The year is 1970. The Cold War, surprisingly enough, has ended without an open conflict. All thanks to the Dome: a sensational technological marvel. It allowed the human civilization to achieve incredible scientific progress, bypassing decades of research. But, controlling the Dome comes with its own set of issues and concerns: this is where we come in…
IT IS A POST FALLOUT ATMOSPHERE
First, if it’s not already clear from this article’s long title – Encased is a post-apocalyptic RPG played from an isometric perspective. If this reminds you of Fallout, well, it’s because the two games really are that similar – at least from the visual standpoint. From the graphics and the interface to some design choices – the vibes are definitely here. But Encased goes one step beyond Interplay’s seminal title. Here, the player’s decisions really form the basis of the gameplay. So much so that Disco Elysium, all of a sudden, looks like one of the main inspirations, as well.
The above-mentioned Dome is currently controlled by a multinational association called CRONUS. The organization uses something like a caste system to divide its workforce. The main signifier of the status and the job is the color of one’s clothes. Those wearing Black are doing technical work, Silver corresponds to the administrative tasks, White for research, while the Orange color is, basically, for slaves.
Our story begins from a point of view of a regular worker, who’s just joined one of the groups. From the very start, the game offers a huge variety of choices in building your character with a long list of abilities and physical attributes. More than enough to let our creativity roam free.
PLAY BY THE RULES – OR MAKE YOUR OWN
As Fallout is one of the main inspirations here, we do get to explore the world at our own pace. After the prologue, of course. There are also plenty of interactive elements, as is traditional for the genre. We can talk with whomever we meet, barter items or pick fights. We can play by the rules – or make our own. Indeed, Dark Crystal Games has made it an absolute priority to give the players as much freedom as possible. As far as I can judge – they have certainly succeeded in this. But, it’s not enough to simply “let the player do what they want” to make a game interesting. The question is, what’s there to do?
Well, Encased may certainly feel like a dream come true (or a nightmare) for those, obsessed with gathering everything they can find in a game. There are things to pick up, literally, everywhere. Most containers aren’t locked and there are almost no consequences for stealing. So, if one’s passion is hoarding or bartering – this is a perfect game for that. Conversations, however, are somewhat of a mixed bag. Despite plenty of interesting lore and NPCs with quests – many characters seem almost completely devoid of any personality.
LIE, CHEAT, FIGHT
The turn-based combat in the game works fine. There are multiple different weapon types. There are light and heavy variations – melee, as well as powerful energy ones. It’s nothing special, of course, and overall the system feels a bit shallow. The character progression isn’t very deep either – it doesn’t really seem as if the various stats in the game make much of a difference. It’s mostly just about finding a good weapon and sticking with it, while keeping track of ammo, too. The game does put a lot of emphasis on combat, however.
Often, there is no way to avoid fighting. For example, there are several quests that require you to kill someone to progress. This definitely seems to grind against the “free” nature of Encased. No matter how high your character’s charisma is – they really cannot charm the huge cyborg crab into giving back that torn-off leg you need to complete the quest. Would be interesting to see that, though…
There are many additional mechanics in Encased that are somewhat hard to describe, without going into a lot of detail. Your character can get hungry, thirsty, irritated, distracted, nauseated (by bad food). There’s also a stealth mechanic, which can be used not only to sneak past the enemies, but also to hide the results of your own character’s nefarious deeds. Why would you care about hiding anything, though? Well, that’s because the game’s NPCs can discover these results and start investigating. They might even send hunters after you, if you commit crimes. By the way, did I mention that the game allows you to play with a party, or go all “lone wolf” like for the entire run? There’s incredible complexity here, and, for the most part, it functions just as it should.
A HUGE WORLD, YET NOT MUCH TO DO
All this brings me to an interesting point. Encased has been in development for a good number of years. It also spent quite some time in Early Access. This is rather evident in the first parts – which feature a strong storyline and interesting characters. The pace definitely quickens after a somewhat slow start and a mandatory tutorial. It does all seem to ramp up to some sort of epic sci-fi/horror culmination.
However, as you progress further, the things really quite down. The story becomes less focused, the objectives become rather vague. Sure, there is a huge world – but it doesn’t seem as if there’s anything to do in it. It seems like the developers put a lot of effort into the first parts of the game and not enough into the later sections.
RESPECT FOR THE WORK
Graphically, Encased won’t make any heads turn – it’s really not going for that eye-candy look, despite the staggering amount of detail. Still, it does feature quite decent, solid 3D graphics, as far as I can tell. It also performs rather great, even when played on not-so-modern computers. The engine allows the player to smoothly zoom in and out. The point of view isn’t locked – so you can move the camera whichever way you want.
This is definitely appreciated when you need to scout far ahead of the main character. Unfortunately, the music is nothing special. It’s mostly just ambient sounds, with a few tracks here and there. Apparently, the 70s disco never happened here! There is some professional voice acting, though, that makes the vast amount of reading in the game a lot more engaging.
Despite the several issues I’ve mentioned and despite the fact that each act feels weaker and weaker… I’d still recommend Encased. This RPG is a labor of love by a small indie studio, and it’s still being constantly worked on. True, the story might not be incredibly engaging and the writing, overall, is not up to par, compared with the classics of the genre. Yet, this game is clearly the result of a huge commitment to giving the players a great degree of freedom in a truly open world. To be able to build “your own story”. These are, without doubt, no easy tasks, at all.
Sure, the studio might have spent more time working on the game and further refine the writing. It might have taken them some more years before they would be able to reach some sort of perfection. But, in the end, would that really make a difference? What Encased currently offers to its players is an incredibly ambitious project.
It’s more than capable of giving something truly worth its cost, to most lovers of the genre. And it’s especially enticing to whoever is looking for that brilliant (and long awaited) return of the late 90s RPG.