We don't know what The Dome is, or why it's there, but being a budding CRONUS employee, it's your duty to find out.
In a few months, the second game under Koch Media's new Prime Matter publishing label will be released. Known as Encased, this title is regarded as a "Sci-Fi Post-Apocalyptic RPG" that takes players to an alternative 1970s, to head on a one-way trip into an ancient relic of a bygone age called The Dome, which has been discovered in a remote desert. Developed by Dark Crystal Games, I've recently had the chance to explore Encased for a while, voyaging around the hostile wastelands, meeting the many different members from the CRONUS Corporation, and getting into all kinds of trouble along the way.
Before diving into The Dome (which is basically a humongous concrete semi-circle over a portion of the desert) Encased starts by having you select a character and defining it with a variety of attributes and traits. This system is a pretty great example of the sprawling RPG we can look to encounter in the game, as the options you are provided are truly broad, and if anything, are a little complicated for a new player. Character creation in Encased is also of the utmost importance, because it will determine how you experience the campaign and storyline.
Selecting one of the five wings of CRONUS you will represent defines the style of narrative you will experience. If you choose the Silver Wing, you'll be an executive, so to speak, and will be an automatic leader or 'top dog' under The Dome, whereas Orange Wing characters are criminals, meaning you'll spend a lot of your time doing tasks and missions that nobody else wants to do. Matching this with your traits and attributes means you'll have access to different avenues of conversation and locations, so while the game itself seems to be quite broad, the replayability also seems to add another level to this.
As for how Encased plays, the title uses an isometric camera angle, meaning you don't quite get that level of immersion as if you are in the room with your character. To make up for this, there are plenty of conversations that are well voiced and have engaging dialogue that not only brings a lot of personality to the people you are talking to, but it manages to consistently teach you something about this bizarre and unusual world you are living in. You'll feel enticed to chat with the other CRONUS employees whenever you get the chance, and while a lot of the time this does not contribute to the development of the core story, it is entertaining.
Being an RPG, Encased is much more than narrative. The game has plenty of character development that builds off what you created at the beginning of the game. Whether that means buying new weapons that fit the sorts of attributes your character is strong in, or instead doing your job as a CRONUS employee to unlock new Knowledge points, to thus, become a more effective member of the corporation by unlocking new skills and by building up your attributes. The one issue with having a hefty range of options to explore is that it is a little overwhelming to figure out at the start, but that does mean there is a lot to unravel as you understand the intricacies of the game further, which in itself benefits the replayability of Encased.
As Encased uses an isometric camera angle, the combat is of a strategic design, meaning you have a specific amount of moves you can make in a turn, where attacks have a percentage chance of landing, before the enemies get their turn to do the same against you. The mechanics are pretty run-of-the-mill as far as the strategy genre goes, and doesn't do a whole lot to surprise, and for the most part, this stretches to how your character's skills and attributes are integrated into combat as well. For example, if you aren't very skilled with handguns, using a pistol in combat probably isn't going to go all that well for you. The combat does seem to be well designed from what I experienced, but compared to the engaging conversations and narrative, and broad RPG elements, it doesn't quite feel as special.
Aside from chatting to people, getting into fights, and improving your character, Encased also has a wide array of other activities to complete. There are side quests that give you plenty of reasons to venture off the beaten path, and since this is an RPG, you can, to a degree, treat the world like your personal playground. Like a piece of loot but can't afford it? Steal it. Has an NPC been giving you trouble? Kill them. The only thing you'll have to worry about is that your actions have consequences, and if you become too much of a, shall we say, free spirit, you will most likely face some other issues down the line.
My experience so far with Encased has been a good one, and I do believe that this game is worth keeping your eye on if you are an RPG fan, but I can't shake the feeling that it could be a little easier to grasp and understand. It falls into the typical RPG trap of throwing a heaving mass of information at you very early on, and expects you to just understand it all after a brief tutorial. It's the sort of design that essentially makes your first experience of Encased a mere reflection of what the game is supposed to be, that is unless you take time to study up and rigorously pick apart what you're given before getting too deep into the story.
Despite this, I'm excited for the full launch of Encased. Dark Crystal Games has created an RPG that is crammed with opportunities and characters that makes you want to explore more. It's the sort of game that, despite being heavily themed around its narrative, will make you eager to unravel what is happening in The Dome. Plus, the sheer replayability of this title, with unique storylines tied to the different wings of CRONUS, provides plenty of ways to explore the post-apocalyptic world all over again. Encased seems to be the sort of title that you could quite easily sink tens of hours of playtime into and still find new things to do or explore, and for that reason, I'm looking forward to the launch on September 26.