Reviewed: March 17, 2003
Released: March 13, 2003
Enclave took the Xbox by storm last summer and now it's back, better than ever on the PC. There's nothing more refreshing than a game company that listens to the people who play their games and Starbreeze Studios has gone back and totally tweaked this game over the past several months to address nearly all the concerns that players had with the original release.
Enclave plays like your typical third-person action game with a few extras and a few nods toward the RPG genre. There is a lot of combat, plenty of action and exploration, and even a bit of clever puzzle solving required to make your way through this massive adventure.
Here is the short list of Enclave features:
Control and movement is now much better giving you a better feel for your character during combat. The AI is still a bit "stupid", but other the PC version now allows you to save your game anywhere in the level and you can play either the Dark or Light missions from the very beginning, unlike the original that made you complete the Light quest before unlock the Dark.
Assuming you start with the Light missions you start off as a knight tossed in jail by the medieval IRS for helping a countryman avoid the tax collector. While getting verbally abused by the female in the next cell the castle falls under attack. A well-placed catapult projectile silences your cellmate and creates an opportunity for escape. And thus the adventure begins.
Controlling your hero was the biggest challenge on the Xbox, but the designers have totally tweaked the control system so you can use any combination of keyboard and mouse to play the game. Never before has a new control scheme totally changed my perception of the quality of actual gameplay. Moving, fighting, jumping, or quaffing a potion has never been easier. The only thing I can possibly complain about with the controls is a lack of mouse in the menus. Unless you are playing with a gamepad you will need to use the arrow keys to navigate the fancy menu system, which can be a bit cryptic due to their unique designs.
Combat is simple. There are no fancy combos other than a triple swing attack that delivers some extra damage on the final swipe. In addition to the large arsenal of hand weapons you also have ranged weapons Ė mainly a bow that can deliver some moderate damage from a distance. The targeting system is one of the better aspects of Enclave. When you have a clear shot at the target a large circle appears around the creature. You can fire and get a hit doing minor damage or you can line-up the center dot on a particular body part. When the dot is red you can get a critical hit. Headshots are often a one-hit kill on the smaller monsters.
Unfortunately, the AI is still a mixed bag of scripted events that give the illusion of intelligent monsters and other creatures that are downright stupid. Most monsters can be killed by using the strike-retreat-strike-retreat mode of combat. Other monsters can be avoided by jumping on a box or barrel out of their strike range then leisurely pick them off with arrows Ė of course this only works if they donít have a bow themselves.
One of the nicest features is the scripted attacks that take place when you enter certain areas like a stairwell or a narrow alley. Enemies will toss crates, roll barrels down stairs, drop boxes, throw bombs, and use just about any item at their disposal to cause you additional damage before having to fight you. Monsters will jump off balconies, crash through skylights, or rip their way through floorboards creating some very spontaneous encounters.
The pathfinding of the enemy is so linear that if you maneuver in such a way as to put a pit, gap, or any type of chasm between you and the enemy they will generally fall in. This became very apparent in one of the very first challenge arenas where I was able to defeat over 30 monsters in three increasingly difficult challenges without ever swinging a sword. I simply found a tiny ledge below the normal combat floor that was elevated over a bottomless pit. I ducked down and faced away from the arena and watched as monster after monster ran off the edge and fell to their death. Sure, itís not very sporting, but its FREE GOLD and since there is no experience points for combat Iím more than happy to exploit such bugs.
Early in level two I encountered a new and serious bug that I had never seen in the Xbox version. There were three orcs on the other side of the door preventing me from opening that door. Since doors only open one way they couldn't open it either. I had the vision of Larry, Curly and Moe on the other side poking each other in the eye. To solve this dilema you have to exploit another serious bug - combat through solid objects. Even though the orcs nor myself could get through the door our weapons could and I ended up engaging in combat THROUGH THE DOOR. Only after killing the orcs did the doors finally open.
Poor AI is also evident in the NPC characters you encounter in this game. The first character you meet is the Huntress at the end of Level 1 who you are ďsupposedĒ to escort throughout Level 2. She managed to keep up for about the first two minutes and actually proved useful in combat with her devastating bow. After than she kept getting hung up on every barrel, box, corner, you name it. I ultimately abandoned her and finished the level on my own. She still survived and was added to my list of playable heroes.
Letís talk about playable heroes. There are twelve total and you unlock a new one every few levels. The way the game is designed around gold rewards and inventory purchases you really cannot expect to play multiple characters. You just donít have the cash to build them all up evenly. Iím not sure if this was an intentional design feature to promote replay, but if you want to play as the new characters you need to make that decision early in the game and then stick with the character for the duration.
Next to surviving each level, your immediate goal is to collect all of the gold on that level. There is a fixed amount of gold shown in the upper-right corner. Normally found in bags of five coins each or the occasional jewel worth more, gold is the quest item of this game. Some of it is obvious, some of it is carried by the enemy, and some is hidden in the most devilishly clever areas. Chances are good that you wonít find all the gold on your first trip through the level, but the way the game is designed you can go back and play any completed level at any time to find the missing cash.
Between each mission you can spend the gold you found plus any reward money you may have earned during the previous mission. I had to laugh after I single-handedly saved the castle and the queen gives me a 25-gold reward. Rewards are small and prices are high. You will be squirming in your seat as you realize you are going to have to pinch some pennies to afford that 500gp set of armor. The nice feature about the inventory system is that if you buy 60 arrows or 2 health potions you start each future level with this same amount unless you upgrade or downgrade that item.
Obviously, the strongest point of Enclave (as indicated by the score and the screenshots) is the gorgeous visuals. Frankly, this is the most visually stunning game I have seen to date on the PC. Yes, I know that is a bold statement, but Enclave makes games like Unreal 2 and Splinter Cell look pretty dated and the Xbox version pales in comparison to the level of detail available on the PC.
The creativity of the art department is first apparent in the menu interface. These menus are all animated and feature all sorts of cool winged creatures rising up and swooping in and off the screen. The entry screen for inputting your name is a giant Phoenix that rises up and spreads its wings with all of the letters of the alphabet dangling from chains. The map screen features a pterodactyl with a contraption mounted to its head that looks like a combination sextant and telescope.
The levels are huge and very well designed with authentic architecture, textures, lighting, and special effects. The first level takes place in a castle under siege. As the castle rocks under the assault large sections of walls and ceiling crumble away in realistic chunks of stone, wood, and dust. Sometimes this creates openings in walls leading to other parts of the level, others, it may reveal hidden gold. The subtle details of this level become very clear when you start looking at the paintings and artwork hanging on the walls near the end of this level.
The outdoor levels are simply gorgeous with some of the most amazing trees and foliage I have seen in an adventure game. You can put your face right in a bush and see individual branches and leaves. The sky is full of photo realistic clouds, often rich in color of a sunset or the calm blue of a moonlit night. Water texture is pretty good and generates a decent ripple effect when you walk through it, but it does suffer from that mercury effect where itís just a bit too shiny and plastic looking.
Lighting is excellent, with wall-mounted torches casting flickering light and shadows on the walls. In the darker areas you must carry your own torch and the lighting is very realistic. Special effects such as fire, particle effects, dust, and some amazing spell effects cap off an excellent visual presentation.
Character and monster movement is not as good as the static graphics. The characters and monsters all look fabulous. The first time I saw my hero getting up from the floor I was speechless at the level of detail in his clothing. The animation and fluidity of the character and monster animation has been greatly improved over the Xbox version. Not only does this make the game "look" better, it also "plays" better.
You can play Enclave from either a third or first person perspective with just a quick press of a button. I tried both and found the external camera seemed to work the best, especially for hand-to-hand combat while crossbow combat was more suited to first-person mode. Itís easy enough to switch between the two.
As with the Xbox version, I never once encountered a single camera problem. If anything, the camera is more functional on the PC thanks to the mouse-look that is a bit more accurate than using an analog stick. The camera system does an amazing job of keeping the hero and any enemies in view and if you get your back to a wall it will auto-switch to first-person view until you move away.
The music in Enclave ranges from some really good orchestral theme music to some generic synthesizer tracks. Unfortunately the really good music is heard in the menus. The in-game music is adequate and tries to cue to the action. It works good for scripted events but seems to have trouble adjusting to your real-time actions.
Once you hear the glorious sound effects in Enclave you will quickly forgive and forget the lackluster soundtrack. This game uses EAX surround to the fullest creating some amazing spatial environments. As mentioned previously, the first level has you scrambling through a collapsing castle. Every thunderous explosion rocked my sub-woofer, and you could still hear every subtle cracking and crumbling stone, clash of sword on shield, creaking door, and the shouts of the guards and the enemy invaders, all in a stunning audio display of 3D spatial sound. Music aside, this is one of the best sounding PC games to date.
Enclave is challenging in a few ways. First, you have some cleverly hidden gold that will keep the perfectionists playing for many more hours than the casual gamer. Missions average 30-60 minutes each giving this game around 20 hours of playability assuming you donít replay due to death or to find missing gold. The additional characters will offer a bit of incentive to replay the title, as they each have their own strong feature such as bow combat, magical attacks, etc.
Enclave fills an obvious gap in the medieval hack-n-slash genre and is easily the best game of its kind since Blade of Darkness. The graphics are stunning and vary substantially between the many levels creating a wonderfully immersive world. The sound effects are unparalleled in both realism and quality and the surround sound effects will immerse you in a world of wonder and adventure.
Gameplay can become repetitive after a half-dozen levels and the quirky AI of both enemies and NPCís can get frustrating. Thereís a lot of give and take in Enclave, and if you can give in to the flaws you can take away a very challenging and rewarding gameplay experience.