Monday, October 16, 2023

Shrouded In Familiarity

Three down, three to go. Next up: Enshrouded.

I hadn't heard of Enshrouded before this week but clearly I'm out of the loop because it was - and still is, at time of writing - top of all three of Steam's Next Fest lists: "Trending Upcoming", "Most Wishlisted" and perhaps most importantly of all, "Daily Active Demo Players".

It's not hard to see why. Firstly, it's coming from a developer with a pedigree. Keen Games is the company that gave you Portal Knights. With a Very Positive rating on Steam (Although only a mediocre 71 rating on Metacritic) it's a well-known and successful title across several platforms.

The game begins with you waking up
in what looks disturbingly like a large oven
.
Secondly and probably more significantly it's an obvious hybrid of Valheim and New World with the "punishing" bosses from Dark Souls thrown in for good measure. The developers themselves cite Valheim and Zelda as influences. Something for pretty much everyone, then.

The demo is time-limited to eight hours, which PC Gamer's reviewer thought was insufficient. I agree and also disagree. It's too short to make any real progress but paradoxically far longer than anyone needs for a demo. 

If you've played any of these kinds of games before, you can tell if a new one is worth wishlisting after no more than  a few minutes. They're basically all the same game with a different skin so it just comes down to whether you like the way it looks and whether it plays smoothly enough for your patience level.

I lasted an hour but not because I wasn't enjoying myself. I definitely was. I've played enough of these survive-explore-craft-build guided sandboxes now to know that it takes dozens if not hundreds of hours to get anywhere. Putting a lot of effort into an eight-hour demo would be the very definition of a waste of time.

Also, I wasn't really making much progress, anyway. Mostly I was finding new ways to kill myself.

In the sixty-four minutes I played I managed to die four times:

  • Jumped off cliff to see if there was falling damage. There was.
  • Jumped off a barricade to fight a mob that turned out to be two levels higher than me. Took damage from falling and then the mob finished me off.
  • Tried to power through a fight with another higher-level mob. We both died on the final hit.
  • Tried to jump over a barrier blocking a bridge over a ravine. Landed on the wooden spar I was aiming at, which turned out not to have collision. Fell to my death. Again.

You leave a corpse when you die and much of your inventory stays with it until you go pick it up. I couldn't be bothered with that so every death was pretty much a restart. After four of them I took the hint and quit. 

Wheeeeeee!

Leaving those Souls-like bosses to one side, Enshrouded looks to be towards the more easy-going end of the survival spectrum. Gathering is instantaneous, mobs drop weapons and there are tools lying around so you don't have to start out punching everything. There's no starving to death or dying of thirst. 

Food and drink are more like buffs than essentials. You can sleep safely in a bed in an abandoned tent until you build a shelter, which was something I never managed to do, anyway. 

That's a lot of mats for the first thing you have to make.

That was because to claim a building plot you first have to craft a Flame Altar. I couldn't find all the necessary materials and I kept losing the ones I did have every time I died. Crafting the altar to secure your foothold in the world is pretty much the first thing the game asks you to do so I'm sure it's not meant to be as hard as I made it. I was probably just looking in the wrong place for Resin and Shroud Liquid.

Ah, yes, the Shroud. It's what gives the game its name. It's a blight that's spreading across the land and it's everywhere, even at the start. It makes itself known in a number of ways - giant, glowing fungi, thick mists clinging in the hollows, a choking miasma that will kill you if you breath it for too long. 

"Too long" is five minutes. There's a timer. Again, nothing much seems to happen while it's ticking down. I don't know what happens when it hits zero. I never let it get that far. Five minutes was plenty for me to do whatever it was I needed to do - open a chest, read a book, find a way through the fog to cleaner air. 

Any of this sounding familiar to you?

The shrouded areas are very atmospheric. Visibility is occluded but you can see well enough to pick your path through the mushroom clusters. It's possible to extend the time you can stay in the Shroud. I found an hourglass on a table that does exactly that. It's a consumable so I'm guessing at some point you can craft something similar to stay in the Shroud for as long as you need.

The similarities with New World, which seem quite obvious, come in the look of the world itself, with its brooding towers, dilapidated bridges and deep, barely-explored forests but also in the way the lore is presented by way of books, letters and diaries found lying open on tables in deserted camps. With the absence of towns and NPCs, at least at the start, it reminded me of the earlier New World builds, when Amazon thought they were making a survival game not an MMO. 

That's where I'm going to build my house. Not like I get a choice.

Given the attention its already getting and the very viable state of this relatively early build, I'd say we're going to be hearing a lot more about Enshrouded. I haven't added it to my wishlist yet but only because I'm not in the market for another survival game while I still have Dawnlands on simmer and Valheim on the back burner. 

I'll keep Enshrouded in mind for when and if any of that changes. The idea of intentionally difficult boss encounters is a turn-off for me but apart from that it looks like another eminently playable and enjoyable variation on what is fast becoming a well-defined genre all of its own.

2 comments:


  1. I didn't have any loading issues although it took a while to load the shaders, something I haven't seen for years. As for combat, the "higher level" mobs I fought that were either touch and go to survive or no chance were only one or two levels above me, so yes, I imagine pretty much anything above that would be instant death. On the other hand, the mobs my level that attacked me, mainly wolves and some kind of undead, seemed like pushovers, so it might be that there's a very tight window for enjoyable combat.

    I completely agree on the gameplay. I think the survival genre, at least as it is right now, offers far less variation than the MMORPG genre did at the same stage of development. I think the games benefit hugely at the start from how very easy they are to pick up and play enjoyably but after a fairly short while it starts to become very obvious what your next few hundred hours will be like and diminishing returns kick in hard. I can't see myself playing loads and loads of these the way I have MMORPGs or point&click adventures - they're just too samey.

    As for the Flame Altar, I bet you're right. I thought it seemed a lot harder than it ought to be. I probably missed something really obvious. Not going back to find out what it was now, though!


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  2. I have kind of stayed away from this genre because it sounds (1) like something I probably don't have the spare time to make real progress in and (2) like it would be somewhat annoying and stressful to play a game where you have to spend time making food so you don't starve to death. That's why this statement actually jumped my interest level in this one a notch:

    "Gathering is instantaneous, mobs drop weapons and there are tools lying around so you don't have to start out punching everything. There's no starving to death or dying of thirst. "

    Also, the screenshots are gorgeous, even for a modern game. Maybe be checking this one out at some point.

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