World War III happened sometime in the early two thousands. When the bombs fell society as we know it was destroyed, and the few survivors eke out a bleak existence in the ruined remains of the old world's cities. Amy Wellard, a young girl who was barely five when the world ended, has a repair shop where she fixes vehicles and technological items with whatever still-usable junk she can find, but she starts feeling symptoms of Green Lung, a terrible sickness that's been infecting lots of people and has everybody scared witless. The Aristocracy is trying to deal with it by distributing a vaccine, but there isn't nearly enough to go around, so a daily lottery is held where people who have a ticket — given as compensation for government jobs — are given a chance at winning a dose.
Scared and resigned to doing dirty, difficult jobs for the government in the hope of surviving, Amy is assigned to fix one of the many reactors that power what's left of the city, but through an unexpected meeting she gets in touch with the Rebellion — determined to end the authoritarian rule of the Aristocracy and give justice back to the people - and the Acolytes of the Reaper, a cult with a literal dying wish. Needless to say, not everything is as clear-cut as it seems, and Amy's in for more than one shock...
In 2013, while the game was still in production, two of the developers, Ben Chandler and Francisco "Grundislav" Gonzalez, each released two playable teasers set in the Shardlight universe. The first one, titled The Rebirth, is essentially a prequel set Just Before the End (and even a bit during the end), following a government official and his assistant at an unusual day at work, while the second The Reaper is a short side-story more in tune with the game proper that follows a mechanic and his friend as they do some bird watching. Both can be found here.
This work provides examples of:
- After the End: The entire society is scrapping from the ruins after a nuclear war.
- Alternate History: It is quite obvious that the society that existed before the bombs fell was not really like our own. Its aesthetics and values appears to have been rooted in Victorian ideals for instance.
- Apocalypse Cult: The Acolytes of the Reaper have decided that, being that death in the short-term is a virtual certainty, it shouldn't be feared and avoided but rather welcomed, as it's a step to leave the horrors of the world and ascend to the Promised Land.
- Apocalypse How: Class 1 due to the existence of government after the nuclear war, albeit a much-malign one.
- Aristocrats Are Evil: The Aristocracy, like their namesake, which are made up like upper class members who show little to no care towards those below their station.
- Blood Knight: As the final showdown approaches Danton gives worrying signs of this, first with needless brutality and aggression and then with all the talk about justice and freedom for the people suddenly being displaced by rhethoric about taking the villain's place and tearing down his government. Indeed, if one of the two non-ideal endings is selected, Danton just goes on fighting and shedding blood - she admits the possibility of future diplomacy, but more like an afterthought.
- Crapsack World: Any sort of self-sustaining economy has long vanished, everyone's turned to scavenging, a deadly plague is spreading like wildfire and the Aristocracy is only helping the rich while the poor die like flies. It's so bad that there's a group of people who've just decided that the best course of action is simply to wait for death.
- Darker and Edgier: Compared to other Wadjet Eye productions. Not that they aren't fond of tropes dealing with death and destruction, but they really cranked the macabre up to eleven here. Diseased corpses everywhere, decay and devastation to tremendous scale, death seen by many as the desirable way out, and what's worse is that everybody's become so used to it that they consider it all normal.
- Days of Future Past: The entire society in Shardlight is based on 18th century with flintlock muskets and aristocrat-ruled government co-existing with ruined skyscrapers and motorized vehicle.
- Alternatively, the people who took power after civilization collapsed really liked the late 18th century theme and just decided to base the aristocratic culture off of it.
- Driven to Madness: Tiberius lost his family when the bombs fell, and it somewhat broke his grip on reality. Though he remains mostly lucid he's put the fetus of his unborn son in a jar and talks to it as if it were a grown child, even going so far as to educate "him" in science. To be clear, the fetus is just that - it's never shown as even remotely sentient, nor even biologically alive.
- Driven to Suicide: The technician at the beginning, having been crushed by rocks and knowing he has no chance of making it out alive, prefers to go out on his own terms.
- Full-Circle Revolution: Invoked and defied; Danton's ultimate scheme is to take up Tiberius' mask and become the new leader of the Aristocracy... so she can drive them off a cliff with crazy orders and give the rest of the population enough motivation to complete her uprising. And after hearing this scheme, Amy can kill her and Tiberius, ending the revolution and instating leaders who aren't extremists.
- Government Conspiracy: The Aristocracy's been hoarding vaccine for decades and could give it to everybody, but they don't because the leadership believes that to do so would ruin any semblance of order, and the newfound prosperity would cause another attack to the country.
- Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold: Amy, a kind, affable woman in the world she lives in. Although she's forced to do less than savory things a few times in order to survive, it's clear she always prefers not to.
- Heaven Seeker: The Acolytes of the Reaper don't have a clue what's on the other side, but they figure that whatever it is — even if it's nothing at all — the living world is so terrible that it can only be better in comparison.
- Heel Realization: Tiberius became somewhat-saner after his Trauma Conga Line from having seen the jar containing his unborn son's preserved fetus smashed in his duel against Danton along with the uprising caused by the vaccine-hoarding measure if Amy chose to spare him.
- I Cannot Self-Terminate: When specifically asked why they don't just kill themselves, the Acolytes answer that to do so would alter the Reaper's plans and anger him. They want to die, but only when their time comes.
- Ill Girl: Amy, who has Green Lung. Her illness drives her motivation to find a possible cure. After Aquino successfully makes one, she's no longer this.
- Kill and Replace: Danton plans on doing this to Tiberius so she can bring down the Aristocracy from the inside.
- Mercy Kill: Given to the technician, Milton, right at the beginning of the game. Optionally given to Denby as a way of sparing him from being tortured further.
- Multiple Endings: As with most Wadjet Eye games. Shardlight has three, one of which is clearly intended to be the ideal one.
- Omnicidal Neutral: Amy can choose to embrace this at the end of the game by killing Tiberius and then backstabbing Dalton for good measure. Since they're both extremists, this can be considered a good thing.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: Danton is arguably the personification of this trope to the point.
- Somewhat foreshadowed by the fact her name is a very obvious reference to Georges Danton, one of the French Revolutionaries. Who, coincidentally, ended up being executed by another faction of French Revolutionaries.
- Scenery Gorn: And how! Everything is ruined in Shardlight's world, and the game makes no attempt to hide it or pretty up the picture. Crumbling buildings are everywhere, the sky is permanently yellow and every skyline view has devastation as far as the eye can see.
- Shout-Out: One of the books you can read is The Nature of Man, by T. N. Juan.Some have given examples of extreme changes in people, driven by such motives as revenge, love, fear, or regret. However, it cannot be universally agreed upon which of these things can truly change the nature of man.
- Take a Third Option: The ending. Tiberius and Danton fight and, being mostly matched in skill, it comes to Amy to choose whom of the two to kill and how to end the game. But Amy can take the option to kill both - which in fact gives the best ending.
- Tragic Keepsake: The Quicksilver, an old model car Amy and her father spent their time tinkering with before he passed away. In the story's present time, it's held up in Amy's garage gathering dust due to being unable to find the proper components for such a model. During her hallucinogenic trip in the Acolytes of the Reaper, Amy reveals her guilt of never finishing, believing it would let her father down. He (or, a hallucination of him) quickly shuts that down.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: We never find out what happens to Gordon and the experiment performed on him.
- What Measure Is a Mook?: Several puzzles involve killing members of the Aristocracy's guards, who are mostly shown to be decent guys just doing their jobs. The narrative doesn't comment on this, which stands out because it does comment on Amy being shaken up even over mercy kills.
- What the Hell, Hero?: During the final showdown Danton really goes nuts with her sword, and the brutality of her attacks clearly cause Amy to be shocked at the needless bloodshed.
- Wrench Wench: Amy, like her father before her. Her knowledge of machinery helps many times throughout the story. Additionally, she can distinguish any car, including their model and year, should the player examine them.