Enveloping Darkness

by John Muhlhauser, Helen Pluta, and Othniel Aryee

2021

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Meat and potatoes fantasy adventure, November 22, 2021
by Mike Russo (Los Angeles)
Related reviews: IF Comp 2021

(This is a lightly-edited version of a review posted to the IntFict forums during the 2021 IFComp. My son Henry was born right before the Comp, meaning I was fairly sleep-deprived and loopy while I played and reviewed many of the games, so in addition to a highlight and lowlight, the review includes an explanation of how new fatherhood has led me to betray the hard work the author put into their piece)

Enveloping Darkness is a straightforward fantasy story, requiring a ten-minute series of binary choices to navigate. Thereís nothing here anybody hasnít seen before Ė there are raiding orcs, a desperate quest to find a kidnapped brother, picking up weapons and armor at the main city, and negotiating with potential allies. And the narrative feels like itís on rails, with few choices mattering except to avoid an instant death midway through Ė in fact I just went back to check on this, and yeah, this is pretty much the case. In particular, while youíve got a number of opportunities to talk to a particular beggar or walk by, or how much to engage with him while youíre talking, no matter what I picked he still wound up tagging along on my journey.

Thereís nothing wrong with a straightforward premise and disguised linearity in my book, but if a game is forgoing those opportunities for engagement, ideally thereíd be some other aspect of the game thatís grabby Ė an interesting prose style, well-drawn characters, good jokes... Enveloping Darkness does okay but not great on this score. Thereís not much that jumps out as distinctive.

On the other hand, the execution is solid. The writing is generally clean and typo-free, with an understated voice that can occasionally be funny. Thereís only one other character worth noting Ė the aforementioned beggar, who turns out to be a half-orc who acts as your sidekick Ė but I enjoyed him, especially once I realized he actually winds up doing most of the work. I canít say the game will stick with me, but itís a fun enough way to while away a few minutes, which I think is most of what itís trying to do.

Highlight: I liked the sequence where your character, who works as a miner before deciding to go on their quest of rescue, just walks up to the king and asks for stuff to help on their mission. And it works!

Lowlight: This is a game that ends pretty abruptly once you complete your mission. Authors, once youíve done so much work to set up a story, it takes so little additional work to make the ending a satisfying victory lap or opportunity to reflect on whatís happened Ė donít neglect the denouement!

How I failed the author: about midway through the game, I faced a moral dilemma as I came across a golem about to harm a baby, and I had the choice of saving the kid or trying to fight the monster directly. Given my current day-to-day I of course opted for the former choice Ė which was 100% the wrong answer as it led to death and a restart (I guess this is more me failing myself than failing the author).