Role-playing games should, by definition, offer complete freedom, but few games can do this in a meaningful way. Usually this freedom is limited to a few select choices that ultimately lead to a limited number of outcomes. It’s a shame that not many developers are pushing for more open experiences, as the main focus these days seems to be taking games to a new level of mechanical complexity, at the expense of a true role-playing experience.
However, with Encased, Dark Crystal Games seems to be heading in the exact opposite direction. While the upcoming RPG from the Russian studios will in no way revolutionize the genre, it will offer an unprecedented level of freedom, in addition to a very unique setting that Fallout fans will appreciate right away.
Encased is set in an alternate 1970s where a mysterious artifact called the Dome has appeared in a remote desert. It’s not clear who or what made it, but what is clear is that it contains artifacts created using unknown technology, a technology far above that of humanity. Without wasting any time, a group of daring individuals created the CRONUS Corporation, which oversees, and essentially monopolizes, the Dome’s research, seeks to better understand the technology it hides, and put together expeditions to achieve its goal. . However, these expeditions are far more dangerous than any other scientific endeavor, as no living thing can leave the Dome once inside.
From the very beginning of the game, it is clear how the developer strives to create the perfect free form RPG. The character creation system, while not particularly innovative, shows how it is the player who decides how the adventure will develop as they are asked which Wing of the CRONUS Corporation they will be enrolled in. The five Wings – Black, Blue, White, Silver and Orange – determine not only where the player is assigned, but also how other NPCs will react to it. For example, Orange Wing characters are prisoners who have been given a second chance, and most NPCs from other Wings will treat them coldly; White Wing characters, on the other hand, are renowned scientists and medics, and so they gain quite a bit of respect from other characters and have access to pretty much every facility right from the start. The Wing chosen also unlocks certain dialogue options, opening up new ways to interact with NPCs and complete missions. Skill checks in dialogues are also in, as expected in a real role-playing game, but the clever design of the dialogue system allows you to go around it and achieve the same identical goal, depending on the character’s assigned Wing.
Encased does a damn good job of making the player feel part of the world right from the start. Even before embarking on the very first story quest, you’ll get a chance to help another character who isn’t properly registered by CRONUS and thus can’t access the main base. You can offer to register him yourself or let him fix the problem himself, and things will change slightly depending on your choice. The same happens with pretty much every other quest, as it’s your actions that determine the outcome, both good and bad. To give an example: during the prologue part, charmed by a beautiful car, I drove to a very early death just because I decided not to heed the warnings and to be careful with the wind. It’s these little details that make Encased feel like another game, a game where you’re free to do something really reckless, if you want to.
Unfortunately, the same care that went into creating a free-form RPG doesn’t seem to have gone into the combat system. Encased uses a fairly standard turn-based combat system where player and AI take turns moving characters, making regular attacks, unleashing skills, using items, and so on. The system certainly doesn’t reach the heights of other turn-based RPGs like Wasteland 3, at least not in the first few hours of the game, and I honestly don’t feel like additional abilities and other weapons will do much to make it more exciting. .
Encased may not be trying to reinvent the wheel, but the sheer amount of freedom it offers is sure to make more than a few RPG enthusiasts happy. The combat system may not be particularly exciting, but all the other features and mechanics are put together so nicely that most fans will probably look beyond the straightforwardness.
Encased launches in September on PC via Steam.
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