If you're of a certain vintage you may just about remember being thoroughly impressed with the graphical prowess of Starbreeze Studios' Enclave when it first released on the original Xbox all the way back in 2002.
Starbreeze was about to have a great big Vin Diesel-shaped success in the form of The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay — a game we'd love to see on Switch — but, before that, the developer brought us this third-person action RPG that gave players both light and dark paths to walk in two story-based campaigns set in the world of Calenheim.
We played this one back in the day and enjoyed its action-heavy style, even if we did have a little trouble with some dicey checkpointing here and there. It's a game that was fairly well-received all around, and despite a few issues, there's a nice mix of action, puzzling, and storytelling at its core, with plenty of different playable characters and some sweet magical powers and weapons to utilise as you fight the forces of evil in an effort to defeat the demon lord, Vatar.
Enclave has had a rather bumpy history when it comes to Nintendo consoles to this point though, with a Gamecube port cancelled for unknown reasons in 2003 and a lacklustre Wii effort — one that only released in Europe — attempting to successfully incorporate motion controls into the mix.
With Topware Interactive's all-new HD remaster scheduled to hit Switch on the 29th June courtesy of Ziggurat Interactive, could it be a case of 'third time's the charm' for Enclave on a Nintendo console? We had a chat with producer Alex Lotz about what we can expect from this upcoming version of the game.
Nintendo Life: Enclave was first released on the original Xbox console back in 2002. Can you tell us a little bit about the game and why you’ve decided to bring the Kingdom of Celenheim to Switch some 21 years later?
Alex Lotz: The idea to bring an upgraded version of Starbreeze Studios’ classic hack-and-slash action RPG Enclave to modern consoles came about through Ziggurat’s conversations with licensor TopWare Interactive. It was mutually agreed that Enclave would be a great fit for Ziggurat’s goals of preserving and enhancing timeless games from the past, as it has continued to have an active community of players on PC but has been absent from consoles for multiple generations. Ziggurat reached out to the trusted and experienced porting developers at Sickhead Games, who had previously worked with Ziggurat to bring the definitive versions of Real Heroes: Firefighter to PC and Xbox as Real Heroes: Firefighter HD.
This new HD version aims to bring the original experience up to modern standards. What does this entail exactly and what changes can we expect to see, specifically with regards to presentation?
All the textures – including the user interface – are upscaled for a better look on modern displays in Enclave HD. The original game made heavy use of full motion video not only for story cinematics but also in its gorgeous menus. These full-motion videos have been upscaled as well, retaining their eerie feel at a fidelity suitable for today’s screens. The game’s light maps have also been rebaked using the original development tools, so you’ll notice higher resolution in the game’s baked lighting.
What have been the specific challenges that you’ve faced in porting this to Switch?
Many of the development challenges in Sickhead’s work on Enclave HD came from legacy issues in the code, which contained a long history of (sometimes undocumented) changes from its ports to various platforms. The game’s menus which use full motion video were also tricky to adapt to modern consoles since the way they are constructed (while quite ingenious) requires them to run in very precise ways for the transitions and full-screen animations – plus the parts and cursor animations during navigation – to behave seamlessly and as intended.
Is 60fps something you’ve managed to achieve in both docked and handheld modes? What kind of resolution can we expect to see the game running at in both?
Yes, the game targets 60 frames per second in docked and handheld modes on Switch. On Switch, the game runs at 720p (1280x720) resolution in handheld mode and 1080p (1920x1080) resolution in docked mode.
We enjoyed the narrative aspect of having a separate light and dark storyline in the game, however, it required you to play through one before reaching the other, if we remember correctly! Is this something that’s now been tweaked so that players can choose their stance from the get-go?
It was the intent of the game’s original designers for the players to complete the Light Campaign at least once before playing the Dark Campaign. The Light Campaign is the only one which begins with a tutorial, and the Dark Campaign is more difficult overall, so we’ve stayed true to the original design intent in keeping access to the Dark Campaign gated behind the completion of the Light Campaign for the best user experience (especially for new players).
If an intrepid player would really like to experience the Dark Campaign before finishing the Light Campaign, they might do a little exploring and find out that certain cheat codes are still in the game. [winks]
Will we see any brand-new content, new characters, or levels, added to this version?
An entirely new soundtrack was added to the game, in addition to the original soundtrack which is still included. Players have the option to play with only the new soundtrack enabled, only the original, or a mixed mode where tracks from the new and original play in specific levels throughout the game. As with the original soundtrack, the new soundtrack includes different music for combat and non-combat situations in the game, ramping up in intensity during the action.
When Enclave first released it was certainly praised for its visuals. However, there was some disquiet over some aspects of the gameplay, such as players being returned to the beginning of a stage when they died. Has there been any adjustment here, new save functions or anything that tones down the sometimes tough difficulty?
In Enclave HD, checkpoints are available in Easy and Normal modes, while Hard mode has no checkpoints. In Easy mode, being revived at a checkpoint is “free”, while the player loses gold for continuing from one after dying in Normal mode. Special unlockable characters await those that can collect all the gold in each level of the dark and light campaigns, so there is also reason to revisit those levels you had trouble beating without using a checkpoint.
Trophies are one aspect of this HD release that we’re looking forward to, can you tell us about how they’ve been integrated into the experience on Switch?
At release, the game will make extensive use of the trophy and achievement systems of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox. There is no equivalent system for Switch, so they will not be included in the release for that platform.
A Gamecube version of Enclave was due to release back in 2002 but ended up getting cancelled. We then got a Wii port in 2012 that was only released in PAL territories, a port that was criticised due to technical issues. It’s been a bit of a bumpy road with Enclave and Nintendo consoles, can you give us any insight into the issues behind the Wii version specifically?
Enclave aficionado and speedrunner Landon Rivers – who was kind enough to bring some of his boundless enthusiasm for the game to bear in advising us in our work on Enclave HD – has an excellent video with a description that summarizes the issues in the Wii version. The developers at Sickhead Games noticed many changes in the code base (many of which removed content or intentionally limited the game’s performance) by the Wii port developers who sought to optimize the game for that hardware. Fortunately, those constraints aren’t necessary for the Switch version, which we hope will finally provide a great Enclave experience for the Nintendo faithful.
Motion control was something that was integrated into the Wii experience with the nunchuck being used to swing weapons and hurdle obstacles. Is this something we’ll be seeing in this new Switch release given the console’s capabilities?
Motion controls will not be included in the Switch edition on release. There was some consideration given to the idea of using gyros for aiming with supported controllers, but this also did not make it into the release version. An aim sensitivity slider has been added to the game, however, allowing for the right analog stick look speed to be adjusted to fit the player’s preference.
Are there any other games, specifically existing Switch titles, that you could compare the Enclave experience to in order to give players an idea of what they can expect when it arrives on the console?
Enclave was unique for its time, and deserves its enhanced return for remaining unique to this day. It’s a 3D third-person action RPG, with so much emphasis on the action that it can even be considered a hack-and-slash game. It was a rare breed in its own time, as most other action RPGs from this era were either top-down isometric games in the vein of Diablo, or first-person games in the vein of Ultima Underworld, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic, and the Elder Scrolls series.
It’s more like a PC game since the combat isn’t animation based, the player can move freely even in the middle of swings. It was not common to see a 3D RPG with a third-person perspective with levels designed to allow for positioning, crouching, and jumping as valuable tools in traversal and combat. Enclave came out nearly a decade before third-person 3D action RPGs like Demon’s Souls, Kingdom of Amalur, and Dragon’s Dogma.
From Software games in the vein of Demon’s Souls could be seen to have more in common with Enclave than other Action RPG games from the time of Enclave’s release, since Enclave places greater emphasis on level design, 3D space (short and long-range combat, verticality, platforming, etc.), set pieces, and brutal difficulty than most early 2000s Western RPGs. The combat in Enclave has much more of a hack-and-slash feel than Dark Souls, but it still offers a satisfying experience to those looking to make their way through menacing but beautiful environments with a dark medieval fantasy theme.
Our thanks to Alex for his time. Looking forward to checking out Enclave HD when it releases on 29th June? Be sure to let us know in the comments. You can find out more about the game on Ziggurat's website.