Enclave (Xbox) Review

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Publisher: Conspiracy Entertainment / Black Label Games (VU Games)
Developer: Starbreeze

Platform: Xbox, PC
Reviewed on Xbox

The demon Vatar and his evil hordes of undead, goblins, orcs and twisted humans assaulted Celenheim once in the distant past. Only the wizard Zale's desperate actions save the people of Celenheim by opening the maw of the very world itself, engulfing Vatar and much of his army. Zale's magic also opened the Rift around Celenheim, a bottomless chasm that surrounded the kingdom, making it an island haven, surrounded by denizens of evil. Celenheim, populated by elves, humans, gnomes and others became known as the Enclave, and referred to the rest of the continent as the Outlands. Recently, the Rift has been healing, becoming narrow enough to cross at points, and the Outlanders are arming themselves, perhaps under their returned overlord Vatar.

In this conflict you can pursue the Path of Light, defending strategic outposts, striking at the Outlanders key weaknesses, and ultimately crossing the Outlands and a great sea to seek help at Meckelon, home of the Ancestors. If you and your party of adventurers succeed, you may even need to face Vatar himself.

You may also choose the Path of Dark, serving the powerful Mordessa in her efforts to restore Vatar to power... in her service. Success under Mordessa against the Enclave will earn you more dangerous duty, and failure can only mean a painful death. You begin by running difficult errands for her, and ultimately assault the Enclave at the very seat of their power.

Kyle Ackerman

Enclave is a terrific game with a serious flaw – it's just too hard. Doubly frustrating and unfortunate is that such an elementary problem can hold back an engrossing title that successfully offers a simple interface for melee combat with actual tactical depth, intriguing levels and two parallel stories.

In Search of a Save Feature

Depending on your style of play and choice of character, game areas can take as little as five or as much as forty minutes to complete. That is, of course, if you were to play the whole level through, successfully, the first time. Like other games of its ilk, Enclave is full of surprises that often as not are quite deadly. Walkways collapse over seemingly bottomless drops, powerful enemies leap from around corners and deadly traps do catastrophic damage. Some levels can be completed in a try or two, allowing you to appreciate what Enclave could have achieved. Other areas feel like you are in training for a professional sport, repeating the same sequence over and over until you can execute it perfectly, as you progress incrementally further to the next "gotcha!" moment. Such moments do not, in and of themselves, ruin a game. When you combine long levels filled with deadly surprises and the near total absence of a save feature, you create a formula for painful repetition.

While it would have been nice to see Enclave take real advantage of the Xbox hard drive by adding the ability to save anywhere on a level, that's far from the only solution. The addition of multiple checkpoints in an area, so that you never had to replay more than a few minutes more than once or twice, would have more than sufficed. Enclave does include some very rare save points. There are two in the Light Campaign, immediately before the end-level powerful foes, and they cost substantial wealth to use. Some games rely on obscene difficulty and repetition to increase length of play, but Enclave doesn't need this. Enclave has two campaigns, with fourteen required missions in the Light Campaign and thirteen required in the Dark (with at least two bonus missions for each path). You can play each mission with any of several characters, who can approach the level quite differently. There is an incentive to go back and replay completed regions, as you can collect items and monies you may have failed to find the first go-round. Simply speaking, the game is more than entertaining enough to continue playing, and offers compelling reasons for replay, so if the lack of save-points was an intentional decision, it was a poorly considered one.

The manual describes the Dark Campaign as more challenging and for experienced players only. I found it to be rather easier. It is true that the dark campaign has considerably more enemies, and they tend to be stronger, but it also has many fewer moments of instant death. In the Light Campaign, even using cheat codes that make you invulnerable to damage will rarely make levels easier to complete as many of the deadly surprise moments involve falling into bottomless pits, shark infested waters or pools of lava with no escape. To play the Light Campaign after the first few levels, the game required use of the immortality cheat (go to the pause menu during play and hit XYXXYYXYXXYY). The Dark Campaign did not require the code. Most of the "gotcha!" moments came at the beginning of a level after a few seconds of play, and while enemies were plentiful, so were health-restoring potions.

When playing the dark side, I could rely on my skill at arms, and not foreknowledge of disastrous events to get me through the level. There were a few really irritating sections in the Dark Campaign that mimicked problems of the Light. There was one sequence (The Escape) where you needed to fight your way through a darkened tunnel filled with enemies – you could use a torch and see them, or be fully armed and in the dark. There was also an otherwise well designed level which offered two exits at the end. This seemed like you could choose to ally with one of two powerful forces. In truth, one path continues the game, and the other just causes mission failure, forcing you to replay the whole level to make a poor plot point.

An Otherwise Excellent Game

Difficulty aside, Enclave does many things so very well. Most remarkable is the melee engine. Enclave really shows off robust, third-person perspective combat. Battle is truly tactical. Damage is area specific, so it matters where you swing your sword. Hammers, axes, daggers and swords all play differently, and are effective against different foes. Skeletons may fall quickly to blows of a hammer, but arrows are nearly ineffectual. A halfling can duck in for quick strikes against an opponent, dodging and weaving to great effect, while the hulking berserker can use a shield to ward off blows and projectiles. Headshots kill, and if you use a shield, keeping an enemy on your shield side will offer better defense. Even bows and crossbows are integrated into the game, with varied ammunition types. Combat is actually tactical, and is a skill which can be mastered.

The different character classes play with unique styles. Each of the Dark and Light campaigns essentially use the same six character types, with the lich being directly analogous to the wizard, and the assassin, the huntress' evil twin. Each side has a warrior (knight or berserker) who is strong and skilled in melee. Variations on the warrior are a short, fast character (halfling or goblin) who is much more maneuverable and can use poison bolts with the crossbow, and a slightly weaker character who can throw explosives (engineer or bombardier). The archer characters (huntress and assassin) can use powerful arrows and snipe from long distances, but are ineffectual up close. Finally, both sides have magic-using classes that wield staves of great power (druid/wizard for Light and sorceress/lich for Dark). There are at least three major styles of play for every level, ranging from brute force to distant sniping to magical power, with variations on each theme. It can be entertaining to move through a level slowly sniping enemies before they see you, or playing as a goblin, fighting in a crouch and striking at the shins of your enemies as they swing their swords and axes through the air above your head.

The mechanism of character improvement is well done – better equipment becomes available as you complete levels, but you must have sufficient gold to purchase the best current armor and weapons. This provides an incentive to go back and explore already completed missions in hope of finding just enough gold to better your shield or purchase more sniper arrows. Gold you collect establishes a maximum you can spend on equipment, so you can switch back and forth between characters without having to sell old equipment to equip your new adventurer. Also, you can't just farm old levels for money – you only add to your gold total what you find above and beyond your previous collections.

The areas look superb. The graphics are impressive, and lend a sense of fantasy flair that pervades the characters and environments. Details abound, from the magnifying lens the huntress uses to fire at distant targets, to the beady little eyes of goblins. Missions occur in dark towns near the rift, lava filled plains, floating cities, undersea lairs and colorful Meckelon. While around half the missions are heavily brown, there is considerable variety of color interspersed. Apparently, evil is also heavily into S&M and fetish garb. I can only theorize that female practitioners of evil magic get their power from thigh-high platform boots. Mordessa herself, who assigns the missions in the dark campaign, is dressed in such garb with spiked belt, plates, and even a studded metal visor. This all actually lends a distinctive style to the Outlanders, from the pointed hoods of goblins to the spiky hair of berserkers. The soundtrack also provides a nice counterpoint to the visuals. It sounds best the first time through a given level.

Some areas are highly creative, such as The Guardian mission, which you enter through a floating energy bridge and is filled with wizards suspended in mid-air, in globes of magical energy, where you do battle with a dragon using ballistas scattered around the battlements. Near the end of the Light Campaign, a battle with demon Zurana involves a sequence of mechanical devices and then a battle startlingly different from the rest of the game. The final Light battle against Vatar is bizarre. While fleeing Vatar himself and his onslaught of minions, you destroy magical points of focus using a ballista, then destroy Vatar's heart. With its living walls and coursing fluids, this level's design does make it feel more like you are shooting magical sphincters (which probably meshes nicely with the evil costumes). Also, it's a bit hard once you expose the heart to figure out if you are damaging it, but once it's destroyed, you get to battle the demon Vatar himself. Even the final assault against Celenheim castle to take on Queen Aylindel and the Assembly of Six allows for a variety of approaches to the final battle.

Extra levels can be found on maps in hidden locations. These are typically opportunities to earn additional gold for equipment, and include survival campaigns in which besting wave after wave of enemy earns you cash, and arcade-style shooting games which grant cash for every enemy shot. The shooting moments are entertaining and a nice change of pace, while the pit-fight style survival missions let you really explore Enclave's combat and hone your skills. Particularly entertaining is the extra mission in which you have to help Opparg the Ogre assault a town.

Play through the first few levels of the Light Campaign to acclimate yourself, practice a bit of combat, then go straight to the Dark Campaign (enter XYYXXYXY at the Episode Selection screen). The addition of a few save points would make this game brilliant, but it's still worth checking out to see well designed combat, rich with swords and sorcery, telling two variants of the same tale.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on September 10, 2002 4:03 PM.

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