Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Sanguine Libations

"Crematorium Ash" is the only
color scheme that isn't murder on my
I've been trying out a bit of Shrouded Isle recently and it's odd.  The game doesn't have any kind of tutorial which makes things hard for newcomers.  What's worse, I found the game fundamentally a lot more challenging in the beginning than toward the end.

If you're not familiar with the Shrouded Isle, it's basically a resource management sim with a unique twist.  The resources are a collection of socio-religious traits associated with an isolated community of fanatical cultists.  Their particular brand of faith is centered around the deity Chernobog.  The game's take on the "black god" has less to do with the actual entity originating from ancient slavic folklore, and instead opts for a more of a Lovecraftian vibe akin to Cthulhu.  Pseudo-theological nitpicking aside, tribute is paid in the form of seasonal human sacrifices (four a year!).  Since the game is set over a period of five years that means a total of twenty victims are needed to make it to the end.  Candidates for this dubious honor are drawn from a pool of individuals divided into five families.  Considering each family only has four to eight members, it's safe to say that a large chunk of the community is going to be ritually exterminated over the course of the game.  Sacrificing members of the same family back-to-back though tends to cause rebellions which turns into a "game over" screen if not righted after one season.  Additionally, sacrificing individuals who only have minor vices (rather than major ones) also causes a great deal of unrest.  The only way to really regain lost approval is to put one of the offended family's surviving members in an administrative role.  Now here is where it gets especially tricky.  The game also has five other stats (outside of the five that track the disposition of each family).  They are labeled "Ignorance," "Fervor," "Discipline," "Penitence," and "Obedience."  If any of these indicators drop below a certain threshold that's also a "game over" unless redressed by the end of the next season.  Unsurprisingly, putting a person in command depletes these resources faster if if the leader has a major vice rather than just a minor one.

Hmmm...who to sacrifice?
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe...
As you can probably tell, the player has an almost overwhelming number of things to consider.  Just to add one more wrinkle, the game obscures or outright hides most family members' virtues and vices.  So the player can only reveal the truth slowly over time.  Here's the thing though...once the player knows all the juicy details the whole process becomes almost trivally straightforward.

I must have failed two or three times by the end of the second season (literally only ten percent of the way to completion), as well as had another half-dozen attempts in which I only made it slightly farther.  Eventually though I managed to get over that early-game difficult hump at which point I was coasting on easy street to the conclusion.  Maybe I just lucked out and happened to click in all the right places, or maybe the procedural algorithm that assigns virtues and vices to each cultist in the beginning decided to be nice that time around.  I don't know which it was.  It might have been a combination of both.  Regardless, I think I would have prefered if this game had placed more emphasis on the story elements.  I especially liked the little decision-making interludes that were peppered throughout the game.  To me they were a lot more flavorful and consequently more memorable than watching a bunch of abstract meters and gauges rise and fall.

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