Game genres go through cycles of popularity. A couple of years ago, every game was a roguelike. Or a Soulslike. Or a Soulslike-roguelike, with a card battle system. One genre that seems to be holding steady is the survival crafting game. There has been a persistent stream of them, and they often cohabitate with another genre. Enshrouded is a great example. Just coming into official Early Access, Enshrouded is equal parts survival, crafting, and open-world action RPG. Maybe most remarkable is that all the elements feel equally weighted. Nothing is half-baked.
Take to the Highway
I’ll be honest, in my short time with Enshrouded I’ve only started to understand the narrative arc, and I suspect it goes deep and wide. Here’s the skinny: the once verdant land of Embervale has been corrupted by dark magic, which hangs around in foggy patches called the shroud. You can only survive a short time in the shroud, although you can craft or find potions to help you extend your stay. Specific monsters live in the magic foggy areas, and there are particular crafting items there, too. It’s no surprise that your main quest will take you through or into the shroud quite often. You are the Flameborn, and — of course — the hero destined to reclaim Embervale from the corruption.
Enshrouded does a decent job of pointing you to the next main objective and leaves a breadcrumb of journals and other environmental objects to help guide you and fill in the story. The game errs on the side of letting you get lost and maybe even a bit frustrated by not knowing precisely how to proceed. Quite often I impatiently wandered into situations, areas, or monsters for which I had not prepared. At least played solo, Enshrouded gently pushes the player into a rhythm of gathering, crafting, exploration, and combat. It’s hard to shortcut any of the pieces and still survive.
If you’ve played several crafting and survival games you know that there are lots of approaches to the mechanics. Some games make the player watch an animation as their character hand-picks each fruit or twig. One of the most enjoyable aspects of Enshrouded is how painless and streamlined the gathering and crafting mechanics are. Gathering is one-button press-and-done easy. Crafting is done off-camera, as it were. It’s all quick and to the point.
The game also balances the availability of easy-to-find materials with rare or hard-to-farm items. It vastly minimizes the number of physical attributes that need constant attention. This is all to say that while crafting and building are core elements, they’re never just a tedious grind, but rewarding in their own right.
Especially early in the game, death comes often, and it has a penalty. All crafting materials and special items are dropped, though already crafted things like weapons remain. It’s pretty easy to locate and retrieve your stuff. If you die on the way, your old stash remains. This small mechanic makes a corpse run just a little more forgiving.
Playing a crafting and survival game solo can be fun but also a little lonely. Enshrouded supports up to 16-player co-op, and I can only imagine a large group could create some impressive settlements.
Enshrouded figuratively borrows some mechanics from other open-world RPGs like Breath of the Wild. For example, early on you can craft a very useful glider/wingsuit. Specific food items give limited-time stat boosts, and upgrading your Flame Altar gives everyone on the server a bonus. Eventually, you can plant gardens for a consistent supply of food. Finally, you can increase the number of Flame Altars, allowing you to dot the large map with fast travel points.
So many of these ideas are familiar that you might wonder if Enshrouded has its own identity. It does. Lore aside, Enshrouded’s world is genuinely interesting to explore, and the various systems mesh together well. The game allows for three general combat styles — ranged, warrior, and mage — with a flexible enough upgrade tree that players can blend them together.
Enshrouded’s art style is somewhat stylized realism. Even at the highest possible settings, it isn’t going to impress you as bleeding edge. There’s a bit of jankiness with some of the animations, but In this case, substance trumps style. The music and environmental audio are effective. I appreciated that the music wasn’t omnipresent and that it did a good job of alerting me to danger.
A Promising Start
Enshrouded is just entering official Early Access, and I’m genuinely excited to see what a large player community brings to the game. There are countless games in the survival action genre, but Enshrouded does an excellent job of balancing exploration, building, and combat. I look forward to following the game to its final version and beyond.