Who wouldn’t want to lead their own merciless, awe-inspiring cult to an ancient god of darkness? A respite from the hum drum world—you’d no longer find yourself at the mercy of the modern day rat race. You’d be your own standard bearer to evil. Your own person. Isn’t that really the dream?
Sure, I think we’ve all been there.
The Shrouded Isle takes those desires and puts them to work in a deeply challenging, but engaging strategy game. Published by Kitfox Games, The Shrouded Isle puts you in the role of high priest of the ancient cult of Chernobog: a brutal and demanding god.
It takes place over the course of 3 years, during which you must get to know members of your village’s aristocratic families: what they’re good at, and where they come up short. By the end of each season, you must choose from these families who must be sacrificed to your bloodthirsty deity. But you must choose wisely, as keeping the families happy as well as obeying your god’s orders are key to surviving to the end of the year.
It becomes a balancing act, and in that way, The Shrouded Isle reminded me quite a bit of Reigns. Upset one family too much, and they’ll rebel against you: cutting your priesthood short. On the other hand, if you allow your people’s ignorance or obedience to drop too far, you’re not going to get anywhere, either.
The game is brutally challenging, and there’s an upside and a downside to this. On one hand, the game doesn’t hold your hand, allowing you to figure out the majority of its mechanics, and that can be pretty essential to developing your own playstyle, and learning to enjoy the strange quirkiness of the game itself. On the other RNG is a pretty damn heavy part of The Shrouded Isle. You can attempt to do everything right, but there will always come moments where you’ll just need to suck it up and take a chance. And that can be fun. It can also be hair-tearingly frustrating. When your plans go swimmingly, it is incredibly gratifying. When I beat The Shrouded Isle for the first time, I felt almost as good as Chernobog must felt as he bit into that first unbeliever.
But getting there: getting there took plenty of patience and more than a few rage quits.
The aesthetic of Shrouded Isle is really terrific. Sort of a first draft Darkest Dungeon. And with the rudimentary color scheme, everything feels unsettling and eerie. There’s an odd mixture of the old and the new in the art direction: the illustrations look like punk rock lithographs. Somehow they belong in an older time, and yet somehow not.
With its challenge and its grim sense of spectacle, The Shrouded Isle belongs next to difficult indie darlings like Darkest Dungeon and Banished. Having said that, I’d like to see a patch that tones down the random number generator of some of the mechanics. Otherwise, Kitfox Games runs the risk of alienating gamers who like a challenge, but don’t enjoy leaving their fates so much up to chance.
Despite that criticism, I found The Shrouded Isle to be an engaging, unique, and yes: sometimes frustrating take on the strategy genre. People who are lukewarm on fiendishly hard cult simulators should wait for a sale price before picking this one up. But there’s a certain class of person who’s going to dive deep into Shrouded Isle, and play the hell out of it. All you Elder God loving freaks who enjoy being a bottom for dark secrets and forbiddingly glowing runes, dig right the hell in. Just get ready for a game that likes to roll the dice with your fate on a minute-to-minute basis.
Chernobog is waiting.
Review based on PC code provided by publisher. The Shrouded Isle is available on Steam for $9.99.