Survival games are many things to many people. Some like the chaos of combat, exploring the highest peaks and the lowest depths or building divine monuments that will make gods weep. While others. Are simple folk.
This is Enshrouded. An open world survival RPG from Keen Games that drops players in to the realm of Embervale a land corrupted and mutated by “The Shroud” and lets you choose how you want to shape your destiny. Whether you want to set off in to the world and explore, or stay in the warm safety of the flame and build a home, Enshrouded is one of those “something for everyone” style survival games, a category that isn’t exactly in short supply and has some pretty heavy hitters contained within. The question then becomes, can Enshrouded stand above the average, or will it simply fall in to the shroud of mediocrity?
The core of the game is there, fun to engage with and honestly, is something that can keep you coming back to the game over time. That “Early Access” tag that survival games come with these days hangs over it like a looming shadow. Some use it to polish and buff the edges refining their game down to its final form. While some just wear it forever as an excuse for the issues within. Let’s get the negatives out of the way before we move on to discuss the core loop.
Enshrouded for me very much sits in the same little bucket of frustration as Grounded, Valheim, or even Subnautica. A group of games that while playing them and enjoying the time I’m spending, I know that if I held off playing them, I’d be playing a better version of them later in development, and when you risk burning out on a survival game or never coming back to it just because of how many other titles are being released, that’s an important factor to consider. When is the right time to jump in to an Early Access title, if at all? Should you wait for release, can you wait? It’s a personal choice situation, and for me, Enshrouded sits in that grouping of, yes it’s currently good, but I know it’ll be better with time, like Wine, Cheese, or Keanu Reeves.
There’s design choices, and frustrations that will see polish and refinement or additional content, that’s what that Early Access window is for. Aspects like the way quests work need to change, as currently if you’re playing with a lone wolf type of friend, they could clear the quests while you’re asleep or at work. Leading to confusion about what items you’ve unlocked or what quest you’re currently on, and that’s before considering the chaos of a more public or community server.
The first interactions with the crafting system can show an early game frustration in plain sight. One of the quest NPCs that you can unlock gives you the ability to craft magical chests, which allows the standard, items within can be used during crafting. Before that point though, as a new player interacting with the crafting system, you’ll be trying to memorise which items you need with a pin recipe system that hides the recipe while you’re in a chest. Crafting systems can make or break a game like Enshrouded and features like, building from storage, or Grounded’s quick store button to deposit in to nearby chests are elegant streamlined solutions to crafting management. While from a world perspective unlocking magical chests is great, unless you focus on quests to get the NPC, you might end up falling off the game before you get that far as you’re never told it’s something that’s in your future so that knowledge is hidden behind a guide, “Top 10 things I wish I knew before I started playing Enshrouded” video or… This (Hi).
The world is a mixed aspect as well, there’s puzzles and exploration which is a delight to engage with, but it’s hindered by a lack of excitement in certain areas of the world, and a disappointingly weak AI system, in a game that touts “punishing bosses” and “heart pounding action combat” you might be evoking expectations of a combat system similar to something akin to Dark Souls or Lords of the Fallen. Yes there is a parry system and stamina to manage but that subpar AI leaves you with an outdated experience more akin to Gothic or Fable.
The enshrouded system itself compounds this. Areas of the map are enshrouded, corrupting the areas around it. Venturing in to an enshrouded area places a timer on your screen and gives an implication of caution and wariness, but this feeling only lasts on your first adventure in to the shroud. The timer can be reset fairly easily and the monsters within the shroud aren’t any more or less dangerous than those outside. Hopefully as development progresses the enshroud system receives improvements such as debuffs or added systems to apply a little more pressure to the player in regards to risk and reward.
That’s not to say that there isn’t already, currently an enjoyable time to be had in Enshrouded. It may seem like I’m focusing on the negatives, but there are positives here and they are strong positives. Movement is fantastic, I could spend an entire article discussing how I wish more games had a faster movement speed like Enshrouded, which when combined with the squirrel suit glider, just makes travelling around the world a delight. I even like the limitation of not being able to Zelda climb my way around the environment, although current… Techniques that you can employ with the squirrel suit and double jump can allow you to bypass such meaningless issues as cliffs and gravity.
The building system is another area that comes out swinging, allowing you to build opulent towers of glory befitting your skill and prowess. It was simple to understand and has all the depth needed already, and we’re only in the first week of Early Access. That’s a system which shows real potential for the future in both regards to what they can offer with it, and what players can create.
And the digging, oh, the digging. If there is one way to get straight to my heart when it comes to video games, it’s implement a mining system that’s enjoyable, and Enshrouded has that in spades, buckets, wheelbarrows, Caterpillar 350 excavators. I have spent hours in this game just mining entire cliff faces while the rest of my adventuring party gets annoyed and walks off to explore. There’s something so satisfying about the terrain destruction, the noise, the lack of a weight system that means I can just keep at it until all the pickaxes I’m carrying break. If I had to pick any aspect of Enshrouded to put above the rest, it would be the Mining.
So where does that all leave us? Enshrouded is no slouch. It’s an early access title that shows it’s determined to hang with the best of them, and even the weaker aspects in its current state don’t detract from the enjoyment you can have exploring a world that makes the core loop of traversal, mining, and building a delight to engage with. The key take away as with all Early Access titles, is how Keen Games supports it now that it’s launched. Valheim suffered from a stagnant update cycle and while still popular, lost a good amount of its momentum, and it would be a shame to see a game with such potential as Enshrouded fall to the same fate. Yes the AI needs a bit more time to cook, the world itself needs a bit more added here and there, and those rough edges need polishing down. There’s a great game hiding under those issues though, with a stellar mining system being backed up by some smart design choices handling traversal and building.
It would be understandable if you’re not rushing out to buy Enshrouded. Two survival games came out in the same week and one of them is breaking records. But if you don’t pick it up, I’d recommend adding Enshrouded to your wishlist so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. It truly is one of those games that can only get better with time. Sooner or later, everyone craves a survival game to escape to, and Enshrouded can sit happily up the top end of that list.