Enderal First Impressions
Today I want to talk to you about a recent development in story telling and adventure from the breathtaking world of Enderal a small continent in the land of Vyn where the gods are dead and the wheel of time is due to complete one more full rotation. In order to do this, there will doubtless be some spoilers but I’ll try my best to keep them as few as possible.
First things first, however, let me express to you my wonder in the knowledge that Enderal exists as a standalone game built on top of a staple of the modern RPG… That’s right, Skyrim. As a standalone game built using the creation kit and resources from the modding community as well as the team put together by SureAI, if you own Skyrim you can play Enderal for free! It is hard to overstate how impressive the work done by this collaboration of artists, writers and engineers is in the first place, but infinitely more with this knowledge applied.
Now though, we shall begin our tale. It starts in a field, by a wagon, at the bottom of a path and it starts as all life starts, as a child. Walking up the path you will meet your first curiosity in what we’ll call a caricature of the player’s family and I’ll leave it at that. Suddenly torn away from the scene by the hard tug of a loading screen you wake to find yourself on a boat (Morrowwind fans, where are you at?), stowing away behind the storage crates feeding off of what little you can get away with without being caught, a criminal refugee. This is where you’ll be presented with the character creation and sadly for those of you who are fans of the Khajiit, Orks, Argonians and Elves you’ll be dissapointed to find humans are the only species. There are however a small number of races to choose from each with their own benefits and a brief history of their origins which helps set the mood for the adventure you’re about to be forced into. For my first playthrough, I went with Qyranian.
So to skim over the rest of the story elements that lead you to this point, some things happen and you find yourself on the continent of Enderal, the last bastion of the Holy Order and the one country left that doesn’t seem to be at war with itself. The game at this point walks you through another dream and sets you upon a ruined temple where you’ll be introduced to some of the games core features through a narrative tutorial experience; including an introduction to the levelling system, and magic which are both needed. Which leads me to the next part of this review the breakdown.
In Enderal: Forgotten Stories and much unlike Skyrim, there are negative impacts of being a creature capable of magic and this comes in the form of Arcane Fever. From a gameplay standpoint this fever is the difference between being an immortal god and a truer representation of a flawed mortal being. Magical humans are inflicted with sensitivity to healing magics, and not just from spells but potions too. Healing yourself with potions and healing spells or standing around areas of highly concentrated magic will cause your fever to increase and the only way to diminish the impacts are to stave it off with a solution of Ambrosia; an expensive substance produced by Arcanists and not something you’re likely to find copious amounts of in the wild. So healing yourself with magic isn’t always ideal or the best course of action, how about pausing the fight to eat 100 cheese wheels instead? Well I’m afraid that’s not going to help you much either and your mortality shall remain very much that. In Enderal, you only regenerate health outside of combat by sleeping, or by being Sated. A cheesewheel might sate you for a short time, but you’ll need to eat again at some point in order to maintain that. Raw foods can be used to heal small portions of health rapidly after combat but the effects of cooked food are longer lasting and more ideal to longer adventures outside of civilised areas.
So, chasing the dream of becomming an Immortal Light-Born has suddenly become much more difficult, but nonetheless you’ve left the ruined temple, a few more things happen and you meet your first core character of the story, Jesper Dal’Varek. At this point the game has already started to feel vastly different to the base it was built upon, and as it was for me my connection to the story line was strong. Jesper will spin you a tale about why he’s out in the wilderness and asks you to help him with his task, a task that introduces you to the problems Enderal and the world at large are currently dealing with. Though this task reveals a small part of the puzzle, it represents a much larger image than first impressions would have you believe. After helping Jesper he introduces you to some more of the pivotal cast and you discover more about yourself than you had ever expected and though you are no Dragonborn your sense of self-importance at this point should be growing. This is something the story does exceedingly well as your role in the story leads more and more towards the outcome you as a player drive it towards. Before long you will have met several other characters who are a wonder to interact with and you will have started to explore more of the beautifully crafted world the game is set in. At this point the game really opens up to you and I’ll say no more of the story from here on in.
Instead, I’ll talk about some of the features I really enjoyed in Enderal. Firstly, I’d like to talk about the writing. The story is genuinely compelling which is something I felt Skyrim lacked (It’s hard not to compare the game to Skyrim considering it’s the base it was built upon) and felt more along the lines of a more classic RPG such as Dragon Age: Origins or Divinity. However, the urgency of the storyline quest was put on hold when story characters had to accomplish tasks by themselves where the player wasn’t necessary or did not have the means to help. This was a brilliant addition in my opinion, waiting a couple of days in-game for a magister to decode some old instructions or for a companion to take some time to recover from a difficult situation gave you the player an excuse to spend your time elsewhere. For me, that time was mostly spent hunting down wanted criminals and exploring more old ruins and ultimately it was this series of gaps that really funnelled in the meagre wealther I accumulated in order to build my characters strength.
Which takes me on to the second feature. In Skyrim, you might be familiar with the idea that your skills increase as you use them. Pick some locks, and your lockpicking skill increases, hit things with a sword and you develop a better understanding of One-Handed… This isn’t the same in Enderal and though it might seem counter-intuitive I felt it added a level of interaction to the game that helped improve the over-all atmosphere and investment. So let’s go into character development. First things first I’ll discuss levelling up and talents. Levelling up in Enderal is pretty simple. You engage in content that rewards you with Experience Points such as completing a quest, discovering a new location or just straight up killing something. Get enough experience points and you level up, it’s the classic grind. When you level up you are rewarded with some points. Crafting Points, Learning Points and Memory Points. Crafting points can be used to increase skills such as Enchantment or Handicraft (Smithing). Learning Points go onto skills such as Light-Armor, One-Handed or Magic. And finally, Memory points are spent on talents. Now this is still a first impressions so I won’t go into detail about the various talents, schools of magic or the likes as I have yet to experience so much of that as my first playthrough was completed as the good old Sword and Board champion. Now spending these points isn’t as straight-forward as opening up an interface and deciding where to put them, instead you have to acquire “Learning books” from merchants, out in the wild or as quest rewards. Using a learning book consumes a point and the books are split between Apprentice (up to level 25), Adept (up to level 50), Expert (up to level 75) and Master (up to 100). The books get increasingly more expensive through each tier and as such act as a wonderful counter-balance to the ever increasing wealth problem that Skyrim presented the player with. So my time spent at a pause in the storyline was spent gathering books with which to improve my character’s ability to fight and craft. By the end of the story I had managed to reach 86 Handicraft, 76 Light-Armor and 69 One-Handed. I still had several points left over as I hadn’t acquired enough books or money to buy them.
To expand on that though, there was another feature that Enderal offers and that’s armours with Set-Bonuses. Now those of you who are fans of some more classic RPGs such as Neverwinter Nights, Dungeon Siege and Diablo might be familiar with this idea. You gather multiple pieces of armour from the same set, and you get additional bonuses. It’s a pretty simple but very effecitve addition and even though I had the ability to craft armour that was more powerful than any individual set piece, I still kept several set pieces around for their additional bonsuses. One such set was the Skaragg set, a set of heavy armour for which I had no other purpose than to boost my handicraft skill, allowing me to raise the 86 I had gathered through books to 100! Another set I used for fighting raised my light-armour skill by a total of 17%, which raised my armour rating to that of a level comparable to that of a base heavy armour alternative when combined with my talents!
So what are Talents anyway? They’ve come up a couple of times in this ramble already so I’ll use this time to explain them. Talents are what Enderal provides you with in place of Perks. Every time you level up you get one memory point. Meditating will allow you to spend that point on an affine tree of your choice. Affine trees are specialised into certain areas, for example, I spent most of my points in the Blade Dancer and Vagrant trees. These trees gave me the most benefits to One-Handed and Light Armour and were best suited to my play style. Combining certain affine trees will reward you with an extra effect too! Among the standard passive affects you might be used to however, these trees can grant you talents, and talents are the alternative provided in place of Skyrim’s Thu’um. These are active abilities that you can select from your magic menu and use during combat. The cooldowns on these are independent of each other, allowing you to combine them in creative ways. One such example provided by the game is combining Snaketongue Oil, a talent that lets you throw a small bottle of slippery oil onto the ground that causes enemies who walk through it to fall over before applying a small duration slow debuff to them, with fire! So now your enemies are on the floor and burning, what fun. There are a good number of talents to take and explore with and I felt that system (though clunky) was a great way to add more strategy to the combat.
Which allows me to segue into this next part, the combat. Combat encounters in Enderal are (or at least for me) quite frankly much more difficult than what you may be used too if your experience with RPGs is limited to games like Skyrim. Instead, it’s far closer to the experience of a CRPG like Baldur’s Gate where you have to actively think about how you’re going to succeed. This is accomplished in the game not just by it’s higher base difficulty than Skyrim, but also through the afforementioned features. You can’t just pause the game and chug several health potions because you’ll increase your arance fever to the point of death and you can’t eat a dozen cheese wheels because they’ll do nothing until combat has ended. Likewise the enemies are tougher, some of them do incredible amounts of damage so timing your shield blocks, bashes and dodges is far more important (even in heavy armour tanking some enemies is no more than an exercise of futility) and knowing when to strike can change the outcome rapidly. This was further compounded by the fact that progressing your character couldn’t be readily done in a dungeon. If you levelled up you could spend a memory point sure, and that point might make the difference between being one-shot by a tough enemy and staying a live for the second hit… but to really improve you have to acquire a copious amount of books and that was best done in the city of Ark and not in the depths of some flooded cavern somewhere. So you had to leave to gather things to sell in order to return and improve before you could go out again, this definitely stopped me wandering off between dungeons as the enemies level with you, but your skills don’t. Over-all I thought the balance of this was well established and made the encounters all the more rewarding for it.
And lastly I’ll talk about the environments. You start out in the sun coast, a quiet little area almost forgotten about by the forces that be, but it sets your expectations of beauty going in. There’s a lot more green, than you might be used to, and a lot of colour too. Exploring more of the world you can find a variety of biomes including deserts and tundras. Flowers add a lot of colour and there are plenty of them, as well as a fitting variety of wildlife that really improves the atmosphere provided by the fauna overall. The design of key locations like Ark or Duneville felt organic and provided a good impression of the people who lived in them and travelling around them became comfortably familiar. The wilds were full of life, and there was never a time when I had to walk somewhere that I was bored or disinterested as there was always something to chase, fight or just admire. And whilst walking was essential at times (Because Enderal disables fast travel by default) the game provides many ways to get around. You could teleport via scroll to many areas or fly on the back of a Myrad a graceful creature trained to transport people much like the Gryphons in World of Warcraft or the Silt Striders from Morrowwind. This allievated the concerns about travel greatly and it meant that I rarely had to walk so far as to actually get bored walking; and if you do get bored walking you could also buy a horse to get around quicker, though I never did.
Which brings me to my summary. Enderal was in it’s first play through (Because I most certainly will be jumping right back into it) a refreshing experience from a modern RPG game and if I had to draw up a comparison I would say it would sit comfortably somewhere between Skyrim and Divinity: Original Sin. The game hearkens back to several ideas from Classic RPGs whilst presenting you with the simpler more intuitive control schemes from a Modern RPG. The story was gripping and exciting and features a very interesting narrative on the state of humanity as a whole, however, it suffered from some common fantasy cliches. This shouldn’t be taken as a criticism though as it still offers a thrilling experience all the same. The main story line characters and companions were well written, and for the most part you could discover a lot about them and their motivations which I enjoyed greatly. The environments were a pleasure to be in, comfortably familiar and well presented. And finally, the character progression did feel like an obstacle, but it felt like a necessary hurdle to maintain balance and improved the sense of reward and gratification felt when the impacts of your progression were demonstrated.
Overall, I would definitely recommend giving Enderal at least one playthrough. It was a wonderful experience that if you own Skyrim already (and let’s face it, who doesn’t?) it’ll cost you nothing but time. My first playthough I reached level 35, kept mostly to the story line and still spent 70 hours of my time within it. Which in retrospect is a pleasant surprise and clearly demonstrates that Enderal is much more than just a “Mod”.
If you read this far, thank you very much for sticking through it. I’d love to hear your thoughts on Enderal too, if you have anything to say send me an e-mail.
Thanks again, and walk blessed.