After 81 hours in a massive, open-world RPG game called Enderal, so compelled was I by the experience that I visited its website to leave a note for the developers. I could not, in good conscience, accept the amount of undiluted pleasure and entertainment derived from the experience of playing this game without acknowledging their work in return. The following is the message I left in the comments box, as I had one prevailing thought for the developers:
You need to continue. You guys MUST continue your work.
Like many gamers, I am by nature incredibly critical of PC games, although they are my preferred form of amusement. Enderal has not enjoyed the fame and acclaim that other titles have, so this look at the title hopefully casts a light on a hidden gem in what has otherwise been a long year replete with disastrous PC game launches.
The first thing to know about Enderal is that it is mislabeled. My conception of a mod is a short excursion into some lightly customized version of an existing game, or a kind of cosmetic overhaul. This is a Skyrim mod, yes, but this is not Thomas the Tank Engine as dragons. This is a full, complete, entire game as a conversion with a depth of development and gameplay that outright shames and humiliates other major releases from gargantuan developers. This is not Skyrim, nor is this some window dressing built upon Skyrim as a game. It is, for all intents and purposes, a standalone game of fantastical strength and playability. It would be worth the price of a full, premium game on Steam with all the DLC fixin’s, and you’d come away from the exchange with well more than you paid for.
The description of the game’s features from the developers is alluring, but tells so very little of the whole story.
An open world with its own lore and hand-crafted, detailed and diverse landscapes (desert, heathlands, forests, jungles, mountains and more). An unconventional story with psychological and philosophical undercurrents. Professional voice acting fully voiced by dozens of speakers. Multi-faceted, believable characters with their own ambitions and motivations. Overhauled gameplay with experience points, survival mechanics and hard, challenging combat. An overhauled skill system with classes and new special abilities.
Immersion is an unbelievably rare, precious commodity found in gaming. Enderal accomplishes total immersion in a story in a way I have not seen in a long, long time. There are moments in Enderal which do not exist in other games at all--moments that any major developer could take and point to as evidence of a masterwork of game design. Of these, there are dozens in Enderal.
I experienced a moment while playing the game when everything suddenly made sense with crystalline certainty, and such a startling recognition of pattern and immersion both horrified and titillated me. Couched in that clarity was the essence of betrayal, surprise, and anger – and then utter delight at the personal revelation that it was this game producing these complex emotions in myself as player.
There are “Hold the door” moments (to steal a phrase describing a pivotal scene in Game of Thrones) that combines heart-wrenching anguish with epiphany, completion, closure, and acceptance.
There are those moments when you as a player suddenly realize something, because you caught just enough of the lore and proper names bandied back and forth by other characters. It will be something that your character missed, that the dialogue doesn’t necessarily reflect as a choice. So you sit there, frustrated and silently screaming at your character to ask the right question in the next line. You have to know! You have to confirm that piece of the puzzle fits the way you think it does. But the game moves on and seems to pretend to enjoy that it knows that you know.
There was another moment where the emotional weight of what happened hit me so hard and so strongly that all I could do was sit and stare blankly at the screen, trying to process the entirety of what just transpired. The enormity of a certain scenario’s completion was staggering and momentous, and, based on cursory analysis of comments in response to it, a visceral reaction is commonly shared among all the players of Enderal.
During one moment, a scene in Enderal became so intense, vivid, and emotionally powerful that I had to walk away from my computer. I paced back and forth in my kitchen. I am a grown man, and I was brought to tears by this video game, of all things. And I know matter-of-factly that I’m not alone in these reactions, either. The Enderal subreddit is littered with stream of consciousness reactions of players bumping into pieces of Enderal that leave them gloriously astounded and catching their breath in awe, or shattered broken messes whimpering on the floor. Some of them are funny. Reddit user phnx0221 reached a point in Enderal that any player who has gotten into the game can empathize with. (Edited to remove spoilers.)
“OH. MY. GOD. HIS NAME IS *****. MY *****. WHAT. Are you kidding me right now?! Seriously? This dude looks exactly like ***** that has been… WHAT. OMG. This is insane. This about to get freaking crazy, isn’t it? OMG. You guys. Are you serious right now?! Whew. Okay. Pouring some wine, and going back in. OMG.”Another user chimed in:“I’m going to follow this thread until you finish this quest. Because it’s a doozy.”
And, let me tell you, it is, and it is only the tip of the iceberg. Enderal is the rare breed of game whose story will keep you awake at night as you lay in bed, your brain trying desperately to assemble pieces–it's a game that plays you. Enderal is a feast, an embarrassment of riches and narrative design with a story that plucks at a player’s heart and mind. It profoundly upset me and delighted me.
There are hallmarks of a game constructed at this level of impressiveness, wherein each component of the overall product feels like it must have been a labor of love. Judging from the depth of the game mechanics, the designers must have made the skill system their own baby and poured into it all their desires as players of RPGs. Some level designers took a part of a world they imagined in their heads, and in breathtaking scope, sculpted it into being, through what appears to be painstaking effort. There are areas of the game where I stopped to admire what they had done in level design, and said to myself “Someone made this with love.” That’s the only way to describe it.
I’ve encountered that rarely, most notably in distant memory in Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines. There’s an attention to detail, and an evident concern for aesthetic that Enderal really nails. The world of Vyn looks and feels like a real place, with all the consummate threats and mortal dangers that such a thing entails.
The music is impeccable, lending an air of urgency to events of momentous import that transpire in the gameplay. The musical score will stick with you, clinging to you throughout your day. (This is clearly something the developers are intimately aware of as they now provide a link to download the soundtrack free from the game’s launcher.) The voice acting is outstanding and spot-on, lending characters both depth and believability through genuine responses. I was impressed by the strength of the vocal talent in this game; what other mod has professional voice talent? (Strong language is peppered throughout, as are mature situations, so approach with this in mind.)
There are a vast number of quests apart from the main storyline, and practically none of them are ephemeral step-and-fetch style. There are entire books scattered about the world to complement quests, a rich tapestry of background and history woven into the player’s actions and threaded through the landscape of the narrative.
Combat is violent and the dread is palpable, with opponents and monsters using a strong set of AI tactics to go after you. You must lean heavily upon the quicksave feature until you master the finer points of combat in the violent world of Enderal. You may find yourself lurking around corners, looking for places to hide or cover to seek; enemies can be that tough.
I would be hard pressed to list the things Enderal does wrong in light of all the things it does right. The game does crash periodically, and I found it most often does so when I was using the autosave function at the same time as the quicksave, usually in transition from one area to another. Frequent saving is a habit you need to form, not only for the difficulty of encounters, but the occasional crash. Periodic crashes are forgivable, in that this is a total conversion mod with quite a bit going on.
You’ll need an investment in energy to get going in Enderal, as the bulk of the addictive qualities are closer to the middle parts of the game, rather than in the initial first few hours of brutal introduction. The hooks are many and multi-faceted, but towards the start of the middle portion of the story, you’ll find yourself inescapably taken.
I hesitated to complete the game for several reasons. The game was so thoroughly enjoyable that I did not want the experience to be over. I did not know how it would end, or what to expect. I felt I’d be unprepared for the conclusion after the intoxicating heights and mortifying depths the game took me through. I was very glad that I did, and I’d strongly recommend the experience to anyone who enjoys immersive RPGs and masterful storytelling in games.
Enderal is as close to perfect as you can get. It gets points off for erstwhile translation string errors (German to English) and the occasional crash. However, it deserves highest praise for the story, voice acting, music, systems, and world design. Enderal is a deeply satisfying game that is as masterful as it is impressive.
You can download Enderal here.
|Type:||RPG, Exploration, Adventure, Open-world, Mod|
|Release Date:||Available Now|
|System Requirements:||-The Elder Scrolls 5: Skyrim-13GB free hard drive space-4GB RAM-Intel Core2Duo E7400 CPU or equivalent -Nvidia GeForce 9800 GTX (1GB) or equivalent|