Enclave is a fantasy-themed third-person hack-and-slash game that looks great, sounds good, and offers a great story mode. It offers a slew of different playable characters, a multitude of weapons and magical items, and two long and interesting campaigns. But it also has a number of serious flaws, primarily its temperamental control, its unforgiving difficulty level, and its lack of a decent save feature. Some may be able to overlook these issues, but chances are a good number won't be able to forgive the incredibly high level of difficulty--or, rather, be forgiven by it, especially considering the inability to save in the middle of the game's long levels. These problems combine to make an often-frustrating style of trial-and-error gameplay.
The game is made up entirely of a single-player story mode that is divided into two campaigns: light and dark. Initially, you'll only be able to play the light campaign, which needs to be completed to unlock the dark campaign. In both cases, the world of Enclave has been split by a great rift to separate a number of dark forces from the land of Celenheim. The rift has split the world into two sections: One is the land of Celenheim, in which humans and other denizens enjoy a society of relative peace. The other is a place in which the outlanders live--a dark land filled with evil creatures that hate everything Celenheim stands for. In the light campaign, you'll play as a number of heroes who must find the wizard Zale and destroy the demon Vatar, the leader of the outlanders. Once you've completed the light campaign, you'll be able to switch sides and play as a number of the evil outlanders in an attempt to pillage and destroy Celenheim.
In both cases, as you progress through the game, you'll rescue other characters from monsters or from other forms of certain doom. These characters will then join your party and become available in the character selection screen at the beginning of each level. Each character you acquire will be of a different class and have unique skills and abilities. For example, the character you begin with, the knight, is skilled with melee weapons and can take more of a beating than the other characters. The first character you unlock is a huntress, who is quite skilled with ranged weapons and can use a variety of lethal arrows that other characters can't. You'll also join up with a druid and a wizard, both of whom can use powerful magical staffs but have much less health than most other characters and perform poorly in melee combat. Other characters include a halfling, who is a much nimbler version of the knight and favors large battle axes, and an engineer, who can use timed bombs and grenades.
As a hero of Celenheim, you'll face everything from goblinlike underlings to elemental monstrosities and towering demons. Some of your opponents are easy enough to handle in close quarters, while others require some fancy defensive footwork to dispatch. In cases when you catch them unaware, you can try to kill them instantly with ranged weapons. The problem is that the ranged attacks of enemies are just as effective against you. The bow and crossbow are damaging enough in the hands of weaker characters like the snotling, but when utilized by specialized enemies such as assassins, they become lethal. In some cases, assassins will kill you outright before you even know where they're hiding. This results in embarrassing and frustrating moments such as taking an arrow in the skull when you're peeking around a corner or being suddenly cut down while walking toward a structure in the distance. Some of your characters have shields and other such modes of defense that do well to prevent damage from this sort of attack, but others have a much weaker defense against it. What this leaves you to do is try to figure out which class of character is best for each level.
That's where the trial-and-error element starts to come into play. Prior to starting a level, you'll have no information about it, so you're left to jump in blindly and hope the character you've chosen was the wisest option. And no matter which character you pick, or how familiar you are with the game and its control, you will die over and over again. Death simply cannot be avoided in Enclave. The gameplay is brutally heavy-handed. In some levels, there are traps or other environmental hazards that spring up just prior to the completion of a level, seemingly to rob you of a victory. What's even worse is that once you've cleared an apparently impassable obstacle, more often than not, you'll be cut down by the next--and the next. Whenever you die, you start the level over, and the levels can take a very long time to get through from start to finish. Some players may enjoy the extremely steep difficulty level, but most will probably throw up their hands, or throw down their controllers, in frustration.
Graphically, Enclave is very impressive. The game sports what are probably the best textures ever seen on a console. The high quality of the textures is maintained throughout the game, so it always has a very crisp look to it. Enclave also makes very good use of lighting. Many of the levels takes place in dungeons, castles, or tunnels, so the primary light sources are torches or candles, which make for some very moody environments. Once you descend into the underworld in the latter portion of the game, most of the light is emanating from fire or lava, so the diffused glow gives everything a more reddish hue. All the character models are very detailed, and you can clearly see the different inventory items they have equipped. In the case of the knight character, even the hair on his head looks realistic, thanks to an excellent use of the Xbox's pixel shaders. Enemies are also rendered very well, and most if not all of the creatures in the game are animated nicely. The visuals are not without some flaws, however. The frame rate fluctuates from time to time in levels that clearly could have used more time in the optimization process. You'll also run into the occasional spurt of crippling slowdown, which usually occurs in cases when there are multiple enemies onscreen and several magical effects going off. In instances such as these, the frame rate can drop really low--sometimes as low as 10 frames per second or less. Needless to say, this has a negative impact on your control. Luckily, it doesn't happen often.
Another problem lies with the AI. Enemies will fight well for the most part, but they do have weaknesses that can be exploited. Maneuvering yourself so there is some sort of obstacle between your character and your opponent tends to confuse the opponent. In such situations, enemies will usually try to jump over objects, but if the object is fairly tall, they'll just keep jumping against it. In other cases, they'll reach some strange invisible barrier that they refuse to cross and will stand there and do nothing to defend themselves. This can make some of the combat cheap and easy, though it doesn't help you in the instant-death situations.
As mentioned earlier, the control has some issues as well. Enclave is an action-oriented game, and as such the battle system is integral to the experience, so the game is hurt somewhat by its occasionally spotty collision detection. In melee combat, some of your blows will connect as you'd expect them to, but others inexplicably will not, seeming to harmlessly pass through an opponent. The ranged weapons seem to function better, for the most part, thanks to an unusual targeting system--crossbows will bring up a circle around your opponent that will redden if you keep your targeting reticle (a small dot) within the circle for a certain amount of time. Doing so helps land a critical hit, which in turn inflicts more damage upon the target. Another issue is with the jumping, which can be quite problematic. Your characters can get caught on objects at times, or fall short without an apparent reason. In instances when you're trying to leap across a bottomless chasm or over a trap, this can become yet another source of frustration. That jumps are performed by pressing down on the right analog stick, which controls your perspective, doesn't help things either. Oftentimes the camera will freak out in these instances, twitching and gyrating in an ugly manner, which won't make things any easier.
The audio in Enclave is good, from the sounds of connecting blows and whistling arrows to the fitting music. The soundtrack fits the game like a glove, with driving music that suits the dark fantasy motif, as well as plenty of appropriate ambient sounds. You'll hear the soft sounds of surf in levels with water and the bubbling of lava in the underworld. Fantastic machines sprawl across entire levels at times, and you'll constantly be reminded of this by the grinding of gears or rusty groans of pistons and drive shafts. It all complements the game's theme very well.
If Enclave included an in-game save feature--or even midlevel checkpoints--it probably would have been considerably more enjoyable, though shorter. And if the problems with the control had been ironed out, the game would have appealed to a wider audience. But as the final product stands, Enclave is a terrific-looking game with a very steep learning curve that is best suited to weathered gamers who won't mind dealing with the extreme difficulty and a number of other problems. It's a game that won't appeal to most gamers just looking for a fun time, but because it has such a distinct visual and visceral style, it's still likely to find an audience.