After about 2 years of Early Access on Steam, Encased finally released its 1.0 version into the wild back in September of 2021. This period was a long and arduous one, and despite being out for about 4 months now, the game is still receiving updates. Although I prefer to wait for when a game is no longer scheduled to receive any more content, so that I can play everything in one playthrough and then move on to the next thing, it just got to a point where I felt like I finally needed to dive into this one.
While I’m happy that I’ve finally played through the entire game, I must say that the game feels rushed in a lot of aspects. It’s clear that a lot of care and thought was put into creating such an imaginative world, but it seems like some things just didn’t make it into the final game in time, or they were just scrapped during development as the Early Access period stretched on.
Regardless, Encased is another great example of why the recent CRPG Renaissance has been such a thrill to experience. The developers, Dark Crystal Games, have clearly been inspired by the old-school Fallout games, and this reflects itself not only in Encased’s gameplay but also in its setting.
The game takes place in an alternate timeline during the 1970s, where the discovery of a mysterious Dome led to an abrupt end of the Cold War. With all of Humanity uniting under the goal of exploring the Dome and its riches, CRONUS is created, a megacorporation dedicated to unlocking the secrets and technologies under the Dome. However, the problem presented by this mysterious and massive structure is that once you’re inside of it, there’s no coming out.
It’s a pretty interesting premise as far as I’m concerned, and it allows players to open multiple doors both in terms of roleplay opportunities, as well as in terms of gameplay. Right at the start of the game, you create your own character, a new employee of CRONUS. As an employee of CRONUS, you belong to one out of five different wings, with each encompassing individuals with a specific set of skills. There are the prisoners and ex-convicts from the Orange Wing, the technicians from the Blue Wing, the guards from the Black Wing, and so on. It’s a system designed to segregate everyone under the Dome, but it works great from a gameplay perspective, as it functions as a pretty straightforward faction system.
In any case, once you’re thrown into the actual Dome, Encased feels extremely familiar if you’ve played any CRPG before. In a way, perhaps that’s to its own detriment. As far as gameplay goes, Encased doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it doesn’t actually need to. As an RPG, it’s pretty good and roughly at the same level as its peers. As long as you aren’t expecting something groundbreaking in the gameplay department, then I’m sure you’ll be pleased with what the game has to offer.
The combat is pretty bog-standard and should feel extremely intuitive, even if you’re not a hardcore fan of turn-based RPG combat. With that being said, the game offers plenty of ways for you to build up your character, as well as your party by providing a pretty diverse range of companions. Now, for example, even though you can use a lot of weapons, regardless of their class, if you invest skill points to specific areas, such as high-tech or heavy weapons, you’ll unlock active abilities to use during combat and even passive buffs that not only affect your character but also your companions.
As with a lot of RPGs, everything in Encased happens in real-time and when you enter combat the game switches to a turn-based mode. The combat is pretty much what you’d expect from an RPG such as this, but the surprise for me was the fact that the game has no cover system. Instead, the game allows you to use unspent action points to increase your defence for the next turn.
Now, if combat isn’t really your thing and you just want to explore the world and enjoy the story, then you don’t need to worry. Encased offers 4 different difficulty modes suited for all sorts of players. Whether you just want to experience the story, have a little challenge, or be fully immersed in Encased’s turn-based tactical combat, the game has got you covered. With that being said, I wish there were more customization options that would allow players to fine-tune specific aspects of the game, such as if certain stats affect you or not. In this regard, I think that the developers of the Pathfinder games, Owlcat Games, have been doing a tremendous job in providing players with a vast array of difficulty customization options, and I hope other developers eventually follow suit.
Although the combat has left me wanting something more unique, the rest of the game left me pretty satisfied. Even though some locations in the game might feel very similar to each other, they’re populated by a unique set of characters. At the end of the day, the strongest point of Encased is precisely that, it’s characters that are driven by a set of morals and beliefs, the mystery surrounding the Dome, and the ongoing power struggles between the various different groups with each seeking to shape the world under the Dome under their own ideologies.
Just imagine a series of factions with different points of view on how things should be run, sometimes with extreme opposite opinions, all locked in a confined space, and under constant threat by a series of anomalies that decimate everything in their path and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Everyone should be working together, but that’s precisely what’s not going to happen. It falls on the player’s shoulders the choice of how they want to shape this world, who they want to align with, who they want to eliminate, but most importantly, who they want to become.
Despite everything, I’ve run into a few issues during my playthrough that clearly indicate that the game still isn’t as good as it could be. For example, the most obvious one is that inventory management isn’t smooth and requires a lot of work on the player’s behalf. There’s also no way to compare the stats of different items, especially if you’re figuring out what you should sell or not. I found myself constantly going back and forth between my inventory and opening up trade windows just to make sure I was selling the right items. Furthermore, traders have limited money, so selling your unwanted items can become quite a chore, since you have to go all over the place looking for traders with money to buy from you. I understand that the developers might have wanted to simulate an actual economy under the Dome, but it just gets in the way of my experience.
Another issue that you always run into as soon as you get your first companion is the fact that companions don’t keep up with you. Instead, they follow you from a distance, which is rather annoying when you initiate combat and the rest of your party is slightly behind you. There can also be some rare occasions where your companions will stop moving until you select them, and they can also get stuck in the terrain sometimes. One thing that does confuse me about your companions is the fact that they can’t equip power armour, even though they have a slot for it in their inventory. At the moment, power armour can only be equipped by your main character, which I find to be quite a shame.
In spite of all that, these aren’t really the main issues that I have with the game. The ones that I was really bothered by are things such as being unable to finish quests, despite meeting the requirements, and having characters stuck with radiation sickness and all the methods that can be used to treat it refusing to work on specific characters.
Nevertheless, something that disappointed me about the game was how the main quests change as you move through each act. While the game starts quite strong and keeps like that for a good while, it comes to a point where the main quests turn into glorified fetch quests. Sure, the story follows along nicely, but I would like to have seen something more captivating. The first half of the game feels like you’re constantly seeking answers to an unsolvable mystery, while the other half feels like you’re just tagging along for the ride and gathering materials to craft something. The characters and the dialogue are just as good throughout the entire game, but I did feel less interested in the main questline towards the end of the game.
It took me roughly 60 hours to reach the end of the game while completing the overwhelming majority of its side-quests. I was lucky enough to get an ending that I was happy with, even though it presented a rather unexpected twist. With that being said, if you want to experience other endings, you can just reload your last save and go through the last part of the game until you’ve seen most of them. On the other hand, the reason why I can see this game being replayed by many people is due to how you can approach its story from various different points. There are multiple factions that you can align with, betray, not to mention the entire roleplay potential of it all. Despite its shortcomings, I do think that Encased has done quite well on this point.
It’s really a shame that the game suffers from multiple issues, even though I wouldn’t consider any of them to be game-breaking. Despite being in Early Access for about 2 years, Encased feels rushed and unfinished in some places. At the end of the day, Encased is a good game, but it really feels like it has a lot of untapped potential. The universe and the story are unquestionably the stars of the show, but the rest of the game just doesn’t stand out as much.
I definitely think that Encased is worth the asking price, but if 30€ is too much for you right now or you’re unsure, just keep an eye on it for a little longer. Although the game has been fully released for a few months now, it’s supposed to receive a content update pretty soon. Therefore, it’s clear to me that the developers are not only focused on improving the game, but also on expanding it by adding even more things to do. In any case, while Encased might not be the next big RPG, and even if it was frustrating at certain times, it did leave quite the impression on me. If you’re a fan of CRPGs, especially the old Fallout games, then I definitely recommend that you check this one out.