Xbox owners looking for a new hack-and-slash game won't have to wait much longer, since Conspiracy Entertainment and Starbreeze Studios' upcoming action game, Enclave, is slated for release later this month. But unlike most games of this type, Enclave is structured differently--in that it has an incredibly rich storyline, two different single-player campaigns to choose from (light and dark), and a somewhat nonlinear progression that encourages exploration throughout each of its incredibly detailed levels. You can also select from a cast of different characters, each of which has noticeably different strengths and weaknesses that will be exposed as you move from level to level.
Enclave begins by telling the story of a great battle that was fought over a magical land. Seeking this world for himself, the demon Vatar sends his massive army into the magic lands, where they are met by fierce resistance from its inhabitants. Vatar's forces come close to winning the battle until the wizard Zale strikes his staff into the ground, causing Vatar to fall into a massive rift that forms beneath his feet. The magic lands are saved, and the city of Celenheim is established. However, as years pass, the rift starts to close in some areas, allowing the remnants of Vatar's forces, known as the Dreg'atar, to cross back into the magic lands and lay siege to Celenheim. The city raises its taxes to provide funds for its defense, which causes many of its inhabitants to start uprisings within the city itself. Your journey begins as an angry citizen of Celenheim, who has been thrown into jail.
The first character you'll play as in Enclave is the knight, who initially has no weapons or any other means for attack because his weapons were confiscated after being thrown into Celenheim's dungeon. But after a massive fireball strikes the walls of the dungeon, you're able to free yourself from the prison. Naturally, the knight is more adept at melee combat than any of the other characters in Enclave. That doesn't necessarily mean that he's quicker with a blade or that he even inflicts more damage on enemies, but later on in the game, he'll have access to incredibly powerful melee weapons, like morning stars, while the other characters will be restricted to daggers and other small blades. In addition, the knight can use shields, which become incredibly valuable as enemies become faster and stronger.
Melee combat in Enclave can be a little tricky at first. All the characters have a variety of slashes to use, depending on how they're moving around while engaging an enemy, but these slashes won't automatically make contact--you have to constantly move your character around to ensure that you'll actually hit an enemy. This is made even more complicated by the fact that some weapons are slower than others, making it difficult to get adjusted to the timing of an attack. However, the same rule applies to the enemies in the game, so you can move in, hit the enemy, and then move back or sidestep to avoid the attack. In fact, if you don't use that stick-and-move strategy in Enclave, you'll find that your character won't last very long. Switching to the first-person perspective may help some feel a little more comfortable with the combat.
Not as Weak as They Seem
While you'll be forced to use the knight in the first few levels of the light campaign, you'll come across additional characters, in the form of a huntress and a druid, shortly thereafter. Both of these characters can hold their own in melee combat (especially the huntress since she's the faster of the three characters), but since the melee weapons at their disposal pale in comparison with the knight's, you'll find that both the huntress and the druid are much more effective at longer distances. The huntress will eventually have access to both crossbows and regular bows, which can take down most of the average enemies within four or five shots.
Using these long-range weapons is incredibly easy, thanks to Enclave's targeting system. Whenever you switch to one of these weapons, a small dot will appear on the screen, indicating where you're currently aiming. When enemies appear on the screen, a circle will appear around them. To hit the enemy, you simply have to move the dot within the circle, but it is also beneficial to take your time aiming, since there's a much higher chance that you'll make a critical shot on the enemy, inflicting even more damage.
The huntress is very useful in most of the early levels. Since she can take out most enemies at long range, she doesn't have to worry about receiving too much damage. This is especially true against some of the lesser enemies and even other enemies who have long-range attacks, such as the sorceresses and assassins. However, you'll start to notice later on that enemies become not only stronger but also faster, making life especially difficult for the huntress since she can get only one or two shots off before the enemy is within striking distance. Still, her added speed makes it possible for you to get those shots in and then run to a safe area where you can wait for the enemy to find you.
The druid has similar strengths and weaknesses. She is skilled at long-range attacks, but her melee abilities are very poor. As the only magic user of the group, however, the druid doesn't have to worry about buying or finding additional ammunition for her weapons since her mana recharges over time. She plays a little differently than the huntress does because her magic attacks are a little slower than the huntress's bow and arrows, but her poison attack makes the hit-and-hide strategy even more valuable. As you reach the later levels of the light campaign, you'll find even more playable characters that also have their own advantages and disadvantages when placed in particular situations.
Throughout each level, you'll come across additional bows, shields, and gold. You can use the gold to purchase new weapons, armor, and ammunition before the start of every mission. None of the initial items, except for the armor, are outrageously priced, so you'll be able to pick up some strong weapons by the time you reach the third or fourth mission. In addition, if you take the time to explore each level, you may come across secret items. One such item will lead you to an area where you can essentially engage in a survival mode, in which you fight off several enemies in a row to gain more gold.
Both the graphics and sound in Enclave appear to be of very high quality. The textures in the game are incredibly crisp, which you'll notice in the paintings and graffiti within the dungeon of Celenheim and other areas. Character models are also very detailed--the development team even used the Xbox's pixel shaders to construct the knight's hair. There are also plenty of environmental details, such as butterflies that flutter around, as well as some nice-looking water effects. The sound in Enclave is dynamic, so it will change when you start to engage in battle.
With its deep story, numerous playable characters, detailed visuals, and simple control scheme (which is nearly identical to Halo's), Enclave is shaping up to be one of the more interesting games in the Xbox summer lineup.