EDIT (28/09/16) – You may want to disregard my comments regarding the loading times, as it turns out it was an issue with my motherboard. I got suspicious when every one of my games started to have an eternity for a loading time. Blame me; I should have investigated further rather than blindly assume. I’ll try not to make that mistake again.
So, with the Elder Scrolls VI not coming to us until the year one million and a half, I suppose we’ll all have to compromise. And compromise we shall, with the new, highly anticipated mod from Sure AI, Enderal. Sure AI was behind such mods as Cube Experimental – for Fallout 3, Nehrim – for Oblivion, and now Enderal – for Skyrim. But what is Enderal? Enderal is a “total conversion mod for Skyrim” which literally changes everything about the game – the world, the story, the quests, the character system, levelling, skills, graphics, the UI – in short, it’s basically a whole new game using Skyrim’s engine. It’s incredible what this small team of twelve people, with no budget, have managed to achieve – they’ve created a game with “at least 30 hours of gameplay”, a massive, beautiful world to explore, and an epic story line. But is it actually good, and does my title allow for any kind of suspense? Let’s find out.
Enderal is fantastic – it’s even beyond fantastic – it’s bloody impressive and I think I love it. I’m saying this although I haven’t had too much of a chance to actually play that much of it, but the amount I have played has really impressed me. Starting with the world, it’s actually quite large and very pretty – even without ENB enabled (you can’t use ENB with Enderal) – and a lot of fun to explore. I can see myself getting lost in the world in the same way I often get lost in Skyrim’s, the world is full of rolling hills and expansive countryside which gives you a real sense of being in the open world and being able to explore anywhere you like. To put it neatly, the world is pretty great, and on par with the beauty of Skyrim’s.
And then there are the cities. There is only one city, Ark, which sits roughly in the centre of Enderal, but I can tell you, Sure AI have addressed the many voices crying out for better cities in Skyrim. Many people, including me, were unsatisfied with the cities in Skyrim; they’re all very small and aren’t very complicated. Ark, on the other hand, is pretty damn large and pretty damn complicated – it involves five quarters (yes, I know, I was confused as well), a whole “under city” below ground and a large palace type place, where clever people live.
It’s worth pointing out the Ark is, in fact, the only city in Enderal, but I don’t think I need another one – I can accept that with the smallish total size of Enderal that they’d only have one city. There are towns, however, about 4 or 5 of them, all of them quite big and are laid out in ways which feel unique to each place.
I will just quickly jump to Bethesda’s defence before you started thinking that Bethesda should have done the same thing with their many resources and infinite time, by saying this: the reason the cities aren’t unimaginably huge in Skyrim is because, A, Skyrim is not the kind of place to have humongous cities and vast towns; they’re a simple people up there and aren’t into that sort of thing, and B, the world designers were probably trying to keep the world feeling concise and neat, because I will admit that the vast size of Ark and the towns can feel a bit messy, and a little bit empty. The engine is not capable of having a crazy amount of NPCs hanging about and doing their thing – it was never built for that. It’s weird, then, that Ark is so large yet there simply aren’t very many people about – it’s quite like Aberystwyth in that way. I’m not the only one to think this.
Returning to things about the world I do like, I like seeing adventures hanging about the place. In Skyrim, it seemed that you were the single adventurer in the whole world and you never saw anyone else doing anything of the sort. In Enderal, I saw several people kitted out in gear for adventuring about the place, which is a nice touch. And speaking of characters, there are some. People seem much more alive and real than in Skyrim; people speak more casually and say things that, you know, a real person might say to another real person – the writing and voice acting is superb.
It’s pretty clear to me that Sure AI share the opinion of many about what some refer to as “the dumbing down of The Elder Scrolls”, because they’ve made this game a lot more Morrowind-ey, by removing the ‘learn by doing’ system of Skyrim (which I think is actually very innovative and a great way to do character progression but whatever I suppose), and replacing it with a more traditional, “here are some skill points where ‘d ya wanna put ’em?” system, they’ve also completely removed the fast traveling system (which, again, fast traveling I think makes the game a lot more accessible and if you don’t want to use fast travel then just don’t but whatever), and replaced that with a more traditional, “just walk for hours on end” type system. Okay, I’m exaggerating, there are these things called “teleport scrolls” which you can use to get to places, but there is a limited supply and you have to use the right one to get to the place you need to go. Also, in Ark, you can interact with sign posts to move around the city a bit quicker than by walking. I wish you could, like in the Witcher 3, use sign posts to fast travel to any other sign post in the game; I don’t feel like Ark is so big that I need to fast travel around it, but I suppose that’s to cut down on the number of loading screens you’ll have to endure.
I don’t know if it’s just me, but my God! What is going on with the loading in this game? I have had serious problems with actually getting this game to load at all past the main menu. Just this morning I had problems getting the main menu to load at all – I eventually gave up. I’ve done some research to suggest that this is a common issue for many people, some saying that for them loading times are on average between 5-10 minutes, and that’s for every loading screen – not just the first one. I count that as unplayable. I can’t wait that long for the game to load, I simply can’t – show me anyone who can. I’ve more than a couple of times gotten out of my chair and leant over my window sill to contemplate life while the game loads the next area – I’ve come to some interesting conclusions in that time, but perhaps I’ll discuss this another time. You know how bad the loading time is? It’s worse than GTA V. Not even joking.
I should reiterate if I have not mentioned already, that I haven’t played a huge amount of this game, so how I should feel entitled to review it is anyone’s guess, but I’ll discuss the parts I have played. The game starts off with some very intense/creepy/disturbing gameplay, and then you end up on a ship with a friend. Through the dialogue, you discover that you and he are stowaways aboard this vessel. Anyway, plot, plot, plot, and you have a creepy vision and end up on a beach.
Before we continue I would just like to mention a few things. Firstly, damn these guys are good at the cinematic stuff, and second, I found the character creation to be a bit lacklustre; at the start, you are introduced to your father, who is most definitely a human man, which means you are forced into being half human. You can’t even be fully human – you have to be half human and half something else. The variety of something else includes four options: something that looks like an orc and an elf, something that looks like and elf and an orc, something a bit orkcey/elfey and something this is, I suppose, kind of a cross between an elf and perhaps some sort of orc. They each look slightly different from each other and they have different stats tied to them, but in terms of looks, you’re stuck with one. Although it should be said that the inclusion of ApachiiSkyHair was very much appreciated.
What then follows carries the title we all fear, the tutorial, and it’s a long one. It is actually quite an interesting tutorial that sets up the story, the information about nearly all the gameplay and sets you up with the basic equipment you need to do your thing, before dumping you in the world. It involves crawling through a cave, killing some things and then wandering in the wilderness for quite a while, which is a good way of letting you appreciate the beauty of the world, but it is quite a lot of wandering at the start, a time when a game needs to hook the player and keep them going until they stop resisting and follow willingly.
Speaking of quite a lot of wandering, I want to discuss this issue of fast travelling. It’s not in Enderal, so you need to do a lot of walking to places, and probably getting ambushed on the way. In the world of this game, there is a thing called the “Red Fever” which basically means everyone in the wilderness hates you and wants to kill you. I’m not a fan of this, It’s not a good way of encouraging exploration when you’re worried that if you step your foot out the front door, a crazy loon will start gnawing it off. Makes a man want to just fast travel everywhere. I had a nasty surprise when I discovered that fast travelling wasn’t in the game. I had just run for miles as every creature and person in the world was trying to hack me to bits for whatever reason, so I could talk to a nice old man about something I wasn’t paying attention to because it wasn’t super interesting. After the conversation finished it told me I had to go back to the person I’d been sent by, which meant going all the way back the way I came. Needless to say, discovering that fast travel isn’t a thing upset me slightly, but luckily I know the following three commands to type into the console: “tcai”, “tcl”, “tgm”. With my new abilities of an infinite sprint, flying and being ignored by people who had wanted to kill me a minute before hand, I flew through the terrain to my destination. Cheating, I know, but I didn’t have the mental stamina to fight my way all the way back.
Getting back to the point, while playing I noticed something I liked: Sure AI clearly have played Skyrim quite a lot because they’ve added some pretty cool features. For instance, if you have a follower who walks too far away from you or gets lost somehow (which happens all the time in Skyrim), the games puts a marker above their head. It’s simple, but it made finding my follower a lot easier than it would have been without it.
Another little nice feature was the way they’ve done dialogues. Some ideas have been borrowed from the Witcher, including how the dialogue options point out which options will move the conversation on, and which will just give you more information. It makes sure you don’t say something that you can’t unsay which might cause issues later. The other thing is the knowledge system. The knowledge system is one which tells you that this option will give you information about the world. The interesting thing about is that it’s set up in a ‘collect them all’ type of system. This is good because I’d have never asked about these things otherwise, and I actually learned quite a lot about the world of Enderal this way. Now I’m looking for them and actively wanting to know these juicy, interesting facts.
The whole theme of this game is a bit weird and conflicting; it looks like Skyrim, but it’s all a bit darker and more brutal. While playing Skyrim I never, for instance, come across a corpse hanging from a tree or had characters effin’ and jeffin’ all over the place. I quite like it, but I also don’t. It’s like a halfway point between the themes of the Witcher and Skyrim – I find that bizarre, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it with many hours of playing.
After all that you might be wondering why it is that I said that I loved this game/mod. Well, it’s more Skyrim, innit. Between thirty and a hundred hours of it. I’ll take it. I’ll take it and run with it. It gives me something to do with myself until Skyrim Special Edition comes to us in October. To sum up, play this mod if you have Skyrim; you’ll probably enjoy it. If the loading screens don’t bore you to death, that is.