Enshrouded Review (Early Access)

A promising beginning for a new world of adventure

Open-world survival adventure games have saturated the market to the point that players will be kept busy until the end of time. So when a developer creates a new title in the same vein, we have to ask what it does differently or better than the competition to make it worthy of our audience’s time and money. Enshrouded is one of the more recent additions to the genre, and developer Keen Games aims to make its own mark with inspiration from titles like Valheim and Breath of the Wild.

So how is Enshrouded different from its inspirations? Is the combat fluid and fun, or clunky and frustrating? Is the world one players will want to immerse themselves in? Is material gathering a grind fest or something more casual? Is this a title that lends itself more to multiplayer, or will solo gamers want to check it out, too? We’ll be covering all of this and much more in this review.

Before we begin, we’d like to remind readers that this review is for the Early Access title at the time of writing and may not accurately represent the finished game.

Story and concept

The first opening cinematic of Enshrouded

Enshrouded is set in the fantasy world of Embervale, a mountainous land that once housed a prosperous kingdom of both humans and a silent race known as the Ancients. Until one day, of course. Unknown wanderers eventually introduced the kingdom to the Elixir, a powerful, dangerous, and addictive substance found underground. Wars soon broke out over control of elixir wells and supply lines of the precious liquid, and then came The Shroud.

With the land already in turmoil, this new cataclysm sealed its demise. The Shroud is a deadly fog spawned from the spores of a mysterious fungus found in the elixir wells that quickly spread over the land, transforming everything and everyone into horrifically mutated mushroom amalgamates. As a result, humanity nearly went extinct. To save Embervale and humanity from the coming apocalypse, the smartest of both the Ancients and Humankind banded together to create vaults to keep certain individuals in suspension until the world could be reclaimed.

Speaking to The Flame for the first time

That’s where you come in. You play as one of the “Flameborn,” a special kind of human with the mysterious power to rekindle lost flames. That includes the ability to drive back the deadly fart spores with the powers of “The Flame”, an elusive and potentially divine entity the Ancients seemed to revere. You can also light campfires and lanterns with sparks that fly from your butt, but that’s less important to the story. You, and whatever friends you bring with you, are awakened by The Flame and tasked with finding the other survivors still in stasis and retaking this post-apocalyptic world from the Shroud.

The story of Enshrouded isn’t an entirely new one, but the ways in which players can interact with it are relatively satisfying. While exploring derelict inns and forgotten farmsteads, players will uncover notes, letters, and diaries that will reveal new locations on their maps and lead them to rewards and other quests. This is an excellent use of emergent exploration, and the focus on notes written by recurring characters and survivors makes the player feel like they’re really uncovering a larger story rather than picking up some random person’s discarded grocery lists. Players can often follow these notes all the way to the writer’s final resting place and see where and how they died, right before they smash their skeleton to build a house out of their bones.

Reading a note found near a pair of skeletons

On the other hand, however, the motivation and objectives for these quests are often threadbare and a bit mismatched. For example, one note led us to a hidden bandit camp in the hills. While exploring the camp, we uncovered a sword forged by the blacksmith survivor for his daughter. However, we didn’t know we were looking for the sword or the significance of it when we arrived; the quest was just completed when we opened the chest. We wouldn’t have even known the backstory if we hadn’t brought the blade to the blacksmith on a whim. The quest would have been much more impactful if the blacksmith had tasked us to retrieve the sword.

Graphics

Admiring the view from an Ancient Spire

If there is one thing the dev team seemed to nail down, it was the graphics. Enshrouded isn’t going to be making any waves when it comes to photorealism or unique style, but the world of Embervale is a beautiful one. Textures are detailed, environments are immersive, and the hillsides and mountaintops of the region offer gorgeous views of the incredible scenery below.

The lighting effects, in particular, are fantastic and can drastically alter the look of the world based on the time of day. Torches and fires have an ambient glow, the sun casts shadows and rays, and the brightness of daytime outside may take your eyes a moment to adjust to when emerging from a dark cave. The effects of glowing light through natural mists and the choking shroud make the world feel alive, and fans of the homesteading aspects of survival games will likely feel immersed and right at home here.

Exploring an abandoned fortress

It’s the little details, though, that really sell us on the world at large. The tip of a glowing sword actually casts light on the player’s surroundings, and the insides of long-abandoned homes include tons of tiny jars, books, and other useless knickknacks that add that bit of flavor explorers are looking for in their environments before they smash them to see what resources pop out.

While these details are a good, solid foundation, they start to become repetitive after exploring a few locations. The developers must add more variety and personality to these environments, and they’ll have a fantastic world to explore. We’d recommend these changes for point-of-interest interiors and biomes covering large areas like the Shroud.

A common graphical bug in Enshrouded

We should mention that all of these graphics require some decent hardware to render, and players with less powerful systems may need to dial down the settings to avoid turning their PC or Console into a space heater. Additionally, we encountered common graphical bugs where textures became noticeably granular at a distance, or chunks wouldn’t load in until we approached. Player-made structures constructed from specific materials would frequently lose resolution as well. These issues weren’t game-breaking and are well within what we’d expect from early access, but they should be addressed.

We’ll finish this section by mentioning that we were impressed by how well voxel and block meshes overlapped and yet displayed almost no stitching, missing texels, or other common issues.

Related: 10 Tips for Getting Started in Enshrouded

Sound and atmosphere

Resting inside a cozy house

The music of Enshrouded is ripped right from the fantasy world textbook. It’s ambient, it’s soothing, and it’s epic. The music when wandering open plains is relaxing and immersive, while deep inside the shroud it feels dangerous and like you are being watched. Cave music is claustrophobic and tense, but also kicks in any time there is a bit of rock overhead so it can feel a bit silly sometimes.

Overall, the music is great; the only problem is that it can be repetitive over long playthroughs. The breaks between tracks are well-timed and keep the music from becoming a detriment to the experience; we’d just like to hear some variety when spending lots of time in the same location.

The sound effects for this title check all the boxes for us as survival gamers. They’re crunchy, satisfying, and have a great sense of weight to them. You’ll hear clunking or clacking when picking up logs or rocks and squishing or rattling when collecting resin or bones. We would recommend including these sound effects when items are moved between inventories as well, however. 

Exploring deep within the Shroud

Aside from the intro cinematic, the game doesn’t include much voice acting. Most enemies will shriek, snarl and spout swear words in fantasy languages, and players can often locate enemies by their ambient sounds (which is sometimes good and sometimes ruins their hiding places.) Survivor characters will likewise shout, grunt, repeat catchphrases, and generally make various NPC noises but won’t usually read out what they’re saying.

Gameplay

Facing off against an early boss

There’s a lot to love about Enshrouded’s gameplay elements, but there’s still a lot to be done regarding general polish and player hooks. We’ll admit that, on the whole, it’s a bit hard to pin down at the moment because, for every great aspect of the game, there’s something that could be fixed. The title is still in development, so there’s nothing wrong with that, but players should be aware of both sides of the coin when considering taking the Early Access leap of faith.

Starting with combat, it feels decent. Attacks feel slightly exaggerated, but the sense of impact when striking an enemy is solid. Players can attack, block/parry, dodge, and use whatever they have in their toolbar, including bombs and potions. You can also use a ranged weapon, be it a bow or magic staff, without swapping between quick slots, allowing players to switch between ranged and melee combat seamlessly.

A successful parry feels good when it lands, but the process can be a bit iffy. It can be hard to judge the correct range for parrying without locking onto your enemy, which would be fine, except the lock-on system is very janky and can throw you off in combat when it suddenly targets the wrong foe. 

Combat is pretty easy and pretty simple, overall. Enemies usually go down in a couple of hits and even squishy characters can tank a fair bit of damage, assuming they’re not facing a boss or fighting in their underwear. Even when facing bosses alone, most players familiar with action RPGs should be able to take on enemies several levels higher than them with no issues if they’re at least somewhat prepared.

A look at the the Skill Tree in Enshrouded

At present, we’d say the UI is one of this game’s worst enemies. While perfectly functional, it’s very boxy, poorly sorted, and not particularly friendly to new users. Crafting items you aren’t familiar with or even realizing you can craft certain items requires navigating to the correct menu, at the correct craftsperson or workbench, opening the correct subsection, and selecting the proper entry on the opposite side of the screen. We almost would have preferred a full list laid out for us to peruse. Streamlining these interactions should be a priority.

We love the direction the developers are taking with the RPG elements, allowing players to specialize in different classes and adding unique abilities that make combat more interesting. Many of the abilities players can unlock in the skill trees feel a bit situational and rather unsatisfying. The addition of the stun bar mechanic makes melee more engaging. Still, the finishers warrior characters can perform on stunned enemies are lacking the flair that gives melee players that dopamine rush.

Additionally, the simple addition of a nametag over an enemy’s health bar could add another layer of depth to the worldbuilding, letting players know what kind of enemy they are fighting. Either that or some sort of bestiary would have been great since there are different damage types, and there is no clear indicator of who is resistant or vulnerable to what.

Soaring over the map with the glider

Traversal feels wonderful, and instead of the standard hang glider from every other recent survival title, the devs opted for a medieval wingsuit so you can flying-squirrel your way across the map. Movement is tight but has a sense of momentum to it that lets players parkour over the terrain in a fast and fun way (assuming there’s a cliff or grapple point nearby.) I have no complaints in this department, except we would have liked to see some more uses for the grappling hook, such as scaling certain cliffs.

On the subject of getting around, the map for this game relies heavily on the use of verticality, which works great for encouraging players to use the glider, offering fantastic views, and separating the safe lands above the fog from the dangerous wasteland down below the shroud. This does carry the downside of limiting flat, open spaces where players can easily build bases. Additionally, the sheer scale of most of the cliffs often railroads exploration when going uphill, and it can be difficult to find the path up the mountain when roads don’t appear on the map.

Exploring a long forgotten crypt

Exploration was one of the most exciting elements of the game for us at first. Finding an abandoned inn off in the distance or locating the staircase down to a hidden cellar made us want to take a closer look to see what we could find inside. Unfortunately, the answer was usually “Nothing Interesting.” Though there certainly was some cool loot to be found here and there, much of what players will be looting won’t be better than quest rewards or crafted items. You can break items down for runes to use on upgrading other gear, but finding a weapon that might be two points better than the one you are using once it’s been fully upgraded isn’t super exciting.

On the other hand, if you find an object made from metal while exploring an abandoned keep, chances are you can smash it and get metal. Just about everything in Enshrouded is destructible, from the barrels and tables around buildings to the very ground you walk on. Players can mine terrain for minerals, smash furniture for wood, and otherwise salvage the remains of the old world to make their own stuff. Of course, this includes the ability to chop trees, gather herbs, and the usual bevy of resource-collection methods. It usually isn’t hard to get the resources you are looking for, and farming materials doesn’t take much grinding once you know where to look.

General survival mechanics are nearly identical to those in Valheim. The player starts with three food slots, and eating food gives a boost to health, stamina, or other stats until the timer runs out. Players also get a rested bonus from being indoors and comfortable based on the furniture and amenities present. You won’t be looking after any meters except for your health, stamina, mana, and the durability of your equipment.

Building a massive tower in Enshrouded

The building mechanics took a little getting used to, but once we figured out how everything worked, it became one of our favorite systems. It may not look like it at first glance, but the world of Enshrouded is made up of tiny individual blocks. When players build, they craft these blocks by the hundreds from different resources and then use a hammer to stack them together.

Players can choose from a variety of materials and utilize lots of premade parts of different shapes and sizes for easy building. More advanced builders can also choose to place or remove blocks individually, allowing for an incredible degree of creative freedom and control over their constructions. Not only that, but players can adjust their build distance, toggle snapping, and otherwise utilize all the editing tools we wish we’d had in games past.

But we longed for a bit more reason to build out a large base. As players locate and rescue survivors, they can construct houses and shops for them and plop them inside. However, they can’t actually use any of these structures and don’t seem to need shelter. Though there seems to be the foundations for NPC comfort levels, we haven’t found where they are implemented yet.

Your base also won’t be raided, so defenses aren’t a necessary component. Nothing wrong with that, but players looking to build and defend their own fortress should look elsewhere for now.

Replay value

A look at a player-built base

The replay value of Enshrouded currently relies on its multiplayer aspects and base-building opportunities. The world of Embervale is static, so players won’t be seeing a new map if they start a new game. Additionally, the map is currently much smaller than other procedurally-generated titles.

However, Enshrouded is an excellent game to play with friends, and assembling an adventuring party to build a village and explore the world together greatly enhances the experience. If you enjoy building up different bases in different locations, then you’re also in luck. This title is quite generous with the number of bases it allows the player to construct, and the building systems are fun and engaging enough for block enthusiasts to keep busy for hours raising mighty keeps and meticulously decorated gardens.

Final thoughts on Enshrouded

Preparing to climb an Ancient Spire

There is a lot to love when it comes to Enshrouded. The build mechanics are intuitive and tactile, the world is interesting and attractive, and gliding around the vale is super fun. On the other hand, there’s a lot left to be done. The UI needs to be streamlined, quests and NPCs need to be fleshed out, and the map, in general, needs some additional love.

For players who love exploring and building in a fresh, open world, this is definitely one you’ll want to take a look at. However, for players looking for a solid Action RPG experience, it may be better to keep this one on the back burner for now. Enshrouded is a great mix of ideas with some strong foundations. Given the devs’ time and dedication, this title has the potential to wow players and stand out as a unique feature among several genres.

Players can grab Enshrouded for PC, PlayStation 5, and the Xbox series.

Aaron Van Dyck's avatar

About Aaron Van Dyck

Aaron Van Dyck is a thriller novelist with a passion for survival games and exploration. He started writing at the age of 13 and has always been drawn to the sense of self-reliance and freedom found in open worlds. An avid urban explorer and RPG enthusiast, he enjoys dungeon crawling and has a particular love for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Far Cry 5, and Cataclysm: DDA. He's also a fan of shooters and action games with immersive stories and unique monsters to encounter.

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