You need to drop Palworld for this Valheim-beating new survival RPG

With hidden cellars, skill tress, and a map chock full of things to do, Enshrouded is the multiplayer survival game I've always wanted.

Artwork of a hooded, bow-wielding warrior in Enshrouded.

It’s 2 am. I’m tired. My smartwatch is telling me to pack it in. I’ve been telling myself to start this impression piece for days now. But I can’t. The many hidden passageways of Enshrouded have me enthralled. Every time I reach to quit, I conjure up one more reason to jump back in. Just for ten minutes, I say. All of a sudden, it’s the break of dawn.

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There’s some exaggeration there, I’ll admit. Very little can stop me from hitting the hay just before midnight. I’m a good boy. But Enshrouded has come dangerously close to shaking up my sleep schedule. Once it’s released to the masses, I’ll let it. It’s a multiplayer open-world survival game, and I can’t wait to experience it with others.

I haven’t felt this way about a survival RPG since Minecraft. Valhiem almost scratched the itch, but there was too little direction to stop me from wandering off, losing my stuff, questioning my purpose, and logging off. With so many top-tier games surfacing lately, it takes something special to keep my attention. Enshrouded has it. I just hope we can collectively tear ourselves away from Palworld to give it a fair shake.

It’s not entirely innovative. In fact, the developers openly admit the Valheim and Zelda inspiration. But as someone who bounced off the former and didn’t much care for the latest entry into the latter, it’s refreshing to see another team take the open-world game formula and gently sand down the rough edges.

Waking up as the supposed savior of Embervale, a land besieged by a spore-like blight, emerging from a chamber, and then instantly seeing a sweeping vista view of the land below is hardly new. But with words of wisdom to greet me (the hook) and a dark mineshaft on my left (the line), my curiosity was immediately piqued. Finding bombs and blowing through a wall to unearth a shiny new tool in a chest was – you guessed it – the sinker.

As soon I made it through the cave, I explored a ransacked ruin; endorphins peaked by locked doors, rubble-obscured passageways, and loot-filled cellars. I gathered the means to set up a base nearby and hunkered down when things got dark. Rather than punish you for forgetting to pack a meal, Enshrouded simply rewards you for taking the time to look after yourself.

Sure, the countdown appearing as I wandered head-first into the misty depths, signaling impending doom from the Shroud, put me on edge. Death in these kinds of games is rarely forgiving, and nothing sours the drive to explore more than the looming stench of death. But Enshrouded shows a level of respect for your time that I haven’t seen in a game like this in quite a while.

You have around five minutes to get in and get out, but with ways to expand your survival time (or swiftly lose it) the rush of finding rare loot, felling a boss to curb its spread, or getting lost in an infested salt mine on the hunt for culinary condiments is too great to pass up.

Death means losing the contents of your backpack, but there’s no limit on when you can head back to the same spot to retrieve them. You also won’t lose what’s on your 20-slot hotbar, so you’ll always have the means to fight your way back. Didn’t stick the landing after a brave descent? Your loot will be back where you made your poor life choice and not at the bottom of a ravine – no big deal.

The building mechanics are still a little janky – this is an early access release after all – but most of what you expect is here: different wall types, roofing, furniture, and all that good stuff. It takes far too many resources to make anything meaningful right now, and the placement system needs a lot of work, but there’s plenty to enjoy. Me? I’m happy with a small hut. I run through the front door in search of a new adventure just as quickly as I return after a death.

With crafting, building, and even farming all unlocked by rescuing key survivors in trap-filled temples with climbable walls, grapple points, secret treasures, and hidden switches, those who’re easily stressed out by combat (my partner) can hang back, chop trees to build up the base, and grow helpful crops for the next expedition.

Skill trees unlock perks for your favorite weapon types to etch out key combat roles for your party. Ample direction nurturing your sense of adventure makes Enshrouded a softcore survival-crafting RPG anyone can enjoy.

There’s some jank to the overarching systems. Enemy variety is relatively sparse, and the ‘context button’ approach can lead to looting a corpse when you’re trying to execute an enemy. But when it comes to traversal, being able to game the gliding system to abseil down slopes or scramble up small cliffs ends up welcoming unintentional backward solutions to simple problems. If you’ve ever tried to commandeer a horse up a mountain in Skyrim, you’ll know what I mean. You’ll love it.

Rather than find a final switch in a dungeon, I instead managed to shimmy along a thin ledge and used the extra lift of the generous glide prompt to scramble onto the roof. To my luck and surprise, there was a similar hole directly above the locked treasure room. I dove straight in, grabbed the goods, and teleported out, clearing the quest without opening the door and gaining my first new shield in 25 hours.

It’s the sort of workaround I fear game developers hate, but the type players adore – the moments that form stories told years down the line. There’s no doubt in my mind that Enshrouded will generate these in spades.

In 25 hours, I’ve seen only a quarter of the world. Where Valheim lost me after one or two sessions, the adventure of Enshrouded has infiltrated my dreams. The map is constantly littered with points of interest, all with clear rewards.

Even if a distant sight steals your attention, you’re sure to come across a worthwhile reward for your curiosity, like a material that unlocks more crafts, or a note leading you to a glowing sword in a shallow grave beneath a tree.

Enshrouded enters early access as a game I can already wholeheartedly recommend. It’s one of the most immediately captivating and rewarding adventures I’ve played in ages. What’s left to come as it matures? That’s unclear for now. But, as is, it’s almost everything I want from an open-world survival RPG already, and part of me wonders if it might even stand to lose that magic by going much further.