level. At the end of each season, you must choose one of your advisors to sacrifice, and then you repeat the process for the following season until the day of reckoning.
You will find success in The Shrouded Isle by working out who is a sinner. Each character has a vice and a virtue. The major vices are the ones you should focus on, as they provide heavy stat reductions as well as being the object of Chernobog’s desire. Once you’re well-received by a family, you can get away with prying away at their privacy to try and determine which family member has sinned the most. Don’t abuse it though, as doing it too much can affect that family’s relationship with you.
There is also a heavily-utilised random generation system for the character traits and events that can occur. Even the number of family members is random to a degree, so there isn’t a lot you can do to memorise how the game will play out. Much like poker, you’re better off doing as well as you can with the hand you’re dealt rather than trying to uncover an algorithm to completing it. It’s not an easy game by far, but this system can create a unique experience every time you play.
The game is now also sold along with a free DLC, “The Sunken Sins”, which brings a mysterious infection to the island. As the years roll by, certain villagers may be stricken by a mysterious mental or physical ailment. Your first call should be to lock them away in an attempt to isolate, examine – and eventually – purify them, though at the cost of having them be absent from the rest of the game until they are cured. While this does allow some aspects of the game to be harder, I would have liked this new feature to be a toggleable option, as it can be quite intimidating for a new player to understand. This DLC also adds extra traits and random events for the game to use, further adding to the uniqueness of each playthrough.
The Shrouded Isle (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
As a combination of both political strategy and Lovecraftian drama, The Shrouded Isle takes this idea and provides a comfortably tense experience whereby every choice should matter but with enough leeway that inexperienced players can still make mistakes. Fans of classic horror literature may be drawn to this game through its distortedly gothic art style and otherworldly premise, but the large difficulty curve may be too complicated for them, even if the repetitive gameplay structure can feel rewarding once you get the hang of it.