I have played survival games for a long time, a long freaking time. To the point that if you Google the term "survival game" and extend the list Google gives you, I've played every single one. Amongst said pile, there have been some absolute beauties. These are games that I've come to treasure and still play to this day: Minecraft, DayZ, Valheim, Grounded, and more.
I've also tackled quite a few new survival games this past year. Some were terrific in their presentation, with fantastic worlds built on substantial fundamentals, say Sons of the Forest. Others were downright terrible, like the canker sore that was The Day Before.
I dabbled in games I hadn't touched before, eager to find the next game to pull me in. I went through a phase of modded DayZ, joining nearly a dozen different community servers through PC and Xbox. I tried my hand at SCUM, not realizing my micro and macro training from the last few months of fitness would pay off in a video game. I might try it again when it comes to Xbox.
Even as I write this article, Palworld is all the craze. Consuming not only players across Steam and Xbox alike, but also the writers of Windows Central as we try to keep up with the wild demand for guides. Diving in myself, I feel undeniable pulls in terms of gameplay. An outlandish mix of Pokémon meets Breathe of the Wild is captivating, but for me, something is missing.
That something always seems to be the same—building mechanics.
They're all the same
Almost every game has identical foundations for base building, literally and figuratively. You start with a square wooden foundation, upgrade to stone, then metal. Players then add walls, doors, and rooftops, all with the same sense of progression. This progression isn't what's boring to me; it's the fact that they're all set pieces.
Every foundation is a square, trapezoid, or triangle. They're always the same cookie-cutter pieces, with exceptionally restricted placement measures preventing the player from actually creating. It's up to players to break the game world's rules to produce genuinely masterful works of art.
I find Palworld lacking within these rules. There isn't anything there that shakes the core of what can be built. The building itself is elementary and straightforward. It's almost the same as it was five years ago in Craftopia, and that's the problem. Every game has been virtually identical with building for years, outside of new building pieces that have different coats of paint or textures. Games like Conan Exiles, which has a plethora of different textured blocks, now locks its new pieces behind a battle pass of all things.
Now and then, a game will change the fundamental aspects of a specific trait in a game genre. For building mechanics, one such title was Valheim. It's a game that lets builders loose with creativity—allowing for obscure angles of creation that players could take nearly unlimited advantage of. Especially once players begin to dabble in mods.
Alongside allowing more excellent levels of connectivity between objects, the landscape itself was voxel-based. This permitted levels of imagination that other games restricted. A landscape became as customizable as the objects themselves, something many games outside Minecraft fail to allow.
Enshrouded takes it one step further, and then runs another mile
Enter Enshrouded, another voxel-based survival title granting players access to otherworldy builds. Not only can passionate gamerscraft the landscape around them with incredible detail, but also the building parts themselves. This level of access to what players can edit has unleashed some of the most incredible builds we've ever seen in survival games.
Seriously, just start by looking at the trailer they posted six months ago. In it, they highlight the use of building blueprints to generate larger structures, like you're used to seeing in base-building survival games. The difference is being able to pick apart every facet of a material, block by block, at a minute scale, which allows for decorative shapes and alterations to make the build feel incredibly unique.
This fixes the fundamental issues I've had with building inside survival games for years. While many have tried to expand upon the genre, many more have failed to capture the magic of building as Minecraft did. Enshrouded is the next best to do it.
I've spent dozens of hours crafting the perfect home out in the middle of a gigantic forest. After settling on the ideal spot, I went through many combinations of materials to test their look on one another. Fancy Stone, for example, actually starts out as wood toward the bottom, creating a nice wood paneling when used as a wall. When placed as a ceiling tile, it's entirely wood; as a foundation, it's built of stone.
These interactions create tons of possibilities with only a fraction of the game's available materials. As of now, I've unlocked 30 different building blocks, and I'm regularly trying to add new things to my base alongside another friend in order to make it all the more astonishing. Luminous Blocks, maybe my personal least favorite, make for an extremely cool-looking underground light source when placed throughout stone.
Many of these have barely scratched the surface of what seems possible in this game, having been cleverly restricted to 8 hours for any play through of the demo. Players would have to start over if they wanted another go at it. I imagine the greatest of builds we'll see will take dozens, if not hundreds, of hours to create.
Keen Games also held a building contest during the demo. These are the winners of their competition during this restricted access period.
What's more, all these creations from the developer's gallery on their site are possible with the tools given to players as well. I'm in love with this system!
While the game launched first on Steam, the developers have assured their community that it will be coming to Xbox Series X|S and PS5 sometime during 2024. So, no matter where your heart lies, everyone will have access at some point within the following year. I'm sure I'm not the only one who salivated from the mouth to get their hands on this. I'll double-dip the console release time and get it on Xbox, too.
Building in survival games has been mostly mediocre for years; Enshrouded has definitively corrected this. There is no survival game I've seen lately with this level of detail when it comes to building. We're going to be seeing masterpieces for quite some time.
Enshrouded | $29.99
Enshrouded is a game of survival, crafting, and Action RPG combat, set within a sprawling voxel-based continent. As you journey across the mountains and deserts of an open world, you are free to choose your path and shape your destiny.
See at: Steam
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Michael has been gaming since he was five when his mother first bought a Super Nintendo from Blockbuster. Having written for a now-defunct website in the past, he's joined Windows Central as a contributor to spreading his 30+ years of love for gaming with everyone he can. His favorites include Red Dead Redemption, all the way to the controversial Dark Souls 2.