Enshrouded is an early access survival-crafter RPG that has the unfortunate fate of debuting right next to Palworld, a similarly structured game enjoying massively viral success. However, while the appeal of Palworld is immediately obvious, it takes a little bit of digging to find what makes Enshrouded shine.
At the beginning of Enshrouded, you awake in Embervale, a once majestic world that has fallen victim to a sort of massive magical apocalypse. The details are lost to legend, but the long and short of it is that a deadly fog has spread across the land. You stumble out into this world and begin the time-honored survival game task of picking up wood and stone to make basic tools.
Embervale is a gorgeous, sprawling land with lots to explore, with abandoned hamlets and villages scattered between vast mountain ranges, lazy rivers winding their way through uneven terrain, and long-lost ruins.
Every survival game needs some kind of hook to bring people in: Ark has dinosaurs, Conan Exiles has the brutality of its IP (slavery included), Palworld has Pokémon-like creatures to catch. Enshrouded’s twist is the Shroud (hence the name), which covers the land. Going into the quite literal fog of war is an inherently lethal venture; as soon as you enter, a timer starts. If it elapses and you’re still in the Shroud, you die.
This divides Enshrouded up into two kinds of sessions. Sometimes, I explore the safe parts of the overworld, looking for new resources and recipes. Even if I die — and I can assure you that, due to this game’s treacherous fall damage, I perished on many a rocky crag — I keep all my useful gear upon respawning. The other kind of session is a prolonged journey through the Shroud, which is tense and time-sensitive.
Survivors of the magical apocalypse have helpfully left lore journals and chests full of loot. These chests regenerate quickly, which sort of spoils the immersion of scavenging an abandoned keep. If I die and find a chest that I had previously opened is once again sealed and full of health potions, it makes the world feel like a very pretty series of loot pinatas, as opposed to a fully realized place. Travel can also be a slow and arduous process, my paraglider and grappling hook notwithstanding.
I can topple off a cliff or meet some unfortunate fate in the wilderness, but things outside of the Shroud are very low-stress — especially if I manage to build up a cozy base. Building an Altar of Flame creates a safe zone that the Shroud cannot encroach upon, and this allows me to create an adventuring HQ. As I explore, I can even uncover other AI survivors in Ancient Vaults, rescue them, and send them to my base to lend a hand. It’s just a shame that my new friends don’t really do much beyond standing around and staring gormlessly at me.
Spending time in that base is one of the highlights of Enshrouded. Herein lies some of the best building mechanics in the genre, allowing me to place down basic shapes and then seamlessly mold them into a proper structure. Even I, the sort of person who usually builds a giant wood cube in survival games, find myself intrigued by Enshrouded’s architectural flexibility. I feel more like I’m working on a clay sculpture, and I was able to build a multi-level castle, complete with a moat, very early on in the game.
Eventually, once I gather up the right gear and a pack of resources, I have to gear up and venture into the Shroud. Unfortunately, the fog is less a netherworld with fiendishly twisted visuals and more just... well, a hindrance to exploring. Visibility is lowered, monsters are everywhere, and the timer means I’m under constant pressure to get out as soon as possible. There are also patches of Deadly Shroud that kill in seconds. Eventually, I can enter those areas, but they represent a sort of aspirational endgame.
Combat is slick, with a sort of Dark Souls-style system of parrying, dodging, and learning enemy attack patterns so I can duck in and give a few hits of my own. Skill points can be spent on a sprawling map of talents, allowing me to mix and match between archetypes like Trickster, Battlemage, or Survivor. I unlocked a magic wand early on and went with that for the range, but none of the weapon animations or play styles feel all that different, or even compelling in their own right. The animations are all a little short and truncated, and, as a result, unsatisfying. Combat is something I endure more than enjoy. The bones are there for something great, but a bunch of small decisions add up to make things feel flat.
Enshrouded has a lot of promise, and it has the makings of conceits that may one day set it further apart from the rest of the survival RPG genre. Perhaps if I were part of a 16-player server, I’d enjoy collaboratively building and chatting with friends on the road. But as of now, I’d hesitate to suggest friends buy the game themselves. As a solo experience, Enshrouded is unfulfilling and lonely. There’s nothing calling me to return — not my static NPC companions back at base, nor the grander mysteries of the world. All in all, Enshrouded is fine. In such a crowded genre, I hope it can find a stronger hook with which to stand out.
Enshrouded was released in early access on Jan. 24 on PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X. These impressions are based on the PC version of the game. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.