Enclave (PC) Review

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


Platform: Xbox, PC
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium III 600 MHz, 192 MB RAM, 16 MB 3D video card, 4x CD ROM drive, 2.2 GB HD space

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.

Rating:
Kyle Ackerman


The new PC version of Enclave is a faithful reproduction of the Xbox version of the game previously released. For the most part, Enclave has made a smooth transition to the PC. The already impressive game looks even better when supported by the power of a decent gaming rig. The problem with Enclave for the Xbox was that it was just too hard. That issue has been dealt with – partly. There are now difficulty settings for Enclave. Played on the hard setting, you are playing essentially the same game that was released for the Xbox. On easy, you take less damage from enemies. Most importantly, on easy and medium, save checkpoints have been added.

Checkpoints are an improvement, but press releases had led us to believe that the PC version of Enclave would have a "save anywhere" feature. The ability to save the game at any point could make Enclave no more difficult than most first-person shooters or action games. Depending on your style of play and choice of character, game areas can take as little as five, or as many 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 are often deadly. Walkways collapse over seemingly bottomless drops, powerful enemies leap from around corners, and deadly traps do catastrophic damage. Save points help you finish levels with less repetition, but while such points are plentiful in some levels, in others they are painfully distant. This can leave you repeating the same sequence over and over until you can execute it perfectly, as you progress incrementally further to the next "gotcha!" moment.

Rather than experience, kills, or the completion of a level as a mechanism for character development, Enclave uses money. Better equipment becomes available as you complete levels, but you must have sufficient gold to purchase the best, current armor and weapons. The more money you have, the fewer compromises you need to make with equipment. Unfortunately, if you die and are reanimated at a save point, you lose gold. This makes the save points a source of resentment. There is already the incentive to go back and explore already completed missions in hope of finding hidden 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. Gold is such an incentive to playing levels completely (and sometimes repeatedly), that using gold to activate save points is like adding insult to injury.

Aside from the addition of difficulty levels and save checkpoints, the PC version is almost identical to the Xbox release. You can now start with either the Light or Dark campaign without relying on a cheat code to unlock the Dark campaign. With the much higher level of graphic detail, you can see (and target) distant enemies more easily. In fact, this makes the Huntress and Assassin characters a bit less powerful, as you can now see far away enemies without relying on their sniper arrows and ability to zoom. It's also easier to target crossbows and bows accurately using mouselook. To compensate, the game has removed the auto-homing function of the crossbow from the Xbox version. Otherwise, everything is basically the same. Even the menus need to be operated using the keyboard, rather than adding mouse support for menus.

Difficulty and save points 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 requires skill, and is a talent that 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's fun 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 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 onscreen, 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 mesh 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 that 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.

Enclave is an engrossing title that successfully offers a simple interface for melee combat with actual tactical depth, intriguing levels and two parallel stories. It would be an even better game with the ability to save your progress at any point. As it stands, Enclave offers a lot of play for a $40 dollar price tag.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on April 10, 2003 8:40 PM.

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