Enshrouded Early Access Review: The Top Building System in Survival Gaming

Review of Enshrouded Early Access
This survival crafting game has top-notch construction and a delightful environment, but it struggles with technical issues and an unexciting premise.

  • Maker: Keen Games
  • Provider: Keen Games
  • Debut Date: January 24th 2024
  • Runs On: Windows 10
  • Available On: Steam
  • Price: £25/$27/€27
  • Tested On: AMD Ryzen 9 7950X, 32GB RAM, Nvidia RTX 4080, Windows 10

After spending several hours immersed in Enshrouded, I recognized an unspoken checklist I have for what constructs a superior open-world survival crafting game. Exceptional construction, a sense of grandeur, a picturesque atmosphere, and the potential to meet a demise via incredibly foolish actions. In Minecraft, it’s digging directly into lava. In Valheim, it’s being squashed by the tree you just felled. And after perishing for the third time while trying to ascend a slightly too steep hill, sliding down and gaining enough momentum to propel me off the cliff to my doom, I realized that Enshrouded also meets all the criteria for potentially being included among the titans of the genre.

Within just one paragraph, I’ve already drawn parallels between Enshrouded and Valheim. This will be a recurring theme in this evaluation, and for good reason. Enshrouded comes closest to recapturing the sensation of when the gaming world collectively discovered Valheim for the first time. However, that is both a commendation and a hesitation. Because it’s not quite there… yet.

The player in Enshrouded looks into a cave filled with deadly Shroud.

The poisonous Shroud is the central concept of Enshrouded, and it’s also my least favourite part of the game so far. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Keen Games

Enshrouded is a third-person survival crafting game set in a vast, prebuilt fantasy world called Embervale. Its distinctive selling point and namesake is the Shroud – a magical fog inhabited by fell enemies. The Shroud blankets extensive portions of the map, akin to rivers and lakes in other fantasy realms. Upon entering it, a timer commences at the top of your screen. If the timer expires, your demise is inevitable.

As a primary distinction from others in the genre, I must admit it’s not nearly as thrilling as, for instance, embodying a sunbeam-avoiding vampire or exploring an entirely submerged planet. In reality, the instances I spent in the Shroud were potentially the least enjoyable in Enshrouded. Embervale is an expansive, meticulously crafted world, teeming with unique attractions such as ruins, villages, wells, and ravines. It can be genuinely breathtaking at times. Yet as soon as I step into the Shroud, all I see is fog. Limited visibility, an oppressive ambiance, and constant time pressure are not reasons why I play these games (don’t ask me how Subnautica accomplishes it, it’s practically sorcery in my opinion). While I do acknowledge how the Shroud timer necessitates planning ahead and preparing for forays into the fog, it was consistently less enjoyable than embarking on similar quests above the Shroud.

While the Shroud is the primary marketing point of Enshrouded, it’s not the primary reason to indulge in it. I recognized early on that even if you removed every trace of the Shroud from the game, there’s still enough substance to render Enshrouded distinctive. It’s a bit puzzling. I almost wish the game didn’t emphasize the Shroud as much, as it feels like it’s presenting its least appealing aspect. By steering clear of the fog, I gradually developed an affinity for the rest of Enshrouded.

The player in Enshrouded stands outside their home, wielding a pickaxe.

Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Keen Games

The player in Enshrouded places Scaffolds atop one another to reach higher up while building their house.

The player in Enshrouded creates a window in a house wall, one block at a time.

Playing around with the building system in Enshrouded for a few hours has made it difficult to go back to building in any other survival crafting game. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Keen Games

Lets examine the construction, as that is where Enshrouded truly excels. Keen Games have enhanced upon the groundwork of their prior voxel endeavor, Portal Knights, and delivered probably the most exceptional building system I’ve encountered in a survival crafting game. By erecting a Flame Altar out of stone, you can designate an area safe for building. Afterward, you can fashion a Construction Hammer, and with the Hammer in your hand, you can delve into Enshrouded’s expansive voxel building mode. Here you can utilize various premade shapes to promptly place walls, floors, stairs, and roof components of all kinds, all of which are malleable. Following the placement of a wall, I can carve out a window area or add additional blocks for an added decorative touch. The premade building parts are essentially just shortcuts, so you don’t have to situate every single block down, ala Minecraft. It’s an exceedingly potent and straightforward building system.

Special recognition goes to the game’s ingenious use of the mouse wheel to select your preferred building parts and materials. Scrolling the mouse wheel independently selects the building shape in your building hotbar. However, holding ALT and scrolling lets you switch between various hotbars themselves, each with their individual types of building shapes. And for any of those shapes, holding CTRL and scrolling permits you to alter the building material from stone to wood to metal and so forth. It’s stunningly intuitive, and I’ll dearly miss it when I switch to any other survival game.

The building materials are also delightful; very rustic in appearance, which aligns with my preferences. I adore how they subtly alter their appearance once placed, based on the surrounding blocks. And with a stroke of genius, several of these blocks necessitate you to scout the world and visit particular points of interest to unlock their recipes. When I grew a bit fatigued with exploring and battling within the Shroud, I reverted to constructing. Eventually, the prospect of more building blocks spurred me to reengage in exploration once again.

The player in Enshrouded uses the Glider to soar over the landscape.

Thank goodness for the Glider, more or less the only way to get around Enshrouded’s massive map faster than running. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Keen Games

Initially, my excursions were dominated by quests, which effectively orient new players. Over the initial few hours, I was dispatched on missions to amass materials for crafting two pivotal traversal items: the Grappling Hook and the Glider. They are precisely what you’d anticipate, and they genuinely enhance the enjoyment of traversing, an essential aspect in a game with such an expansive map and no mounts to ride (at the moment).

I also ventured to find other survivors who, like me, were awaiting reawakening from their slumber inside large metal pots (understood as Embervale’s fantasy interpretation of cryogenic freezing booths). Promptly, I located and revived a Blacksmith, who subsequently directed me in the direction of an inactive Hunter, who in turn advised me to awaken a Farmer, and so forth. There are a total of five of these NP characters to find, and you’ll uncover them all early in your playthrough. They’re nothing more than advanced workbenches that offer differing recipes, and they remain static at the spot where you position them within your home – predominantly just there, glaring at you disquietingly while you go about your work until you require their services.

Following those initial quests, a significant portion of your time spent exploring the vast world of Embervale converges on battling creatures and bandits, and plundering them for superior gear. The combat system mirrors that of Valheim and is best described as “clunky soulslike” combat. There’s evading, parrying, and all those requisite aspects. To its credit, in Enshrouded, you must pay attention to enemy attack patterns and adapt to them, or you’ll promptly endure retribution. Although not ideal, it still offers more than most combat systems in the survival crafting genre, which has always lagged in relation to the overall game world when it comes to tightly controlled combat.

A player in Enshrouded prepares to face down a towering boss.

Combat is fairly solid here; I just wish there was more to differentiate the weapons. | Image credit: Keen Games

Nevertheless, battles are rather hit or miss since despite the assortment of weapons available, they all feel uninspiring. Swords and axes may yield varying degrees of cutting and blunt force, but fundamentally they’re just marginally distinct interpretations of the same standard melee combat. Similarly, the array of two-handed maces and guillotine axes on offer. The bows and staves are genuinely enjoyable to utilize, I must concede – however, they too suffer the same issue, where I end up opting for the one with marginally superior stats because none of them possess any pizzazz or distinctiveness.

A generous portion of Enshrouded is a mixed bag, if truth be told. For every fantastic quality-of-life feature that I hope other survival crafting games would duplicate, there’s a conspicuous absenteeism that makes me throw my hands up and exclaim, “How can you not get this right in 2024?!”, leading to a great deal of mental whiplash. You can pin a recipe on screen to monitor ingredients; however, it doesn’t automatically detach when you’ve crafted the item, hence you must do it manually. Equipped items of clothing do not consume space in your inventory; nevertheless, you are unable to segregate item stacks apart from precisely in half, which is an issue if you only require two items from a stack of 50.

The player in Enshrouded stands in front of the Farmer Ancient Vault.

The five NPCs in Enshrouded must be awoken by exploring the five puzzle-filled Ancient Vaults scattered around the starting biome. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Keen Games

I feel as though I’ve possibly overlooked something by not playing Enshrouded in multiplayer during my time with the game so far. It’s invariably much simpler to excuse minor foibles and exasperations when you’re enjoying yourself with friends. Playing Enshrouded in singleplayer mode is a somewhat solitary affair. Occasionally, that’s quite reassuring. Embervale is a tranquil safe haven for you to build and explore at your own discretion. Conversely, it can feel somewhat melancholic at times. I surmise this emotion is heightened when you’re sharing a domicile with five static NPCs who might as well serve as crafting benches, given their lack of character.

A player in Enshrouded sits in the grass by a campfire, just outside some ruins.

A sombre soundtrack
The music in Enshrouded is… well, it’s very dreary. It’s nice enough, but it all feels a bit too sombre to be playing all the time. I wish they’d add some tracks with a bit more life and joy in them as well. Image credit: Keen Games

I also must briefly address the technical issues I experienced in Enshrouded. It’s viewed through the perspective of early access, of course, but it’s challenging to forgive for erasing an hour’s worth of progress. Nor was it easy to contain my frustration when I spent two hours attempting to retrieve my belongings, yet couldn’t due to the game persistently crashing. Despite the crashes and saving issues, the game runs moderately well on my (admittedly very beef

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