RPGs attune with me easily, I love the worlds they create and characters that dot its land, I love the capital wastelands, the mountains of Skyrim, the recent drunken exploration of Revachol. These games give new ecosystems to discover, and new threats to fight. Encased, the Sci-Fi RPG from the studio Dark Crystal Games is seemingly going to get a spot with the big guns, boasting a clean new RPG that will be a classic for this generation. Its opening starts strong, but with some caveats.
Firstly, the game is still in early access of the writing this review, so any problems I have, technically or gameplay-wise, might be fixed upon purchase. The game does shine, I will not deny, but certain little blemishes do appear, be it technical or design. However, I fully believe it’s due to its unfinished nature and will be addressed at a later point.
The opening area drops you right into the action, and if I am being honest with you, I would have liked a bit more backstory as to how we got here, which of course would also be dependent on the character creation. But for now, the story here is a new world phenomenon happening. Seemingly out of nowhere, a clean dome had appeared in the outskirts of civilization, allowing those adventurous enough to enter, but not allowing any to leave. Once a city had been established, and the governments made it a goal to explore this new area, a seemingly warped ecosystem inside the dome, and make it a utopia for the people inside as well as giving the boons of the sphere to that outside, in the form of “relics”.
Before I go any further, the character creator. There are premade characters in the game, each focused on an archetype, so this is not too big of a hold-up for those that do not care. But if you do, there is certainly some meat in this system to get into. Firstly, huge praise I have for the game is in its gender options, as it allows male body types to identify as female, and vice versa, which I am not sure I have seen in recent RPGs, and it does impact how characters talk to you, another great touch of inclusion that deserves a shoutout, big thumbs up. Once you have selected your body type, you then select your portrait, a closeup of your character’s face. Funnily enough, there is nothing stopping you from having a face that does not look like your character, and there are even more portraits available for those that go into the custom option.
Once that is decided, you then choose your “wing”. This basically is your class/race, each with benefits and downsides. Orange, basically they are prisoners taken to the dome to act as menial labor, close to that of slaves. Whites are scientists and doctors, using higher knowledge to solve their problems. Blues are the handymen, who keep the bases running with technical know-how. Lastly, the Silvers are the talkers, acting as the politicians of the dome, they get others to do their work for them with charisma. Once you have selected your class, you then can go into the finer stats of your character. Instead of the usual stats assignment, you might find in a Bethesda game, this game also gives a bonus set of skills or abilities after hitting certain checkpoints.
For example, on my character, I boosted piloting, and with it, I gained the ability to better pilot the exo-suits in the game. Akin to that of fallout, these mechanical suits work like a small personal mech, with it being an extra piece of equipment that offers a lot of defense, but you moved as quietly as a rhino. While doing so also giving me other bonuses, like being able to use vehicles in the world as well as heavy machinery. In the influence stat, if I leveled it enough I’d unlock romance options, as well as be able to barter better and convince others to assist me. It makes dipping into other stats worth it, and you get a LOT of points per level up, making it easier to get the useful beginning skills, but still rewarding those who specialize to higher tiers, which can be as simple as new moves to use during fights, to being able to make weird and wonderful contraptions or convince someone to let you push the big red button.
It was here I also noticed something no RPG I have played of recent date has done correctly; it offered a true pacifist option. In exchange for putting some point into melee weapons, weird I know considering, I was able to unlock “fatigue skills”, focused on making the opponent pass out rather than kill, and even has a story impact, for example, I knocked out an enemy in a vent, and upon returning to the people who told me they heard weird noises, I was actually able to say that I had knocked him out and that it affected how the quest went going forward. I love this, and I hope future games take this going forward, as I love the idea of not killing a single soul.
I will admit, throughout the playtime I did discover some bugs, characters moving erratically one I engaged them in talk, or pieces of texture not loading 100 percent correctly, however from my experience this was the worse I have discovered, and no game-breaking bugs have halted me yet. It is a very stable game, if not needs some polish on its graphical side. The voice work is top-notch, and the parts of the game fully finalized are nice to look at, but nothing to that blew me fully away, a safe art style with added nuances here and there. The artwork for new areas is well drawn and a lovely piece I would not mind having as some wallpapers for my pc.
Exploration plays a huge part in the game also, as it has hidden secrets, each offering a unique hidden goody, from discovering air vents that are able to get you past a swarm of enemies, to a hidden suitcase holding an ancient relic of unknown power. This made me comb each area, being rewarded for doing so, and making me appreciate the level design more. This also is where I had my first death, one of many I soon discovered. Upon talking to a gentleman near a furnace, he said how comfy it was inside these coffins, and how the dead had it better than the living, I then proceeded to try it for myself, only to be locked and thrown into the said incinerator, dying instantly.
Exploration has its threats as well as boons, and this can also be said with conversations with NPCs. Just going through the motions and selecting all conversation trees can do just as much harm as good with relations, and you need to be careful on who you are talking to, an orange prisoner is not going to care about their warden’s health, and by saying so they might think you are against them in later spats. Everything is more in-depth than I give it credit for, and an obvious love was put into this world. Secrets dot the area, most only discoverable once you are on top of them, but each gives signs to use, like an air duck or a notepad on top of a barrel, each rewarding exp. But most are there for those with low scores a chance to still get goodies if they are perceptive themselves.
Later, I was dropped into the world’s “dungeon”, a complex that offered unique ways around problems, and a few puzzles I genuinely enjoyed while looting. Speaking of looting, the encumbrance system most are familiar with returns, but with the usual junk you find there are also “relics”, these are unique pieces of gear in their own slot, each unique and giving buffs and debuffs. If anything, this reminds me of looting in Diablo-style games, or even an MMO, as they give buffs to damage, take less damage from certain types, and even offer unique abilities. These, plus the usual armor and weapons available, offer an added spin to this genre that I feel is a good addition, if not I wish they went further with it.
Now to talk about combat. In my first playthrough, my first actual combat session was way later into the campaign, as I was able to avoid most conflicts with my mind or my tongue, for example, I met a giant mech, but by having fuel on me, and discovering a near broken generator I saw that the mechanical beast was next to open wiring, and upon fixing it enough to run, had the mech electrocuted to death, without me having to get involved at all. However, when it did finally occur, I found it to be clunky, if not still very enjoyable.
The combat follows a grid-like system, with movement from one spot to another, as well as attacking or using certain items uses a resource called AP (action points) the actual strategy is fully understanding how much you have how much you can save and what options will be available when you go on the offensive. Once you have used all the action points (AP), it then moves along to the next in the timeline, be it an enemy or an ally. The order is affected by your initiative, the higher the stat the early you go in the turn order.
Focusing on melee, I usually ended up knocking the enemy out with a well-timed punch to the nose and then after making sure they stay down, moving onto the next enemy. Once I met my first companion, he showed how further the combat can go in a certain type of combat, this being hand to hand instead of melee. His abilities to move and shove the enemy, as well as a 360 high kick to function as AOE, showed how complex it can get as well as what options would be available to me once I had decided what my focus would be, he even had a later leveled knock out ability, showing that I can still follow my goal of pacifism.
Talking about the companions, I won’t spoil all the ones I found, but the first was that of an Orange inmate being hassled by city guards. Upon defending him and beating the guards in a side alley, I discovered he liked to help others, proclaiming he was a “Buddhist of the fist”. That is all I will tell for now, but the more I found out about him, the more interesting he became, and I loved every new interaction I had with him. This follows with the others I found throughout the world, and without spoiling, he was the tip of the iceberg.
Overworld travel is broken up into small, instanced areas, such as a town or a dungeon, with the possibility of random events occurring along the way, such as meeting a merchant or being caught in an ambush by raiders. This grid is simple, and having a vehicle speeds up travel between points than just hoofing it yourselves. The random events are fun and offer a chance at more enemies and wares to find that I never outright left one when I spotted it. And it never felt forced or annoying, however, it might for others later in the game.
Overall, this is a great addition to the RPG ranks, and I had a fantastic time, with me only scratching the surface of what I can do with other builds, other companions, and other objectives in mind. This is a game worthy for those a fan of the genre, and if you can look past some of its slightly glitchier sides, is well worth your time. Once it’s out of early access and finalized more, this would be a great contender to the greats of the past.