Encased: A Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG (PC) Review

By Athanasios 08.10.2021

Review for Encased: A Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG on PC

The thought of a CRPG heavily influenced by good 'ol Fallout had this nerd sweating from the anticipation of Encased by Russian indie developer Dark Crystal Games. Initial samples were promising, despite the crystal-clear room for improvement, but the game seemed to lack the most crucial ingredient, at least when compared to the genre's classics, and especially the aforementioned, flawed masterpiece of Interplay Productions, with said ingredient being the quality of writing. Now, after some additional time in development, as well as lots of fixes after the first day of its release, it is time to go back to the Dome, and see what has changed in this "Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic" world.

The one writing this has been staring at a blinking cursor for quite some time, thinking how to begin, because there's so, so much to talk about here. The character creation screen is filled with primary stats, secondary skills, and various abilities that derive from them, enabling all sorts of builds. The character will also be assigned into one of the five, colour-coded 'Wings,' which act as a form of background, adding lines of dialogue exclusive to each "faction." As for interaction with the world, one can spend an eternity searching around in trashcans and locked chests for items, bartering with NPCs or emptying their pockets, hacking systems, cataloguing ancient tech, driving vehicles, crafting, cooking, and, finally, engaging in some turn-based combat… with whoever you feel like.

Screenshot for Encased: A Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG on PC

The tutorial-like intro shows the basics, while also acting as the first step into the Dome; the self-contained, inescapable barrier that humanity entered in hopes of discovering advanced technology, presumably left behind by the so-called 'Forefathers.' As expected from a love letter to Fallout, players will be free to go wherever they want to go and do things their way. Want to avoid confrontations, play by the rules, bend them, kill everyone you meet (main characters included), or simply roam the vast wastelands of the Dome? You are free to do so. Before continuing, however, one thing should be made crystal clear: Encased was, is, and will probably remain in some dire need of balancing literally anywhere you look, something that may or may not ruin the fun one can have here.

The most pivotal moment is that part when a player decides on what kind of character they want to play as. Sadly, there's a high chance to ruin an entire play-through (and many hours), by creating the wrong build. As an example, yours truly has a deep love for glass cannon-type characters. Well, too bad for yours truly, because damage is a matter of gear, rather than stats, which means that you can spend an eternity leveling up, and the only thing that will change will be your health. Subsequent attempts made it clear that jack-of-all-trades-type heroes are much better. In other words, don't just rely on your excellent technical skills, silver tongue, or survival skills, and instead try to spread the stats a bit more, making sure to add some points in offensive and defensive capabilities.

Screenshot for Encased: A Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG on PC

The aforementioned issue of balance affects the usefulness, or more frequently the uselessness of the various skills, as they tend to be too situational. Created a charismatic charmer? Great. now try killing off those mutated cockroaches with your charms, with no way to go past them. You are a tech genius? Neat! This means you can easily upgrade you weapons… and increase their damage by a tiny margin. You are a survival expert? This means that you can now cook food… although it's equally easy to find lots of useful stuff while searching in bins, or by emptying pockets. Generally, thief builds will have a blast here. Create a character that can unlock/hack everything, and grab what isn't nailed to the ground, and the game is practically over. Good guys tend to really finish last here.

Note that even the stealthiest of builds will eventually need to enter combat, and this is where the situational nature of the skills becomes especially apparent. This has a pretty barebones system, with no depth whatsoever. There are no terrain, flanking, or other tactical options, with the battle loop usually having the player and the enemy - veeery slowly - take turns at each other. Sure, you can use a specific ability rather than a simple, generic attack, but it turns out that most of the time the best solution is to shoot and just heal when needed, until the other guy or gal is dead. Skill has sadly little to do with the outcome. You either have or don't have what it takes to make it out alive, with certain builds being able to massacre the opposition, while others barely manage to last a few turns.

Screenshot for Encased: A Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG on PC

Never mistake what has been mentioned so far as evidence of a bad game. This extra strictness is nothing but the side effect of being thirsty for a true Fallout experience. In reality Encased delivers on its promise and is actually the closest one can get to the 1997 classic. The problem? It's way too ambitious and tries to do many things at once, but as always, it's better to do three great things, rather than be decent in 10. It has a stat-based RPG system based on Fallout's S.P.E.C.I.A.L., a survival system tracking the character's thirst, hunger, and fatigue meters, a reputation system, with different factions, wings, and companions, a pretty cool crime system which makes NPCs follow "traces" of your crimes, and many more… but what it doesn't have is the necessary polish that makes all this great fun.

That's the main issue here. A lack of polish. Like in its days of Early Access, the developer is working really hard to fix bugs, "recalibrating" its creation here and there while at it, but even after tons of fixes this still doesn't feel like a complete, and fine-tuned product. Most importantly, not all sections have been handled with the same amount of care. After completing the first (and very entertaining) Act, the rest of the world feels kind of… empty. A large ocean of mediocrity, with over 100 characters to interact with, but nothing truly memorable. It's really sad to see so many hours of work gone to waste, with tons of art, thousands of lines of dialogue, and hundreds of small details that make many locations feel like handcrafted. The really bizarre thing? Encased is actually a big recommendation.

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Yes, this is actually a very good game. Despite its flaws, and the occasional annoyances that can be experienced, it was almost impossible to stop playing, exploring this vast landscape, learning of its secrets, and interacting with its denizens. There is one more thing to talk about, however, and it might very well be decisive factor for many would-be buyers: the writing. This is the one part that has seen the least amount of improvement from its early versions. No, it was never bad, but it was far, very far from great either. The writing quality of Encased is good, with few moments where it gets a bit better, and extremely rare ones where it glues you to your seat. Starting with the overall atmosphere of the game, it's not as threatening as a post-apocalyptic setting should be.

A bizarre maelstrom that destroys everything on its path; humans transformed by weird psionic energies; hostile mutations; and factions struggling for power… but few will feel the danger and dread of surviving inside such a ticking bomb. Unfortunately, while very good, addictive even in terms of gameplay, narrative-wise this remains a pale imitation of Fallout. The dialogue is ok, the story is ok, the quests are ok, the characters are ok… and it's hard to really care about things that are just 'ok.' Dark Crystal Games is a hardworking bunch, and yours truly applauds them for the thing they have achieved here - but if they ever attempt to repeat this ordeal, they should treat the writing as the most important aspect, and then the world will truly have a new Fallout on its hands.

Screenshot for Encased: A Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG on PC

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

"A very decent clone of Fallout." That's at the same time the biggest compliment, as well as the strongest criticism for Encased: A Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG. It is a labour of love that is almost as fun as the one it passionately pays homage to, and is thus easy to forgive its lack of fine-tuning. Unfortunately, it also lacks what made Interplay's gem the legend it is, which is, of course, the writing. You see, the key word in the phrase "a very decent clone of Fallout," is the word 'decent.' This otherwise entertaining piece of software is definitely that, but decent just won't do for most people.

Developer

Dark Crystal Games

Publisher

Black Tower Entertainment

Genre

Turn Based RPG

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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