There are more than a few modern-day successors of the Fallout legacy. From time to time we've seen titles like Underrail, ATOM RPG, Wasteland 2 and 3 and now Encased, a post-apocalyptic cRPG that wants to put its own twist on it with its unique alternative 70s world but otherwise stays true to the principles of Interplay's classic game. But what exactly does Encased have to offer and can it live up to our expectations? The answers follow.
Humanity's path in the world of Encased evolved much like our own until the 1970s, when the discovery of the Dome changed everything. The mysterious dome full of supernatural phenomena of unknown origin was the spark that ignited the explosive development of technology and the rapid change in the status quo. However, the miracle of the Dome was not offered to humanity without a heavy price: Anyone who chooses to enter the Dome can never come out of it again. The game's protagonist is one of the many employees of the Cronus corporation that is dedicated solely to the study of the Dome and the wonders that occur within it. Why did he leave the world behind and decide to enter the open prison of the Dome? Maybe it was scientific curiosity, maybe it was the dream of getting rich quick, maybe it was the need for a fresh start, depending on the character you want to play. Whatever the reason, a new world opens up before you, and its future is largely in your hands.
Encased belongs to the computer RPG genre, of course, and the whole presentation will bring tears of nostalgia to fans of the traditional Fallout games of the Interplay era, before Bethesda's acquisition of the series. The action takes place across multiple maps that are linked together by an overworld that naturally represents the expanse of the Dome. Moving around the maps and overworld is done in real time, but once combat begins we switch to a classic turn-based combat system based on initiative and action points. Contrary to the prevailing trend that wants most turn-based games to mimic the style of Firaxis' modern XCOM, Encased stays true to its main source of inspiration and doesn't use a cover system beyond the basic rules of line of sight.
In my opinion, Encased's strengths are found in its interesting world, the writing in the dialogues and quests, the successful leveling system and the multiple opportunities given to the player to influence the way the quests are solved and the wider game world with his choices. Life within the Dome has great contrasts, multiple factions fighting for dominance, stark inequality and frequent misery. It is up to you to decide what your place in this world will be. Do you want to be a force of goodness and hope, a source of malice and self-centeredness, or something in between? Your every significant action is recorded by the reputation system and makes you more likeable or dislikeable to the warring factions, unlocking the corresponding choices of alliances or confrontations.
The leveling system consists of a few basic stats and a number of skills that you can upgrade with skill points after each level up, and sometimes you will be able to choose a perk. The skills are divided into two categories, those that are combat related and the others that give you additional options in quests (e.g. tech, science, medicine etc.). The very positive thing is that skill checks are used constantly in the various quests and dialogues, so your choices during the character creation and leveling stage have a direct, lasting and substantial impact on the kind of options available to you for solving a quest. I really liked this particular feature of Encased because it gives the player the opportunity to constantly see the effect of their choices and the impact on the game world in a very different way depending on the type of character.
The combat system on the other hand I found less interesting, not because it is seriously flawed but because it is simply functional and not very complex. The development of various combat skills gives access to special moves and abilities depending on the type of weapon and the truth is that there is quite a lot of variety in the available weaponry, while the resistances certain enemies have to certain types of damage requires the player to have at least one alternative weapon of a different type, either himself or his party members. However, in practice I found that in most battles (on the Classic difficulty level, the second highest) the use of more than 1-2 different abilities is not required, the enemy AI usually only does the basics, and the developers did not pay much attention to encounter design so most battles are somewhat static. Also, the game's stealth system can be exploited very easily because the enemies are rather... hard of hearing, so you can kite them from a stealth position and wipe out whole groups of soldiers or monsters by dragging them one by one towards you, with the rest of them whistling indifferently even if they pass by a corpse.
As far as technical matters are concerned, I believe that Encased presents an overall positive but not impressive picture. The various maps are nicely designed and with a fair amount of detail, while the characters are more simplistic if you zoom in close but are not a problem when viewed from the normal isometric perspective. The soundtrack does its job adequately but I wouldn't say it stands out and usually goes unnoticed, while the voice acting where present is pleasant to listen to, with no striking negative examples. While playing the final release I wasn't confronted with any game-breaking bugs or crashes but I did encounter sporadic glitches that to their credit the developers addressed very quickly via hotfixes. Overall I would say that Encased is a sufficiently polished release that you can invest in without fear from day one, obviously a result of the extensive Early Access period that preceded it.
During my involvement with Encased I tried out many different characters, skills and choices in the dialogues, trying to get as clear a picture as possible of the role playing and choices and consequences part, as I think this is the feature that interests potential buyers most of all. So in this respect I can say that I was almost completely satisfied: the range of choices in quests, dialogues and the leveling system allows the player to chart his own course in the Dome and to influence it to a fairly large extent depending on his decisions in quests and at key points. My only substantive complaint is found in the last mission of the main quest which I found slightly simplistic, but other than that I have nothing else to criticize on this topic. Based on this I think Encased ultimately rises to the occasion and manages to give us a modern, addictive and interesting cRPG that will satisfy fans of the genre. Some flaws do not allow it to reach the top scoring levels but in any case I think it is clearly a worthwhile purchase.