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Enshrouded Is Like Multiplayer Skyrim--And Makes My Group Feel Like The Fellowship Of The Ring

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Lots of survival games have interesting worlds to explore, but Enshrouded makes interesting questing its major focus.

One of the first things Enshrouded instructed me and my friends to do was delve into the evil blue fog that infests its lowland areas, seek out a huge, fungus-covered, axe-wielding boss, and murder him.

After that, we built grapple hooks to swing over a destroyed bridge, and within the next hour, we crafted wingsuits from goat skins. We trekked back out into the world, discovered a huge, ancient tower, and scaled it. From its height, we spotted a destroyed monastery in the distance, so we leaped off and flew down, forming a fleet of medieval peasant base-jumpers, to see what was there. A chapel stood at one end, its roof crumbling to allow sunlight to pass through. We found someone kneeling at the altar--a glowing green skeleton knight, praying for who knows what--and we immediately wrecked his shit.

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Now Playing: Enshrouded - Survival & Exploration Gameplay Trailer

My experience with Enshrouded, since it launched in early access, has been full of moments like this, where my group and I set out into the unknown and discover an underground cave hiding strange ruins or a tower that requires figuring out environmental puzzles to scale it. We've slipped into that evil fog, the Shroud, to fight through strange, gross creatures and destroy tentacle-covered fungal growths to clear the foul miasma. We've discovered hammers that glow with intrinsic flame and scrolls that summon magic meteors to rain down on our enemies.

What Enshrouded has felt like most since I've started playing it is The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but with friends. We set out like the Fellowship of the Ring every time we explore the world. I play a mage with a focus on healing, and our group boasts a battle mage, a sneaky ranger, and a few friends who focus on various approaches to tanking enemies with swords and maces, whether one-handed or two. Every so often, we stumble across a note or journal that starts us on a new quest, which will direct us to uncover a lost smugglers' den or to track the whereabouts of scientists trying to understand the doom that befell the world before we got here. Enshrouded is full of lore and quests, ruins and abandoned towns, dens full of Wookiee-like barbarian teddy bears and wyverns guarding crumbling castles.

Augmenting your abilities out in the world is a skill system that lets you customize your character, drawing from elements of traditional RPG classes. A lot of the skills will be familiar, but you aren't locked into a particular class, and can instead spend points freely across archetypes, from battle mage to straight fighter. But there aren't any restrictions on equipping weapons or armor, so you can spec yourself as a tank but carry around a backup magic wand or bow and use them reliably whenever you want.

All this RPG-like questing and discovery packed into Enshrouded is all the more surprising because it's not really a traditional RPG--it's a survival game. Amid these forays into the world, our group is gathering hundreds of twigs to craft arrows and trucking back copper ore to make brass, animal furs and salt to make leather, and flax to make linen. There's the usual tree-punching elements of survival, where you endeavor to build a settlement with shelters and cooking stations and workbenches. You can recruit a host of characters to your town, with each serving a specific crafting role to help you climb an expansive tech tree.

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The thing is, though, that a lot of survival games make the survival part their major emphasis. You head out into the world in search of particular mushrooms or ore deposits or animal skins because you need them to make better tools and crafting materials and building blocks. Adventures are, oftentimes, things you do between building your latest log cabin condo development. You have timers for hunger, thirst, and exhaustion to contend with, so venturing too far from home comes with a major risk of death.

In Enshrouded, most of the survival systems enhance your character but don't hold you back. Food and water, for example, expand your life and stamina bars, but you'll never starve or dehydrate. Resting at a settlement or sitting by a campfire gives you an extremely useful Rested bonus to your stats, but you're not required to have it. There's a ton of crafting to do, but by and large, everything you make is aimed at letting you go farther out in the world and bring back more with you. And an expansive fast-travel system makes getting around Enshrouded's big map generally pretty easy, so whenever you're done (as long as you're not standing in the deathly Shroud fog), you can just pop back to the safety of your home and bounce.

I play a lot of survival games, but I have to admit that I'm not an especially big fan of the genre. Often, they feel like a lot of work for not a lot of payoff, with each one requiring me to go through the same steps of picking up rocks and gathering sticks so I can make the same set of tools to get more rocks and more sticks. It's an endless parade of boring tasks to kick a crafting system into gear that eventually leads to something interesting. While Enshrouded has a lot of these systems, too, the size of the world and the density of things to do within it feel like developer Keen Games has put its emphasis on what's out there over what's back home. You can still engage with all the tech tree-climbing and house-building and crafting automation if you so desire--but the building and survival elements facilitate the adventuring, and not the other way around.

That's what I find interesting about survival games, and that's what I'm enjoying so much about Enshrouded. Much of the fun comes from having a group of brawlers and wizards that lets us take on tougher challenges, for sure. I'll admit also that I'm lucky enough to play with a team of people who really like doing the building, the crafting, and the farming--I hang out in their town and go out with them on our adventures, and then always find a convenient excuse to log off when people start talking about our town's need for additional bonemeal or wood acid.

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Even when I play alone, though, Enshrouded scratches the particular itch that also made me enjoy games like Valheim and Sons of the Forest--that desire to figure out what the developers have left waiting for us out in the wilderness. So far, every time we head out into the Shroud, we've been rewarded with something that's worth finding, and being able to seek farther and handle more is what drives our desire to spend the time to build up our town and craft new stuff. I like Enshrouded because it's a survival game that uses survival mechanics, but isn't just about surviving. It uses those genre elements as a starting point for everything else, and there's a lot of "else" to discover.

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Phil Hornshaw

Phil Hornshaw is a former senior writer at GameSpot and worked as a journalist for newspapers and websites for more than a decade, covering video games, technology, and entertainment for nearly that long. A freelancer before he joined the GameSpot team as an editor out of Los Angeles, his work appeared at Playboy, IGN, Kotaku, Complex, Polygon, TheWrap, Digital Trends, The Escapist, GameFront, and The Huffington Post. Outside the realm of games, he's the co-author of So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler's Guide to Time Travel and The Space Hero's Guide to Glory. If he's not writing about video games, he's probably doing a deep dive into game lore.



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