Games. Culture.

Stringing Combos in RTS City of the Shroud – PAX East 2018 Preview

This RTS/Fighting game hybrid proved to be one of the more intriguing games and experiments I saw on the convention floor.

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If you’ve ever found that RTS games are a little too easygoing or leave you feeling disengaged from the proceedings, the fine folks at Abyssal Arts might be the right people to solve that problem. Their solution: City of the Shroud. City of the Shroud is a strategy game that’s not content letting you rest on your laurels. Rather than motivate you to action through increased difficulty, it instead makes you more active in your turns. How? It gives you the ability to chain attacks together and make combos to maximize your damage output and give you something flashier to look at. It’s the 

In so far as what I played, which was on PC, the way to make combos happen would be through obtaining Link Gems, which enabled you to gain access to further combos. Clicking enemy tiles lets you hone in on them, which then prompts you to left click and drag to bring up a radial menu that looks a lot like a D-pad, a fact the game was happy to point out and make fun of. From there, each direction would give you a certain move with the number of movements you need to make to pull it off. For example, the simplest move to execute was a headbutt, which required you to start on the right and drag your cursor in a counterclockwise to the top button.

Screenshot provided by Abyssal Games

Any of the moves could ask you to go backward or forward in a similar clockwise or counterclockwise motion so long as the required amount of moves were met. Balancing these weird mouse movements with your AP between about 4 characters proved to be one of the most hectic experiences I’ve had with a game, especially when each class operates at their own ranges and techniques that I was wholly unfamiliar with. It’s a problem I could see being at least partially resolved by implementing traditional fighting game inputs on a controller when City of the Shroud eventually makes its way to consoles. For now, it’s an awkward but not entirely insurmountable issue.

That being said, it was also one of the most immersive experiences I’ve had in a strategy game and it’s because for so much of the game, it doesn’t feel like one. Instead of giving you a birds eye view that puts immense distance between you and your avatar, City of the Shroud demands that you maintain a watchful eye on each of your units and become so familiar with their movesets that you can tailor the experience to your liking. This includes transforming characters into non-traditional classes, like making your mage a tank instead of a ranged character or healer, a prospect I’m very much here for.

Interestingly, and unknown to me until I was informed at the end of my appointment, the ability to tailor the experience transcends more than just techniques in combat. The story is also being doled out in an episodic format, which on its own is no big news. What is huge is the fact that the games story will be written to take into consideration the outcomes that players come to. The way I pitched it was that if ending A proved more popular than B, A would become canonical and become the baseline for the future episode. Instead, what they plan to do is look at the statistics provided by what choices the audience made and see what the conflict there was and then write that conflict into the story, essentially turning difference of opinions and ideas of its audience into material for the plot.

It’s absolutely one of the most experimental approaches to a game story I’ve ever heard of and while that leaves the nature of what we’ll get in the air, the team, buoyed by sci-fi author Moira Katson, is fairly confident in its ability to develop a compelling narrative that fully takes into account the astounding amount of agency and trust being placed on the community.

I’d be lying if I said it won’t be incredibly intriguing to see how the first and last episodes (because they have the faintest idea of where they want their story to end) differentiate from the middle of the game and luckily we won’t have to wait long. The first episode City of the Shroud should be gracing the screen of a PC near you this summer and I would heavily encourage you to check it out.

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