Enderal: The Shards of Order. A Chilling Masterpiece

How on earth is this free? There is a AAA quality game in this, and the best thing is, it only requires a copy of Vanilla Skyrim.

I posted an in-progress analysis of Enderal a couple of years back, in August 2016 before technical issues with my laptop stopped me playing it further. Well, after a new play-through and 71 hours, I finally finished it.

It is a harrowing journey, but one of the best gaming experiences I’ve ever had in a video game. Even better, it is a free, accessible mod available to all who has Skyrim (Classic Edition). There is unofficial SSE ports available, but I would not risk those right now. I recommend this to everybody who has a copy of original Skyrim lying around. If you want to go and try it out, here is the link to the site. It’s roughly a 9gb download.

https://sureai.net/games/enderal/

 

Introduction

SureAI have been making this mod for a long time, ever since Skyrim released back in November 2011. They have been responsible for making other total conversions such as Nehrim for Oblivion, and the lesser known Arktwend for Morrowind, which I am currently playing at the moment! Nehrim was another excellent experience, although I wish it got English voice acting.

You do not need to worry about that with Enderal. Everything is fully voice acted in English.

Big mods for Skyrim are rare. They usually come out through heavy-release delays or are just cut-back. I do appreciate anybody who tries to make one, but it is disappointing to be met with constant big, ambitious projects being pushed back for years or discontinued, like Beyond Skyrim, Skywind, Luthraathan and countless others. Beyond Skyrim: Bruma only launched early 2017, and it has been years in development.

So it was a great surprise to see Enderal not only get released, but it’s getting regularly patched. They are even preparing an extensive DLC for Enderal called Forgotten Stories, which will add a ton of content originally meant for the main release, but time and resource constraints pushed it back. I hope it launches later in 2018, but I still recommend playing Enderal as it is anyway. I plan on starting again when Forgotten Stories launches!

Of course, I made a separate Skyrim folder, installed Enderal through it’s nifty little installer package which updates it for you, and began playing. It really is simple to install, and even backs up your old data, so you just need to revert back if you find you aren’t keen on it. This was just a different method if you wanted to keep your old Skyrim intact, though remember to back up your Document folder first!

I will keep things as spoiler-free as possible, but no guarantees.

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Look and Feel – The World. 

This was the first thing which caught my eye. The game is gorgeous. Obviously, if Skyrim fans out there use image-enhancing shit like ENBs, then this won’t look much different. But to people like me, this was a nice change. It really pushes the engine to its limit, and it does look exceptional at times. There is a couple of problems I found with moving while looking at water (some odd flickering and glare) but overall it looks great. Here are a couple of examples.

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World Size 

It’s still a pretty big landmass, at least the size of two-three Skyrim holds. To be fair, Skyrim was a pretty small game in terms of size, but Enderal feels alive and heavy with content. I went on a rather dangerous jaunt exploring the centre and east of Enderal, probably discovered barely half of all the known locations and still got a long way to go. For a mod, this is incredible work. It’s not as large size-wise as the likes of Nehrim, but it’s at least the size of the Dragonborn DLC, and probably larger. There is a hell of a lot to do, throughout. You will not be skimped on the size of the game.

I will give you guys one tip….don’t rush the main quest. A little spoiler, the game ends when you finish the main quest, so take your time to explore and do as much as possible in the conversion before you take up the final few quests. You’ll know which one I mean.

The cities themselves are massive and lifelike, the dungeons are well crafted and are all part of the story, and everything just feels alive. Ark, the hub city of Enderal, is huge like a capital city should be. (Glares at the pathetic city of Solitude in Skyrim)

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Game Mechanics

A far more concise and linear game then Skyrim, but still open world.

Onto a similar topic, while the game is certainly similar to Skyrim we’re used to with very recognisable mechanics, a lot of stuff is different. There is a completely new levelling system regarding talents and perks, an experience system which grants you points when you do pretty much anything, fast travel has been replaced by large, rather cool looking animals which can take you to waypoints for 25 pieces of gold each, and health-regeneration has also been removed. You need to either use potions of healing spells (which increase your magical fever, a new addition which raises whenever you use such magic and kills you when it hits 100%, so use it sparingly!) or eating food.

You also get a really cool Meditation system in order to grab new perks and abilities. How SureAI managed to install this into the Skyrim engine is astonishing, and it looks incredible.

It has a considerable amount of polish, and the first ten or so hours for me were refreshing. It still has the overall clumsiness of Skyrim however, so you may be a bit turned off early on.maxresdefault1

Linear?

Speaking of the game’s scope, it is linear. You can still go off to explore, but you’ll find yourself constrained in what you can do.

This little fact may turn off some players. The game is pretty heavily scripted at least early on. There isn’t much you can do off the beaten path for at least 5-6 hours, but you are able to explore different points as you go. This isn’t too much of a problem for me, because sometimes games can be rather too open. Even so, the first couple of hours really do keep you locked to a ball and chain, and it does force you to play the main quest at least for a little bit in order to really set the ball rolling. Travelling to the main and vast capital city of Ark is where the game really begins, and it can take a while to get there. I spent about 10 hours getting to that point. The first few hours does feel like an extended tutorial with no other way to go.

The game is also linear in terms of difficulty. There are many areas and quests which just aren’t accessible to you early on, so you may have to potter around and find some easier things to do in order to survive. The game isn’t levelled like Skyrim and Oblivion was, so there will be parts which you have to avoid or run away from. Even normal bandits are hard to kill sometimes.

A lot of the side-quests/places are just bandit camps, but there is a lot of shit to kill and loot. Don’t let the linearity of this game fool you though. Even in it, there is a lot of open-world elements. It is just a bit harder to get into then the Elder Scrolls, that’s all. Don’t expect to go in expecting to kill everything and everyone with just a knife, or breaking everyone with broken stealth archery. You can still do that, but it will take time.

There are quite a few side quests, but the meat in the sandwich so to speak comes from the large and branching main quest. I would, again, do everything possible in the game before the final few quests however. You’ll be warned of the tipping point. Remember: when the main quest ends, so does the game. Do not go into the trap thinking you can just free-explore like an Elder Scrolls game! While it has some depth and choice, you are contained to a couple of paths. Roleplaying as an evil bastard does not get you very far.

Don’t worry about length, though. The game is extensive and the main quest itself can be around 30-40 hours. Not bad for a free mod!

 

Voice Acting and Characters

Well done, SureAI. You absolutely blow many AAA titles out of the water with this.

Voice acting is so important for a game. If it’s poor, people will judge it negatively no matter how good everything else is. There are excellent Skyrim mods let down by poor voice acting.

Remember, Enderal is a mod. Of course, that does not excuse quality. Fortunately however, Enderal shines in all regards.

Overall has some damn good voice acting, easily on par with the original game and outstrips it on many levels. Of course, they don’t have too many different ones, so you’ll find the lines repetitive after a while. Not a rare problem with many similar games however.

This isn’t too big of a problem because it’s the same in any game, but there is rather a lot of depth even in the voice-acting. Pretty much everything is now translated into perfect English now, which must have been hard to do. Good job overall, I’ve found very few voices I hate (except a certain kid in the game who has a REALLY annoying voice.) The voice acting is nailed in the main characters at least.

Speaking of the NPCs, I have rarely felt connection to these like ever before in a video game. You get two major companions in the game, Calia and Jespar, and their depth and love of a character outshines almost any other in any game I’ve seen. I actually felt sad for their struggles, and that is hard to do. Everything is just beautifully done, from the sinister “Daddy” from your nightmares, to the destructive force of Taelor, all the way down to Finn, the first guy who helps you out in the game. There was a moment in the main quest where you come across a poor, sick little boy, and the decision making during that quest-line was near heartbreaking. I actually had to sit down and think about what happened. That doesn’t happen often.

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Story

Finally, the guts. No big spoilers, but it is a deep and immersive quest exploring the darker aspects of life. Religion, your psychology, reality and destruction are all in here. As a Prophet, you must try and battle your mind and soul to free the world of a torn reality, as the deadly High Ones prepare to continue their cycle that is the Cleansing – The end of all mankind.

It is one hell of a journey, and while it is depressing and deeply disturbing at times with its psychological analysis, I was gripped the entire way through. It has quite a lot of psychology exploring religion and atheism, challenging both belief systems to the extreme at times, so if you are one of those people who get offended by challenges like that, this game is not for you. Fair warning. I’d still go out and experience it, however. It never felt like it was overreaching itself to me.

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Conclusion

Now, in spite of everything positive I have said regarding Enderal, it does have some issues. Linearity and a few quirks aside, it is clear that there is still a couple of performance issues (I lag quite a lot in some areas and there is still some crashes, but that’s Skyrim engine for you!). There is also evidence of unfinished/buggy parts of the game, some stuff seems to be missing in the world, but the devs do plan on releasing more content for the game over time, and many of these bugs and glitches have been fixed.

Overall, I recommend this to anyone. It’s not just a mod, but a complete new game in its own right, an experience that tops many similar challengers out there. For something lovingly crafted by modders for free to the public, that is one hell of an achievement. It is a story you will seldom forget.

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2 thoughts on “Enderal: The Shards of Order. A Chilling Masterpiece

  1. I disagree about the linearity; as soon as I was let loose in the world (after 30 mins of play) I was off and exploring and only now after 40 hours of freedom am I considering returning to the main story. Perhaps I’ll play linearly on Iron Path difficulty.

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    1. That’s fair enough. The review was started based on my experiences on it in 2016 and I felt it was linear back then. During my play of FS, i’ve been able to go off the beaten path more. It’s wonderful how opinions change over time.

      When I finish Forgotten Stories I will be writing a new review.

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