Encased is a very weird one. Few games in my life have made such a poor first impression. It’s an oldschool tile based RPG with all the usual trappings of the genre. It’s just that the screen that greets you shows you one of those wonky Unity models that looks absolutely awful. You get to choose the Wing you serve, a sort of futuristic caste system that determines what you get when you reach the Station. Unless you’re an Orange, because fuck the Oranges, being convicts and stuff. Slave labour is too good for them!
And so begun the adventures of Hamhead, some beardy dude with a hipster haircut. After I found out that psyche was completely useless, he got repurposed into Hamhead the lithe military woman with a no-nonsense haircut to go with her no-nonsense name. The first outfit you wear is buggy and shows your feet in certain angles. And really, this did Encased no favours. It presents itself so poorly. Black people look moist, hair looks terrible and fighting animations are just serviceable at best.
The premise of life in the vault… Sorry, station. Come on, it even has the SPECIAL system in the same exact order with different names. Agility is Deftness! File those serial numbers off, why don’t you! As I was saying, life in vault 101 is pretty sweet. You have plenty of stuff to do once you realise you can right click things to open a menu. As a member of the vault gestapo, my responsibilities were mostly to squash the Orange wing under my mighty heel and kick a lot of doors open. So Encased is fairly engaging.
I played ten hours of it, did as many sidequests as I could. Not all of them though, since Encased is an oldschool RPG where you actually need to play the role. Obviously, you won’t be able to talk things to death if you’re a meathead soldier, but you may well be able to punch them to death. As a consequence, your character feels more like a character. Once you get past how rough the graphics look, the game is actually really fun. I don’t like a couple things about it, and we’ll get to it later. But it wasn’t enough to turn me off the experience.
After figuring out a workable build for my purposes, I was having fun. It’s a little dangerous in some ways, a player who wants to be as efficient as possible will spend a LONG time kicking vending machines for free noodles and soda. Hell, it saved my ass in the desert when I had no way to heal but 300 cups of instant noodles. I suppose Hamhead ate them raw, but it’s all the same to me. It slowly healed her back to functionality. I like how combat abilities have a use outside of combat. Are you really strong? Can you not lockpick? Break the door down. It makes a lot of sense. I didn’t try for a second run as a talky man, which I intended to do, but I hope talky skills have an influence in combat. Maybe when companions are patched in.
It borrows heavily from Fallout’s design in the main gameplay loop. Talky downtime in stations, fighty uptime outside. I would say it paces itself a bit worse. As it is now, all the talking is in Magellan and all the combat is outside. If you are a soldier, combat takes two whole seconds of you walking up to something in power armour and pounding it into mulch with your Nintendo power gloved hands. Quick reminder, I didn’t even have healing items on me. In fact, I’m not sure how one heals. Resting out in the overworld seems to kill you. And I really couldn’t find a med vendor anywhere.
The story very much rips a lot of things off. Fallout and Mass Effect come to mind, but I’m sure there’s some other stuff people can find. I don’t feel it was bad at all, it mostly worked. It got a little too wordy for me to follow efficiently at times, but I assume that’s just long session fatigue on my part and no fault of the game’s. You see, a thing about Fallout is that you never really get to experience Vault life for more than twenty minutes before you get shoved to the wasteland with any degree of an excuse. Here you actually get to waltz around the vault for a long time, sorting out tiny problems, fighting incompetent bureaucrats, and slamming every vending machine in the whole facility.
The prologue mostly consists of that. The end of it hints at a larger, more ambitious story, but renders most of what you did useless. I’ll try not to spoil much, although I feel it’s a bit of a foregone conclusion, but the massive hoard of rubbish, instant noodles and soda I had shoved into my personal locker may not have survived. Which is a little rough. I suppose I just wasn’t supposed to break down every vending machine for vendor trash and crappy tier healing items, but some players are going to want to do that. After all, few things beat the satisfying feeling of buying a gatling laser by selling out your entire Nuka Cola hoard. Or Noola Noodles in Encased.
The isometric camera does a lot to hide that most models look a bit like ass. Also really far from their conversation pictures. I had no end of amusement to see that a supposedly bald and beardy man had a glorious silver hipster haircut and was clean shaved. But really, it is to be expected. Combat animations not being that bad makes them grow on you eventually. And I have to praise the game’s stability for the most part. Although some loading times are somewhat unreasonably long, it didn’t crash on me once, or significantly bug out.
It might be early access, but it’s definitely closer to a professional product than an amateur one. I feel the 25 bucks asking price is pretty fair. A run in each wing will make it a rather high value game, in fact. But I do hope they finish it. Because it’s really good. Encased is fairly reminiscent of old Fallout and pre-Andromeda Mass Effect, (there’s even indoctrinated zombies) but clearly doing it’s own thing, and quite fun.