Enshrouded Early Access is Peak Survival Gaming

Enshrouded Early Access is Peak Survival Gaming

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Survival gamers have been spoiled rotten these last months. Fortnite’s LEGO content hit big, Palworld is breaking all kinds of Steam records, and one of Steam’s most-wish-listed titles continues the trend with Keen Games’ Enshrouded launching in spectacular fashion. I’m always cautious when it comes to managing my excitement for the latest Steam Early Access titles – looking at you, The Day Before.

However, Enshrouded’s demo at Steam Next Fest completely ruined that approach – it was a technically impressive demo that worked flawlessly from start to finish. A game boasting several intriguing and creative design choices around an often stagnating survival genre, I could not wait to jump in to Early Access.

Needless to say, I was not disappointed.

Enshrouded Early Access is Peak Survival Gaming

In the days – and weeks – building up to Enshrouded’s Early Access release, I spent over 100 hours in LEGO Fortnite and Palworld. This is primarily the reason for waiting so long to share my thoughts on Enshrouded; I needed to wash my sins away. While I made every effort to do just that, it’s impossible not to rejoice in the areas of Enshrouded that I felt more recent releases completely lacked.

It took seconds – and I mean seconds – for Enshrouded to impress. The game looks beautiful, and some of the sights on offer demand you stop absolutely everything to take them in, even if for a brief moment. With sprawling hills, dangerous mists that cover the lands below, and forgotten towns of an old world gracing the horizon, Enshrouded’s world feels huge. Every inch screams to be explored; we’ve played approximately 20 hours between our team and don’t feel we’ve even experienced 10%.

After a brief tutorial, one wasting no time demonstrating Enshrouded’s visual feats, I set off to do what I always do in these games – and something I’ve grown to hate – :building my first base. I say first base because that’s all it ever is. Hours, days, even weeks later, eventually, you know you’re going to be spending hours tracking back and forth, miles from the valuable resources you need. This usually means I’m building four walls, a door, and maybe slapping a roof on if I’m feeling creative, but Enshrouded sucked me right in.

I set up a small porch played around with a balcony, threw on a chimney, and utilized some scaffolding to fix the roof. Everything feels so intuitive, with everything slotting together effortlessly. It’s reminiscent of the modern survival greats like Conan Exiles and ARK Survival Evolved. One is able to build a beautiful small farm house in a flowery field, a small haven in a deep woodland, or even a massive and foreboding castle on the cliffside. It’s impossible for me to ignore the uninspiring construction mechanics of Palworld and LEGO Fortnite’s frustration design choices, but even still, Enshrouded’s building mechanics share the throne with some of the best the genre has to offer.

I could tell before long that my allies were getting irritated with my constant sharing of “oh my god this works” and “thank god they did this” when building the base, so we set out to rescue some allies. While not as cruel or Pokemon-like as Palworld, Enshrouded’s early tasks involves sending players out to rescue survivors of the old world. A blacksmith, a carpenter, a farmer, professions with abilities that will greatly aid in the rebuilding of civilization, each unlocking exciting new blueprints and building opportunities once discovered. This is where my love for Enshrouded stood at a crossroads.

If there’s one area of Enshrouded I still can’t quite settle on, it’s the objective-based nature of exploration and progression. The traditional survival approach of a tutorial walking you through the basics before unleashing you on a sprawling open-world has been replaced with, quite frankly, an often overwhelming number of objectives and map markers to chase down.

You are still completely free to explore, and Enshrouded rewards exploration like few others do, but following the main story objectives is often the best route to progress and unlock more meaningful blueprints. It’s a system implemented well; I never felt confused, lost, or unsure of what to tackle next. Nevertheless, I also missed the satisfaction of searching for particular resources or locations. Braving through the elements to find that one last material to make a new sword or set of armor. One of the many notes I discovered in the game world led to a quest to locate buried treasure, usually a favorite activity in games like this, but it was simply a matter of heading to the location marked on the map and picking up the chest.

While it’s an area of the game I’m not sure if I enjoy, I’m sure many players will be more than happy experiencing something where the core experience is different from other survival titles. It’s one of the many areas Enshrouded focuses on to distinguish itself in a sea of popular survival games, but it is one of the few that I wasn’t immediately in love with.

This is a stark contrast to other areas of the game, making me mumble to myself: “Why don’t more survival games do this?” The survival mechanics, primarily the requirement of eating and drinking, isn’t simply another case of unimaginative micromanaging small bars on the user interface. You are not punished for forgoing a meal or passing up a freshly filled bottle of water, making it one of the many elements of Enshrouded just screaming to be explored.

Different food types belong to different groups, and each individual food provides various buffs and bonuses once consumed. These bonuses can be stacked across the different food groups to compliment a character’s specific build. As the frontline fighter and tank of our group, I was combining meat buffs from some finely grilled Wolf Meat with some roasted Corn, buffing both my strength and constitution. It’s a very simple approach to the core survival aspect of the game. This, in turn, makes an otherwise dull and repetitive experience far more satisfying and exciting.

That same approach is felt across the game. Small changes, tiny sometimes, but refreshing and innovative enough that even seasoned survival fans will take a brief pause. I lost count of the times we shared an “Oh, that makes a lot of sense” whenever we came across one of these small changes. One that stands out the most, at least for someone that enjoys making a house a home in these sorts of games, was the Rested system.

Being Rested provides a character with a huge buff to stamina and regeneration, both crucial when exploring the more dangerous areas of the game. Sure, like most survival games, you can throw down a bed in a run-down shack and call it a day, but adding that extra touch is rewarded. Players can increase the potency of the buffs applied by extending the duration through the increasing of the comfort level in the area surrounding the bed. Tables, chairs, rugs, items that are typically mundane and useless, instead offer to both heighten the realism and immersion of the experience, while directly rewarding players for doing so. Again, something quite simple, but so effective and, really, a lot of fun.

I feel my recent foray into Fortnite LEGO, a well executed but bare-bones title, made me truly appreciate Enshrouded. While a single and vital biome could be a 40-minute walk from your base in LEGO Fortnite, I instantly fell in love with traveling in Enshrouded. It does somewhat lessen the peril of exploration, knowing you are usually only a minute or two from quickly returning home and restocking supplies. Despite that, this is vastly overshadowed by the pure pleasure of just being able to explore and have a good time, all without the fear of only being seconds away from losing everything and spending the next hour recovering. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you can simply open the map, home in just a few seconds.

Most of these features are not unique to Enshrouded, but all of these elements together highlight the exact reasons fans truly love the genre. Put simply, it gives players the chance to focus on the fun aspects of the survival genre. Exploring, taking on challenging boss battles, finding exciting new resources that unlock new blueprints, using the fantastically designed building system to make works of art. Enshrouded is everything I love about the survival genre without all the filler.

Enshrouded’s fledgling adventure into Early Access is technically and mechanically impressive, and as feature rich as games 10 times its lifespan.

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