Encased is an isometic sci-fi post-apocalyptic RPG in development by Dark Crystal Games and published by Black Tower Entertainment. After launching a successful kickstarter campaign in September 2018, Encased released in Early Access on Steam on September 27, 2019. The game took inspiration from the 90’s and 00’s isometric RPGs like Fallout and Wasteland, and some of the development team have worked on games such as Life is Fuedal: Forest Village and Divinity Original Sin II. Knowing this and by watching the game’s trailer, I knew this was going to be right up my RPG alley. Their latest content update was on December 14, 2019 which is when I first started playing.
The Encased story starts in 1971 when a gigantic structure was found in the desert, named The Dome. The leading world powers founded the Cronus Corporation to research it. A city was built at the base of The Dome called Crystal Sands where scientists and other experts were transported inside it. A spire station was built atop the dome where all goods and personnel were moving through it, however once you enter the dome, you cannot leave. Like most corporations, they promised the world in the form of teleportation technology, flying cards, cures for diseases, and so on. In the search for new technologies, they discovered millions of strange mechanisms and anomalies. Blinded by the quest for new technologies, a catastrophic event occurred wiping out a lot of the colony and causing many workers to go crazy. It’s now 1976 and you’ve been sent down to Magellan station to investigate further.
This is a story-rich RPG so there is a lot of reading and therefore aimed at the more patient RPG player. If you’ve played those old games like Fallout, Wasteland and Shadowrun, you’ll know what to expect. Character creation normally takes me a while in RPGs and it took me a good 20 minutes to create my first character in Encased. Outside of the normal aesthetic features, you are faced with bigger decisions by choosing which wing (faction) within the Chronus department you want to represent and which starting skills you want to take. There’s a decent amount of descriptive text to help you make your decision.
There are five coloured wings – black, white, blue, orange and silver. Your choice of wing affects the background of your character, the starting values of attributes and the initial equipment. The wing also affects dialogue choices throughout the game, so already I’m seeing some replay value here. Black wing are security forces using the most powerful weapons and advanced military equipment. Orange wing is for criminals looking to make amends in society and are the everyday workers. White wing are scientists that can specialise in medicine, blue wing are the engineers, and silver wing are the inspirational leadership types. I like playing RPG characters that can heal in some form, so I went with the white wing science type.
Once you’ve confirmed your attribute and skill selections, you start the game inside an elevator with staff from each of the wings. You’re able to talk to them and straight away you see the level of detail taken in describing the scenes, people and surrounds. Also transitions between scenes show a descriptive image and the location and premise is explained to you in text. I would love for these to be visual cutscenes in the final release. There’s no voice acting either so it’s like a visual novel which is fine. This is definitely a game for when you have some time to sink into each play session. Already in some of the dialogues, we see some skill options available such as perception and science checks. If you don’t have enough of the particular skill, the question is still there but it’s greyed out.
Upon arrival at Magellan Station, the tutorial section of the game commences. Already I’m looking around every room for things to loot and I’m not disappointed as I’m able to loot plants, box carts, cupboards and other things. After initially being explained the tasks required, there are no map markers and a very vague quest description, so you need to think about your next actions and where you need to go. Again, this is an RPG for the more patient self-discovery type of gamers. Locked doors can be bypassed by lockpicking, providing you have high enough skill and lockpicks equipped to your tool belt, or you can bash/shoot some that have low hitpoints. You can also hack computers and cameras to your advantage, but again only if you have the appropriate skill and tools. You work out that there are multiple ways to solve problems and these puzzles start off simple, then get really complex later in the game.
Completing these tutorial steps not only teaches you the mechanics of the game but you will gain enough experience to get level 2, and it’s here where you learn the intricacies of the skill system. Your wing choice determined which skills receive bonus points and as you spend points specialising in a skill, you will unlock abilities within that field. For example, under criminal is where you find lockingpicking level 2, but you need to invest 50 points into criminal to unlock it. I imagine if I had chosen Orange wing that this criminal skill would be much higher, so it’s clear you can’t be a jack of all trades and must be selective with your specialisations. There are also a number of skills and abilities that say “not implemented yet” so we are limited in what we can choose but enough to play with some character builds. At present if you have perk points available, be sure not to click on a perk just to read about it. Clicking the perk spends the perk point and there’s no way to reverse the choice, but I’m sure this will be addressed in future builds of the game.
Further into the game you get into some of the turn-based combat, first with a cloaked monster in a room that has poisonous gas everywhere. Combat uses action points and relies on your skills and weapon types, and available ammo for guns. As I engaged the monster with an opening shot from my pistol taking some of its health, it charged at me and ran through the poisonous gas. I thought, good, that’ll do some more damage, but the gas actually healed it. That first fight ended badly so I had to reload, and this was a good reminder to save early and save often! It was also a reminder to ensure I had enough food and stim packs in my inventory to replenish my health after fights.
My second combat fight was with a gang of four combatants. Like most turn-based RPGs, you only have limited movement and action points so must choose your actions wisely. Moving the mouse around your action area shows how many points you’ll use if you moved, and also the percentage to hit chance for the enemies. You can also use full and half cover, as well as a use skills available to you based on your equipped weapons. I also discovered that weapons can jam, so need to be mindful of that if you’re low on action points. In this early stage of the game I only had two clips of ammo and not much food or heal stims. I was fortunate that nearby was an npc turret that distracted 3 out of the 4 enemies and I slowly took two down with my pistol, then had to punch the other two. I succeeded, but I used all my bullets and heal stims.
Encased has the promise of a rich crafting system but in this stage of early access, not many recipe’s are known. There is a separate crafting window with a couple of recipes, and in one section of the game I found a workbench which opened up alot more food crafting options. The developers state we’ll eventually be able to obtain abilities such as Weaponsmithing to create ammo and weapons, smithing to create armour pieces, pharmacology to develop medicines, amongst others. What we can currently play through is Act 1 of the game and there are a reported three acts in the full game.
The last big content update for Encased was in December 2019 which revamped the new player experience and added more content for players to complete. The next big content update is said to be coming early April 2020. There’s no firm release date set yet, but I’m very happy with what I’ve played so far and this is one of the more solid early access experiences I’ve had in recent times. If you’re like me and looking for a some RPG nostalgia in a new setting, Encased is definitely worth a look. The developer has released a number of dev update blogs and videos which are well worth checking out on their official website.
I’m very much looking forward to future content updates and the full release. This review utilised a Steam key provided by the publisher. Encased is currently in Early Access and can be bought through Steam for AUD39.95.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis