Enshrouded is an interesting title that has been hovering on my radar since it was first announced. The action survival RPG from Keen Games, Enshrouded, aims to slot itself right in amongst others in the survival MMO genre, taking cues from games such as Minecraft, Valheim, and more. It offers enough, though, to shake up the formula and make Enshrouded feel wholly distinct and, at times, even better than some of its predecessors.
Enshrouded’s main conceit is that you’re what’s called a Flameborn, a survivor who finds themselves exploring the ruined continent of Embervale. The continent is broken, with vast ruins of a lost people dotting the landscape and skyline, while the depths hide something more sinister: the viscous Shroud.
It’s an old adage in gaming, it’s dangerous to go alone, so Enshrouded allows up to sixteen players take on the dangers of Embervale and The Shroud together, whether on a privately hosted server or through a rented dedicated server. However, you can indeed tackle it solo, should you choose, though in my experience, it’s much more enjoyable with a few friends.
I Was The First To Arrive
From its opening moments, it’s clear that Keen Games are onto something very different here, yet still very familiar. Enshrouded follows the typical route of awakening in an empty land, ready to be rebuilt by its new residents. You’ll uncover the perfect plot, start building tools and a small shelter, all while trying to keep enemies and wildlife at bay.
The early moments are spent hunting down wooden twigs and stone to build humble pickaxes and stone hatchets to fell trees, while early quests also saw me search high and low for materials to build some exciting traversal items: a grappling hook and a glider.
Given the amount of sheer cliffs that criss-cross Embervale, I’m thankful for both as I’ve explored. Falling down the side of a cliff covered by the misty veil of the Shroud wasn’t nearly as disastrous, knowing I could spread my wings and float safely to the ground, for example.
Slinging around ruins with the grappling hook is a bit less free form - it does require a specialized tile on a surface for the grappling hook to be useable. The grappling hook feels like a must-have, though, as some bosses or objectives are only reachable with the use of the almost Legend of Zelda-like hookshot.
In fact, The Legend of Zelda is clearly a massive influence on Keen Games, felt keenly in its stamina and combat system. It has the now iconic stamina wheel we’ve seen in Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom, while Enshrouded’s combat reminds me a bit of the franchise as well, though moreso if you decide to lean into a melee fighting build (more on that in a bit).
The world exudes its fantasy charm well, and I love the premise of a world that you’ve got to slowly uncover while also dealing with the after-effects of whatever caused its collapse. This is most keenly felt in traversing The Shroud, a dangerous mist that clouds much of the landscape of Embervale.
Into The Shroud
This might be one of the more unique aspects of Enshrouded that really set it apart from other survival MMOs. While others have dangers, from the abundance of enemies at night in Minecraft to the various invasions in Valheim, Enshrouded’s is it’s somewhat eponymous Shroud. This mist hangs over much of the landscape, bringing a dark sense of foreboding every time I would step foot within its realm.
This isn’t something that can be avoided, either. Many spots, especially early on, are only accessible by venturing into the Shroud. It’s a rite of passage for every Flameborn on the server, and it’s one that you’ll make time and time again, especially as higher-end resources are sometimes only available within its mists.
Part of what makes the Shroud so dangerous is purely down to the time limit each player has that allows them to safely stay within its bounds. At default this is set to five minutes, making each trek not just a race against enemies and the objective, but also time itself. This adds such a feeling of dread and foreboding each time I ventured into the murk.
It almost gives a feeling of being drawn under the waves, fighting to climb back to the surface, knowing one ill-fated stroke could be your last. Thankfully there are bastions within the Shroud that can restart your Shroud timer, from the respawn flames you can tag by getting close to them, which throws you back there when you die instead of needing to run all the way back from your base, which is a nice touch. There are also items and potions you can craft that increase the amount of time you can spend in the shroud itself as well, if you and your friends want to make an excursion for those Amber deposits so valuable later in the game.
You can also cleanse parts of the Shroud by chopping down Shroud Roots as you come across them. These usually are at the bottom of a Elixir Well and guarded by some sort of boss, making the encounter one you should prepare for ahead of time.
More Fun With Friends
As this was an pre-launch build, there weren’t any dedicated servers ready to rent and play. As a result, we opted to host a server on one of our group’s PC so we could all play together.
There were six of us in total, and each one of us opted to fit a role within the group, with Leif opting to be our resident Tank and high-end resource gatherer, while I ended up gravitating to ranged magic via Wands and Magic staves, all while trying to figure out farming. Brian and Pete took it upon themselves to start building us a base to work from.
While we didn’t have a dedicated server to play on, I can’t say we had any major issues during our near 20+ hours of playtime over the last two weeks. Despite being in separate parts of the country, all connecting to a friend’s host PC on the West Coast, we didn’t notice any lag, slowdown or issues that made coordinating difficult, which is a great sign. The jury is still out on the dedicated server or the GPortal servers it seems Enshrouded opted to partner with, but this is something we’ll be testing over the next week or so and report back on in the full-scored early access review.
One thing that makes Enshrouded so easy to play with friends is the fact that while this is a survival game, there isn’t the constant need to boost stats and stay on top of hunger, thirst, and fatigue levels. This is more Valheim than ARK: Survival Ascended in its DNA, and it’s much appreciated.
Food does exist; in fact, farming is probably one of my favorite crafting pastimes, but it doesn’t exist to keep you from dying every 15 minutes or so. Instead, food augments stats, such as building a larger health pool or increasing magical damage. It’s one of those mechanics that’s there, and if you prepare and use it accordingly, you’ll be rewarded, but you aren’t penalized for not keeping on top of your diet for sure.
Unlocking the various forms of crafting isn’t as simple as building a crafting station and going from there. Like the player, you’ll need to rescue five survivors throughout the world, solving Zelda-inspired dungeons along the way to do so for some of them. These survivors, such as the Blacksmith, give access to advanced crafting stations like the Smelter, Forge, and so on, while others like the Carpenter is needed to unlock more advanced gliders.
It’s an interesting concept, though it doesn’t stop Enshrouded from still requiring multiple steps in crafting to get the final product - you’ll still be hunting for metal scrap to refine into metal plates, grabbing flax to spin into linen, or using sat and fur pelts to dry some fur to craft some armor. It’s still crafting, but instead of using a station to craft it, you’re using the expertise of an NPC to turn your mishmashed items into something useable. Compared to some of the survival-lite mechanics on offer, though, it definitely feels a bit more convoluted than anything else.
Going back to combat, we all settled into a specific role, but one thing I liked is that you’re not really locked into a particular style. The skill tree, which isn’t as vast as say, Path of Exile (though to be fair, nothing is as vast as that), still provides some great variety to build out and even provides some ideas based on build types like Battlemage, Tank or Healer, for example. Right now there really isn’t a way to respec your skills, but just because you slot more towards magic doesn’t mean you’re excluded from picking up a mace and swinging it with wild abandon.
Honestly, it feels like Enshrouded took the best aspects of multiple games in the genre and packaged them all in one place. The survival-lite aspects of Valheim are here - and even more streamlined thanks to how easy it is to repair your items (you just interact with a workbench and voila - you’re repaired), while it also has the incredible traversal and world that just begs to be explored.
Some of the best moments we’ve had have been just running around the desert and highlands up in the north, or finding a way through the ruined Capital and onto the Pike to face quite the ferocious boss. Yet, the downtime, mining for materials, and just shooting the breeze with friends makes Enshrouded the place we want to hang out lately.
More To Come
There is a ton still left to do - I’ve barely scratched the surface of building myself, while there are still bosses, Shroud Roots to chop down, and quests to complete. We’re also going to check out the dedicated servers for stability and deep dive into the voxel-based building to round out our early access review in progress. Check that out sometime next week.
In the meantime, Enshrouded hits early access today on Steam, so if you don't want to wait for our full early access review, check it out here.
Full Disclosure: A copy of the product was provided by PR for the purposes of this review. Reviewed on PC.