In 1960, architects Buckmister Fuller and Shoji Sadao proposed a 3 km wide, geodesic dome over Midtown Manhattan to cut down on energy usage. A far-fetched dream, it never saw the light of day, except perhaps via sci-fi books (Neuromancer), movies (The Simpsons), and games (Crysis 3). But what if such a dome of non-human origin exists, kind of like the Monoliths from 2001: A Space Odyssey, or maybe the Shimmer Field from Annihilation? How would the world react to this and what all scientific endeavors shall follow?
Read our resident RPG afficionado Jay’s preview of Encased from way back in 2019 here.
Encased might hold some answers to the above questions because in its truest self, it’s a post-apocalyptic sci-fi RPG, and the post-apocalypse exists inside a certain Dome. Back in the 1970s, a geodesic transparent forcefield of unknown origin was discovered in the middle of a desert, and the only way to enter it was via an aperture at the top. World governments put aside their differences ending the Cold War and united to form the C.R.O.N.U.S in order to study and possibly exploit the various artifacts found inside the dome. And you, the player, is one of C.R.O.N.U.S’s new recruits
But that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. As soon as you step into the main facility, you come face-to-face with a mountain of obligatory bureaucracy layering the very foundation of C.R.O.N.U.S. It’s a pure satire of how in real life you’ve to fill countless forms to get even the smallest thing done and how the various white collars sitting in their desks make you run from pillar to post. But wait, you might be asking where’s the post-apocalypse? Well, Encased does take some time to get the story moving, giving you just enough to get used to the game mechanics. A psionic apocalypse happens, dubbed as the Maelstrom that severs the only connection between the dome and the outside world – a spire extending from ground to the aperture. Basically, every single resident, employee, animal, etc. is trapped inside, cut off from the outside world. From here on, Encased puts all its cards on deck, throwing you at the deep end of the pool without warning. Within the two years you spend in stasis on an extraterrestrial plane, various factions have risen with the sole objective of staying alive as long as they can. You’re to find your destiny amidst the chaotic mixture of civilization, bandits, cannibals, mutants, zombies, and environmental anomalies, and possibly reverse the effects of the growing Maelstrom that can wipe out the world if it exits the dome.
A love letter to good oldies
Just like every other turn-based CRPG, Encased features a character creation putting great emphasis on your Wing. Wings are basically ‘classes’ that determine your dialogues and the choices available that can result in multiple outcomes. That said, you can have multiple playthroughs with a unique experience each time because your choices affect your reputation with the other wings. Your stats, abilities, traits, and skills determine what all options you have at your dispense (and what all you could get should you invest in a different character). And this combined with the Wing system amplifies the world immersion around you. This goes without saying that at times you maybe be forced to explore alternate pathways depending upon the lack of options thereof. Who knows, maybe you’ll find some good weapons, armor, resources… or encounter overpowering spawns of hell! Just make sure you take enough consumables with you to feed the entire party in the middle of your journeys.
Exploration and the freedom to interact with everything is exactly what someone with fidgety hands needs. You see that locker? You can lockpick it or break it open by brute force (which increases your fatigue). You can hack that terminal or influence people to give the password … or maybe pilfer it off their dead bodies. Once it so happened that my influence was 4 levels lower than required to influence a certain character to give me something. Encased allows you to literally eat books and magazines and that grants you temporary perks lasting up to an hour in real-time. And so I found myself running to the library to ‘consume’ some business magazines! The only downside in all of these is that the NPCs will only talk to the party leader – you – and so your companion’s passive stats don’t matter. Could’ve turned the tide in conversations had the devs taken care of this.
The non-linearity of Encased mixed with mindless bureaucracy, makes even the dumbest tasks a chore (kind of). What I mean to say is, to complete a simple objective you’re made to run back and forth across a huge subterranean building and made to talk to various personnel (something which I abhor doing in real life) This plus the lack of objective markers enhances the non-linearity to a great extent. For example, after waking up from stasis into a post-apocalyptic world, I started doing a lot of favors (side missions) for the ruling party so that I can report myself to the boss who thinks I died two years ago. None of them worked, but once I followed through with the main objectives, it worked like a charm! Not only this, just like in the real world, no one warns you when you’re about to do something that you shouldn’t, and you can literally die in the prologue in three different ways (and unlock steam achievements in the process). All these feed that exploratory part of your brain.
Well, Encased is immensely good but it’s not without its flaws – a diamond in the rough. For starters, you can’t control your party members, the dumb AI does. That means tactical positioning that you might be used to in games like Divinity: Original Sin, goes out of the windows. It’s hard, no, impossible to make your other party members stand close together; they keep moving away from each other’s positions as if social distancing is the norm. And more so often it happens that they will be standing right before us blocking our line of fire, or heading straight into the fangs of a mutated cockroach. But your very comrades aren’t the only ones blocking your line of fire. In 69% of cases your firing line is blocked by items you can clearly see over – road dividers, opened car bonnets, etc. – which makes zero sense. The only way out is to spend more Action Points to move aside so that you can fire properly. And even after doing that, there’s a high likelihood you’ll miss the shot (sigh). I just wish Encased showed the percentage of hitting/critical chance etc., I could’ve conserved ammo without wasting entire rounds on missed shots.
The cover system is another pain in the ass. No matter where you’re standing, you’re still going to take damage. No more damage reduction based on how much cover you’re crouched in… oh wait! There’s no crouching mechanics/animation in the game to begin with – our character just… stands! After playing games like XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I was expecting a small crouching animation when you’re taking cover, but alas! In Divinity: Original Sin, our characters would encase (pun unintended) themselves in leaves, rocks, or barrels and tiptoe to wherever you want them to go. In Encased, our character simply ‘walks’ in full view while the NPC detection radius is highlighted. And thanks to the dumb AI controlling your other party members, the stealth mechanic is as flawed as it can be!
Graphics, Performance and Sound
Encased excels in the voice acting and the sheer amount of detailed digital arts that convey the story (there are no cutscenes) while simultaneously falls behind in terms of graphics and animations. Everything feels handmade (in both a good way and a bad way) and it almost makes me think as if the devs remade the old Fallout games. Even in the highest settings, the overall aesthetic looks very dated (maybe because Encased is set in the ’70s). Characters don’t sprint and the movement animation is very unnatural to look at.
As for the performance, it varies from place to place, naturally. Expect fps drops in areas of high particle effects like dust or fog, and expect stable fps within the interiors of some buildings on 1060-range GPUs.
Encased is a nice love letter to the older Fallout games in every aspect, but in reality, it’s kind of Flawed-out. Nevertheless, it offers enough to clock above 20 hours and still complete only about 30% of the game. There’s no hand-holding at all, you’ve to pay attention to the lore, NPC dialogues (or refer to them from the log), pay attention to weapon stats, your stats, everything, and that’s what makes the game so immersive. If Dark Crystal Games improves upon the combat and the graphics, then the game will be amazing! Maybe add some cool kill-shot animations as well!
Final Review : Recommended