Encased is an isometric sci-fi RPG set in a post-apocalyptic world and featuring a turn-based combat system. Players are in for a classic RPG goodness: leveling up your character, exploring the vast hostile wasteland, avoiding radiation fighting against various enemies, and much more.
The developers from Dark Crystal Games were clearly inspired by the early Fallout games as well as the Roadside Picnic novel by the Strugatsky brothers. Considering I am a huge fan of the novel, this game is of particular interest to me. The game features a very interesting story and a highly detailed, deep lore that developers have meticulously crafted with a lot of love.
The events of the game take place in a world that has gone through a local apocalypse in an alternate reality of the 1970s. An area of the resulting wasteland is isolated by a giant dome of unknown origin. It is believed that the source of the protective “shield” is the objects of an ancient civilization buried deep underground. A set of research centers is engaged in the study of these objects. Humans have split into factions, each one pursuing its own goals.
Put on your hazmat suit, and let’s explore the Incident that forever changed the face of the world.
The story of the game is constantly filled with new details. Between the information available in Encased itself, developers’ diaries, and the contents of the VK page, there is enough lore for several books set in the in-game universe.
To give a fast, brief overview before diving into details:
The events of the game take place in a wasteland isolated from the rest of the world by a giant protective dome of mysterious nature. Beneath it are the ruins of an ancient technologically advanced civilization: underground complexes filled with artifacts, traps, and anomalies.
The survivors of the nuclear war, employees of the corporation that was searching for and studying the ancient technological relics, have split into various factions with their own vision of humanity’s future.
The protagonist’s profession, determined by the player during the character creation, opens unique options in dialogues and gameplay. In particular, it adds answers and options to influence characters in different ways.
For example, the explorer faction can get quick access to a couple of locations – but all it really does is save you maybe another ten dialogue points or so. The militaristic faction has an option to talk prisoners into working gaster, than any other faction. Choosing a faction gives an extra option for approaching quests but not for finishing them.
Encased doesn’t outright feature character classes as such. Instead, the game offers a flexible system of skills and attributes that allows players to sculpt their avatars the way they want. A controversial point of such a system is that even spending parameters in a certain way will not fundamentally change who your character is, the starter attributes will not change all that much.
If you have created your character as an explorer, it will stay an intellectual until the end of the game, you can’t become a tank no matter how hard you try. On the other hand, it gives the game a great replayability value: there are different ways to finish quests bound to your character’s origin. For example, you can repair some tech to assist you or just blast your way through in combat or even ramp up your wits and charm your way out of a bind.
The world of Encased is open to free movement between separately loaded locations. But is it as open as it sounds? There are a dozen static zones, random encounters that happen in repeating locations, a few towns almost completely devoid of life and only changing after certain quests are finished.
I am not particularly fond of the way the dialogues are set, either. They are acted from the 3rd person point of view and feel extremely impersonal and almost empty. Only a hundred dialogues from thousands of them are actually deep and nicely written. The whole system reminded me of the early Fallout and Divinity games but simplified to a fault.
The developers position the game as this ideological successor to Fallout – and Encased tries very hard to emulate it in almost everything. But while playing the first act, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I’m playing a decade-old game with a fresh coat of paint but no substantial changes to gameplay or quality of life.
According to the plot of the game, a giant invisible dome was found in a desert in 1971. You can only get in through its top, however, a living creature can not leave it afterward. Dangerous anomalies, hostile mutated animals, and artifacts of some long-forgotten super-advanced ancient civilization of the Forefathers can be found inside. Despite being in the early stages of research, their technologies gave humanity a scientific breakthrough.
Soon, a mega-corporation Cronu was founded and took control of all the work inside the dome. The leading countries of the world supplied it with resources, equipment, and manpower – the best scientists, engineers, managers, and more. The corporation also amassed a great number of criminals under the dome to be used as test subjects.
Upon starting your game, you choose the background that will affect the way you complete quests but not the outcome of these quests. You can distribute stat and talent points which provide players with great variability when playing the game. There are also various types of weapons to specialize in, such as light, heavy, scientific, cold, etc.
Your character arrives on the research station and starts to get acquainted with the world and the inner subtleties of the game. You, an inexperienced loner that just arrived on the station, will be forced to perform a dangerous task, find out what happened with the research complex engaged in the excavation of various artifacts, relics, and technologies of the Forefathers.
As a result, you become the cause of a huge catastrophe, bringing destruction to the entire system under the dome, completely tearing it apart from the rest of the world, and turning it into a kind of Fallout-like wasteland with raiders and bickering of various factions. As the protagonist, you begin to deal with the consequences of your actions at the start of the game, trying to save other people… or not. As the game progresses, you will come across some easter eggs. I was delighted to encounter the Roadside Picnic Cafe.
The game features an open world filled with beautiful locations, picturesque and elaborate, but also empty and completely devoid of life. If you have cleared out a location, it will remain empty and unchanged, with the corpses of the enemies littering the ground for hundreds of days in a row.
The locations are drawn with a lot of love, you can see it in the small details. Whether it is a huge city hub or a small chunk of nowhere that features nothing but a couple of anomalies.
The way the quest system is structured is very reminiscent of the very same Fallout series. Players are given a lot of information about the task, its conditions and requirements, and no hand-holding. There are no pointers or map markers to guide you. In general, quests have a few different ways to complete them.
Attributes in Encased made me fondly think back to Fallout 2. Rolling “one” for intelligence will make your character behave like a complete tool in all dialogues and situations which made me reminisce about getting into the Enclave base with a similar character.
On the other hand, dropping ten points into intelligence will unlock all available bonuses to technical skills and provide extra opportunities in dialogues where your protagonist will be able to amaze everyone with their ingenuity.
There are certain differences in skills, at least in their quantity: 14 in Fallout vs 18 in Encased. The game merged some skill groups together into one: Fallout’s Gambling, Barter and Speech were united into Influence; Sneak, Steal and Lockpick have been merged into a meta-skill Crime; First Aid and Doctor are a single skill called Medicine; last but not least Throwing and Traps have also been combined.
There are also two completely new skills:
- Psionics skill is responsible for the efficiency of the use of psychic energy
- Piloting affects controlling vehicles and heavy armor (yep, like that one from Fallout)
Encased employs the classic approach to the non-linear story. Most situations that arise during your playthrough can be solved in a variety of ways. You can attempt to persuade a hostile NPC, sneak past them, kill them, and anything in between.
Or, for example, if a quest concerns the interests of several groups of people, you can choose what side to take. You can shoot almost everyone you meet and, according to the developers, the game will still allow you to complete the run. However, if you manage to do it without the needless killing, there is a special achievement for that!
Encased tries to convey the overall atmosphere of depression and despondency of the post-apocalypse and the few who managed to live through it. It shows you scenes of murdered and injured people, betrayal, and selfishness of those who surround you. But, to me, it still lacked depth and engagement, with jokes and references only serving to dilute the atmosphere.
Some are very nicely done, but there are also those that randomly break immersion like castrating someone with two bricks, a character having too much acne, and other trashy humor. Mixing it with meme references, book easter eggs, little nods to Fallout gives an overall uncomfortable feeling.
At the beginning of the game, you can only control your own character but soon you will get an opportunity to recruit followers, which lowers the difficulty significantly. Party members have their own stories and positions in the world. One is an ardent bandit killer that will not spare any criminal scum.
In battles, the hexagonal field has been replaced with a square grid. The game also displays the initiative bar that reflects the order in which characters participate in combat. Every turn you are given a certain number of action points, each attack against the enemy has a probability of success. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The game also features the global physical map of the area, split into squares with circles indicating locations. You can walk along on foot or traverse in a car and stumble upon random events on your way. The only difference from Fallout is that to drive the vehicle you need to invest in a special skill. The car also needs gasoline instead of nuclear batteries.
The game features a lot of interesting mechanics, the consequences of drug usage, stealth mode, thievery, etc. But not all of them work well or are thought out enough. For example, the hunger and fatigue mechanic – your character can keep going on just one bottle of water for a couple of days without consequences.
Fatigue is granted by any action and is mitigated by coffee. Not sleeping for a fortnight on two dozen cups of coffee? Can do!
Encased dragged me into playing it until 3 in the morning in the very beginning, but by the end of Chapter 1, the game showed itself to be empty. Not unfinished, mind you, just shallow.
Yes, it was made with a lot of love and attention to detail but something at its very core is missing. The game hooks you in with references to the Strugatsky brothers’ work and Fallout but does not feature the same fullness and colorfulness of the story inside. Despite the deep lore, the plot of the game seems to be very basic and quite illogical at times. The fragmented nature of dialogues only adds to the issue.
Encased can suck you into it for dozens of hours of exploration and complex, difficult battles with various tactics but also leave you frustrated with the way it approaches the story and characters.
Note: the Steam key was provided for the purposes of this review.
- Fallout 2
- Wasteland 2
- ATOM RPG