Enshrouded Early Access Review – In The Mists Of Time

For the last several years, co-op survival games have proliferated at an unanticipated rate. The basic premises of starting with nothing and exploring strange locales growing more ambitious while leaning further and further into the sphere of open world RPGs such as Skyrim. Sleeper hits like Valheim have set new standards for what players in the genre expect. As a result, new titles in this particular genre niche need to be doing something amazing, something that captures the eye and the mind. And into this more crowded segment comes Enshrouded.

Developed by Keen Games, Enshrouded takes place in the ruins of the fantasy kingdom of Embervale. Long ago, the kingdom obtained a powerful magical resource known as Elixir, one that had ostensibly been sealed away ages before. With Elixir, tremendous power could be obtained, and the kingdom started extracting it at a reckless pace by any means necessary. In doing so, they unleashed a terrible cataclysmic force known as the Shroud, a deadly fog that corrupted and mutated everything within it. Facing complete annihilation, individuals known as Flameborn were created and sealed away to rebuild Embervale once the worst of the apocalypse had passed. You’re one of the Flameborn, and as the game opens, you have no idea how bad things are outside, but you’re going to find out.

That ruined tower is giving me ideas.

For an Early Access game, Enshrouded looks incredible. Keen Games’ in-house Holistic Engine is being put to good use with static assets, character meshes, and destructible terrain. There’s a distinctive and evocative art style that establishes enemies, allies, and environments immediately and recognizably. Ruins vary from simple stone walls to cyclopean towers of polished black marble. Fog gets used a great deal as an environmental effect, but other effects such as fire and various luminescent flora are also mixed in. Creatures from basic wildlife to mutated horrors of the Shroud look organic and natural. Flat out, this is probably one of the best looking games I’ve seen so far this year, and the year has barely started. Admittedly, I would like more character customization options (jewelry, tattoos, scars), but given its current point in development, I figure these will probably be added in later at some point. As for the UI, it’s clean, contextual, and helps a player figure out where they are and what they have to do. That said, the map screen does seem to be a bit of a problem child. I experienced more crashes and lockups looking at the map than at any other time. I’m sure it will be improved as time goes on.

Audio and music in Enshrouded is equally well done, though it’s a little weaker than the visuals. Musical themes are subtle, generally setting a mood rather than more bombastic accompaniment as you’re adventuring and battling. Environmental audio is nicely done, but there’s room for more. There’s not a whole lot of voice work going on. Creature calls feel quite natural, though there’s a lack of barks from humanoid enemies which is somewhat disconcerting. Lots of grunts in a fight, but the absence of surprised exclamations and warnings feels a little off. The Flameborn craftsmen you unlock over the course of your early adventures have some lines tied up with quests, but they’re not quite as energetic or engaging as one would expect. The interactions you have with the enigmatic force known as “The Flame” when unlocking certain points is rendered in a strange Simlish that sounds more muddy than crackling and fiery.

Definitely some incredible views.

In terms of gameplay, Enshrouded has a lot to offer, but it also comes with some serious caveats. Combat is pretty direct. Click the mouse to swing melee weapons and repeat until the target stops moving. Ranged weapons have an extra step with holding down the right-hand mouse button, though you can “shoot from the hip” as it were by locking on to a target. Exploration is certainly straightforward enough: pick a direction, find interesting things, and remember that Enshrouded Areas means you’re on the clock. Failure to leave an Enshrouded Area before the timer runs out is instant death and a tedious corpse run to recover some of your stuff. Lore items out in the world are highlighted for you if you’ve not read them previously, and they’re nicely organized in a codex for later (and less strenuous) perusal. Area traversal is handled either with your feet on the road, swinging on grapple points set on various structures, hand-over-hand climbing on gridwork walls, or gliding in your custom wing suit glider. Anything more strenuous than walking drains a Breath of The Wild-style stamina gauge, and the more strenuous the activity (like gliding) the faster the gauge goes down.

You can improve your character through a skill point/perk system, as well as creating global bonuses by improving Flame Altars (the linchpins of your base building efforts). Be warned, however, that the grind is harsh. You gain experience from a number of sources. Mining, hunting, combat, reading lore items, discovering new areas, completing quests, all of these can bring you XP, but it doesn’t always feel like you’re getting very much of it. When you’re teaming up with other players, you get XP when somebody else is in close proximity and defeats an enemy. But you have to be close by. A buddy who’s a kilometer away and trashing a mob isn’t going to help your progress, and vice versa. That said, if they unlock new items to craft, those will appear globally. The more people you have in your instance will necessitate either you having a burly computer with a fat Internet pipe or a subscription to a cloud server through GPortal. It’s theoretically possible for a solo player to go along and progress, but it’s going to be painfully slow.

Could you build all this in-game? Maybe. Possibly maybe.

When it comes to base building, I was arguably a little on the fence when I first heard the term “voxel-based.” It’s one of those systems which immediately (and erroneously) calls to mind the blocky structures of Minecraft. I can say, without reservation, that Enshrouded uses voxels for their construction mechanisms in a way which instantly kills any possible associations with Minecraft. Yes, it relies on cubes, and you’ll undoubtedly obtain a lot of different types of those cubes as you progress. But the actual building process is dirt simple. You can rely on snapping to help you place things quickly, or you can turn off snapping to get things lined up by eyeball. I’m certain more creative builders will quickly figure out how to lay out more complex shapes such as hexagons and octagons, though proper curves will probably not be present anytime soon.

Taking everything together, Enshrouded looks to be on track for a strong Early Access launch. Probably the single biggest metric of a good Early Access game is how playable it is, and Enshrouded is certainly playable at this particular point. The basic systems are in place and fairly solid while showing potential for refinement towards its full launch. Game performance can really only go up from here, and I’m looking forward to exploring the world of Embervale beyond where I’ve gotten so far. If you’ve never tried a co-op survival game before, Enshrouded could be a good start if you’re in need of an epic world to roam.

Special thanks go out to Tim Jewett and Inanna Carter for their assistance in helping with this Early Access review. Axel reviewed Enshrouded in Early Access on PC with a review code.

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