'Enshrouded' early access review: Thoughts on this PC survival game's promising present, and shrouded future

Enshrouded promotional screenshot
(Image credit: Keen Games GmbH)

2024 is starting strong with survival games. On January 19 Palworld saw its release and quickly took Steam and Xbox by storm, selling over 1 million copies in 8 hours of launch on Steam, and becoming the biggest third-party Xbox Game Pass launch of all time. At last count, it had sold 12 million copies on Steam.

Sporting cartoonish graphics and creatures closely resembling Pokémon, it's no secret that the game is trying to tap into that niche Nintendo has held for so long. Finally, a studio has broken the mold and is reaping the rewards. Yet, that's only half of the story. 

As of January 24th, another new survival game launched, which I believe should be on everyone’s radar for a whole bunch of reasons. The game I’m referring to is Enshrouded, an open-world survival game. However, just labeling it as such does it a disservice considering the vast amount of content it offers in its Early Access release on Steam.

Enshrouded is developed by Keen Games. Some of you might be familiar with their other open-world survival game, Portal Knights, which, according to Steam's charts, boasts Very Positive reviews. However, these games differ significantly, not only in their art direction but also in ambition. From the few features it showcases, like the map, skill tree, and base building, it's evident that Enshrouded is packed to the brim with content. With features like these, it's poised to offer great replayability and cement itself as a standout title in the survival genre.

What is Enshrouded?

Experience the thrill of survival in the hauntingly beautiful world of Enshrouded. (Image credit: Keen Games GmbH)

Enshrouded is an open-world sandbox at heart, but it comes with a full-scale story and RPG elements that make it stand out from the other survival games in this genre. The story is captivating, it tells of the riches of man and the fall from grace, the land forever shrouded by a mysterious fog. Mankind’s riches are now forgotten by time, but you — the player, are awoken and set off on an adventurous quest to save this land from the Shroud. 

You and up to 16 friends can all join in on this quest together as you explore the hand-crafted map with endless nooks and crannies the world has to offer. With a map that’s nearly the size of Skyrim, it’s improbable that you’ll find everything in a reasonable amount of time. You’ll have almost endless places to explore and endless amounts of things to discover. Enshrouded also offers a plethora of other features such as base building, side quests, skill trees and more. However, one standout feature is the map, which I'll delve into later.

The game's epic fantasy story serves as a tutorial of sorts, introducing players to its mechanics and controls as they progress.

The game's epic fantasy story serves as a tutorial of sorts, introducing players to its mechanics and controls as they progress. The early quest will have you build the flame altar. This will allow many new abilities such as base building, fast travel and a home for future NPCs. After you’re done you’ll already have some experience with the Shroud but now it’s time for the real deal. 

Surviving against the Shroud

Challenge yourself to survive and thrive in the unforgiving terrain of Enshrouded. (Image credit: Keen Games GmbH)

You’re quested with saving the blacksmith and this quest will take you through the Shroud that has engulfed the lower lands. When reaching a bridge you’ll notice that it’s been destroyed, and you’ll find an abandoned camp with a few interesting notes inside. Making your way through the giant Shroud covered chasm you’ll find yourself fighting zombie-like creatures and hopefully run into the Hourglass. This is important because within the Shroud you’ll experience a timer. This timer imbues the Shroud with an anxiety-inducing essence; the longer you explore, the faster the timer dwindles. Should it reach zero, your very existence will cease.

Upon interacting with the Hourglass, it will reset the time completely, giving you more time to explore the harsh abyss of the shroud. You’ll also find some ruins and spores. Be sure to collect everything you find. Once you make it through you’ll finally find the blacksmith, one of the many NPCs this game has. He’ll give you quests and will further the story and unlock more gear and weapons, as you progress you’ll be tasked with defeating a boss that’s guarding a Shroud root.

Shroud roots are the cause of the Shroud in the surrounding area, and when cutting it down the Shroud will disappear, but only for a set amount of time, it will come back eventually which is disappointing to me since I can’t 100% the game. Fully uncovering the map from the Shroud would’ve been nice but I’ll live. The story told is quite interesting as of right now and I’m curious to see where it goes as I continue my playthrough.

A satisfying progression path

Unravel the secrets of Enshrouded's immersive open-world environment. (Image credit: Keen Games GmbH)

The more you play the more experience you’ll earn, both understanding the game and unlocking new abilities. The skill tree is surprisingly complex with a lot of different play-styles. From a Mage to a Warrior to a Trickster you can build however you want to play, and even follow some of the best Enshrouded builds. Unfortunately, you can’t unlock every skill but that’s only a minor nitpick. 

As you unlock new abilities, such as double jump, it's advantageous to have crafted items like the grappling hook and glider. These abilities are vital when wanting to explore so I’d highly recommend them. If you’re a Sekiro pro, and want easy mode, there is a parry. Executing a successful parry effectively stuns enemies, rendering them vulnerable to attack and thereby simplifying encounters.

there is no denying the influence Enshrouded has taken from games like Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom

Just like Palworld and Pokemon, there is no denying the influence Enshrouded has taken from games like Breath of the Wild and Tears of the Kingdom, but I’d argue they implemented their worst features more endearingly. For instance, the concept of weapon durability is handled differently in Enshrouded. Instead of weapons shattering into irreparable pieces upon breaking, players are presented with the option to repair tools that would otherwise be lost forever, adding a layer of resource management and sustainability.

Some Zelda fans also really dislike stamina, me included, but Enshrouded also implements this differently. From my few hours of playing stamina is much more forgiving, but also has a lot of the same issues that Zelda has. What I love about the game is the second hot bar, by hitting alt you can switch to an additional hot bar and it’s such a good quality-of-life tool. Enshrouded does a lot right.

The base building and map are top-notch

Discover hidden treasures amidst the enigmatic Shroud. (Image credit: Keen Games GmbH)

Let’s talk about base building. After you build the Flame Altar you’re allowed to build in a set diameter of 40x40x40 where you’ve placed the alter, through playing you’ll be able to upgrade it with Shroud cores, this is dropped by mini bosses and you’ll be able to expand your operations. 

The base building isn’t just an afterthought. It’s well throughout and does a lot right. While upgrading your home you’ll have a comfort meter, the more comfortable things you add to your house, like decorations, the better. You’ll gain passive buffs that last minutes to hours depending on how comfortable your house is. I plan on making a giant comfortable castle with little unique-styled homes for my NPCs.

The game is really impressive because of this feature but it also does more — voxels. Not only can you build your dream castle anywhere but you can also terraform the land to your liking. Voxels also fundamentally change how the game plays, being able to destroy walls of dungeons and really giving you a ton of options to explore certain areas, the game has a ton of freedom and allows you to be creative which is amazing.

This map is near the size of Skyrim and that’s only 30% of what the devs are promising.

One of the game's standout features is its meticulously crafted map. Enshrouded fully embraces the concept of a handcrafted map, rich with diverse landscapes and intriguing locations. From the depths of underground dungeons to cave systems and sprawling tunnels, the underground portion of the map offers a labyrinth of exploration. Meanwhile, above ground, players can discover abandoned camps and towering structures dotting the highlands, providing ample opportunities for climbing and discovery.

The Shroud is its own unique place to explore, with fantasy-style plant life and beautiful vibrant colors. Completed with many abandoned structures littered around the Shroud, most of it covered in spores and enemies the map is full of puzzles, jumping sections and fun vistas. What I’ve spoken about is mostly only my experience in the starting area, this map is near the size of Skyrim and that’s only 30% of what the devs are promising. There are plenty more places to explore, from wide desert plains to the deep dark abyss of the Shroud, complete with huge bosses and beautiful scenery it’s unlikely that you’ll experience the entire game with all the love, attention and sheer volume of content the game has managed to squeeze inside.

What needs work during Early Access

Forge your path in Enshrouded, and remember to give feedback on this Early Access title (Image credit: Keen Games GmbH)

As a fan of survival/RPG games like Days to Die, and Minecraft, but also being a fan of RPGs such as Skyrim and Zelda this is a perfect game for me, but there are a few problems. It is Early Access so I’ll be brief. 

In the beginning locations, you’re able to squeeze through a small crack by melee-ing. which might lead to potential exploits down the line. Additionally, there's an issue with the glider where you can spam it excessively, which while funny, feels unnatural and needs addressing.  As a Dark Souls fan, I've noticed problems with rolling mechanics; instead of gaining distance from enemies, I end up rolling around them, which disrupts the flow of combat.

Improvements to building mechanics would also be appreciated—I'd love the ability to click and drop a column of 1x1 blocks instead of having to place them individually. These are some areas I hope the developers address as the game progresses through Early Access.

You can use a variety of tools and abilities, such as a glider, a grappling hook, a wand, and runes, to traverse the world and combat your foes. (Image credit: Keen Games GmbH)

That's all the complaints I've had so far. Considering it's in Early Access, I'll cut it some slack. I've noticed the developers discussing hotfixes for the connection issues the game is experiencing, so I'm optimistic that other issues players are encountering will be resolved over time. 

Another big issue Enshoruded is facing is how it’s implemented its up-to-16-player feature. Many complain about progression being server side and it’s ended up locking people out of certain experiences if their friends play while they were away, which is a valid criticism. Right now I’d recommend playing the game like a small co-op of 2 to 4 players with a play session date in mind. That way all players play at the same time. It’s really unfortunate that they missed with the 16-player count but it’s also Early Access, the full release will hopefully address this issue.

A promising start

My time with the game so far has been great, it’s really what I’ve been needing in my life since Tears of the Kingdom. Enshrouded offers a captivating blend of open-world survival, RPG elements, and base-building simulation that keeps me engrossed for hours, especially when playing with friends. Keen Games has truly worked wonders with this title, and while it may not reach the dizzying heights of Palworld's attention, it deserves to be on everyone's radar.

Even after its many issues it does do a great job of exploration solo or with a small group of friends.  With its Early Access release, I'm confident that Enshrouded will only improve over time. Xbox fans will also be pleased to know that it's confirmed to be coming to Xbox upon its full release, hopefully in a more polished and balanced state.

Survival enthusiasts are starting the year off strong with Enshrouded. Its Fable-like combat mechanics and Zelda-like exploration make it a standout title. I can easily see myself sinking double-digit hours into the game, especially considering that some players have already logged 20-50 hours and have only scratched the surface. I'm eagerly anticipating diving back into the game myself.

Enshrouded is aiming to be in Early Access for a year. Developers have stated "During the Early Access phase it is planned to improve and add to the gameplay features in accordance with feedback from the community." It is currently only available on Steam, but "we will eventually bring the game to other platforms (namely, PlayStation 5 and Xbox X|S) and storefronts, after completion."

Enshrouded (Early Access) — $29.99 at Steam (PC)

Enshrouded (Early Access) — $29.99 at Steam (PC)

This dark fantasy ARPG from Keen Games creatively blends Soulslike combat with open world exploration and survival game mechanics, and has quickly become one of 2024's most popular new games.

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Contributor — Gaming

Lester focuses on the Xbox and the PC gaming ecosystems, always looking for something new and exciting to share with others. With passion with everything from Halo and Gears to Zelda and Shadow of the Colossus, Lester is all about helping you find your next favorite game.