The RPG Scrollbars: A Trip To Enderal

Even by RPG standards, Skyrim total conversion Enderal [official site] deserves some kind of prize for a depressing opening. A happy summer’s day twisting into a nightmare of dead family, fire and flesh. From there, starving aboard a ship with a friend, all in the hope of finding a new life across the sea. Discovery. Murder. Near drowning. Waking up to find that you have special magic powers… and almost as quickly that in Enderal, that’s pretty much the local equivalent of coming down with the clap. An illness to be treated, which will probably lead to insanity and an agonising death. Anything else, world?

On second thoughts, better not ask. Just play this excellent mod.

Has it really been five years since Skyrim came out? Firing up Enderal, it’s surprisingly tough to tell. It’s the total conversion that players have been waiting for – a complete new RPG in the Skyrim engine, and the follow-up to the popular Oblivion mod Nehrim: At Fate’s Edge. Shamefully, I never got around to playing that one for myself, but this one? This one I’ve been looking forward to for a while. Some fifteen hours in, I’m nowhere near done, but I don’t mind saying it’s the perfect reason to both pull your adventuring boots on, and give Skyrim back its hard drive space.

One of the most interesting things about mods is that they can be seen through two lenses – how close they are to their core game, and how they differ. Enderal feels like Skyrim. It uses Skyrim’s menus, Skyrim’s combat, and while it uses a different metaphor (stones rather than constellations) it uses a lot of Skyrim’s raw systems. At the same time though, play it like Skyrim and you’re going to find yourself eating dirt within quite short order. Much of its DNA comes from games like Gothic and The Witcher, and most of the systems are changed up in some way.

There’s no levelling-by-doing for instance, just by purchasing or discovering expensive spellbooks. If you want to rest to heal, you’ll need a bed, and not just to hit the Rest button and giggle that the Elder Scrolls universe has a day of the week called ‘Turdas’. There’s no level-scaling either. Be careful where you wander. As befits its German origins, Enderal feels far more European in style than American. Less forgiving, albeit not hardcore.

It’s in overall design philosophy that things really stand out though, for better and worse. I’ve been trying to put my finger on why Bethesda’s RPGs haven’t really done it for me in recent years, while the same basic game served up by the likes of Obsidian would go right to the top of my wishlist, and why The Witcher 3 had me hooked for over a hundred hours despite my barely making it to ten in Fallout 4.

There’s lots of specific reasons, sure, but increasingly it feels like… and this is just opinion, not fact… Bethesda aims for a consistent level of quality. Predictable. Safe. Consistent. A town is more or less a town, with maybe some fun quests in it, but nothing that’s going to stand out too much. Conversely, every area in something like The Witcher or New Vegas feels like its designated designers’ chances to shine – to show off, to make their mark. Graphed, the Bethesda model is a bit of a wibbly line with occasional bursts for something like the Dark Brotherhood or Skyrim’s Daedric quests, while the competition is peaks and troughs. In the first, you generally know what’s round the corner. In the second, it could be anything. Which isn’t to say that the second is automatically better. It’s much riskier, as you can pretty much guarantee that if one person really adores part of the game, someone else is going to bitterly hate it. It’s Newton’s First Law of Embuggerance, the bane of designers everywhere.

Playing Enderal offers a similar comparison, for better and worse. It’s a much more linear experience than Skyrim – though you can go wandering off if you like – and a much more controlled one. Much of the open world, for instance, is very obviously corridors, albeit lined with cliffs and trees rather than conventional walls, and the lack of levelling controls where you can go much more than anything in the base game ever did. As gorgeous as it all is, the old-school design peeps through quite often.

One good example of this comes early on, near the bottom of a ravine that you’re funnelled through on the way to the start of the quest proper. You meet a healer who helps out with your hero-flu (made worse by stumbling through magical areas or drinking potions), but your controls are locked off while his friend arrives. Then, you get a vision of bandits attacking… again, you’re unable to move. Then the bandits attack and you’re still stuck to your chair, because the plot needs you to get knocked on your ass and rescued by the first proper friendly NPC. Forget any clever choices, like trying to defend the guy or trying to join the bandits instead. Sit! Stay! Good hero!

For the most part though… and the big exceptions being early on… Enderal is worth the occasional frustrations that come of its own making and the ones inherited from Skyrim. It helps that it genuinely feels like a world in and of itself, and a very different one. While Skyrim wasn’t the cheeriest game in the world, Enderal can be quite depressing when its plot kicks off and you start working through its mysteries and realising just how bad things are. Still, at least it’s pretty! Not only does it make great artistic use of the Skyrim engine, not having to worry about consoles has led to a boost in system requirements to allow for better textures out of the gate, splendid draw distances on open areas, and absolutely glorious scenery to capitalise on how much a decent PC can do now as compared to the Dark Ages of 2011.

It’s still not as pretty as The Witcher III, but it is wonderfully detailed with both gorgeous stuff like multicolour grasses blowing in the wind, and less pleasant stuff like the near monochromatic cold areas of the map, and corpses hanging from trees. Even if exploring per se isn’t really the focus, the further you get, the more of it you can do, and it’s a pleasure to wander around this world and admire everything from the dungeon design and detailing to the vistas carefully arranged near every cliff. No expense has been spared, from the number of location types, to the collectibles on offer as you explore, to tiny environmental details in the buildings and caves.

Despite this being a German mod, Enderal also features a strong English language cast and translation. If you want to play Spot The Typo, you can, but that’s being mean. The voices vary, but overall are at least as good as those in Skyrim, and often a notch better. Certainly there’s nothing I’ve found so far that has jarred or gotten in the way as a result of translation or acting. Were it not for familiar Skyrim elements, from SkyUI to the re-used assets, it’d be easy to just consider Enderal an entirely brand new RPG. And it would still be one of the more enjoyable of the year.

Enderal doesn’t reinvent the Skyrim style genre of questing by any stretch, and if you’re not a fan of Bethesda’s original, this probably won’t change your mind. It does however take regular advantage of being able to do whatever it wants for the story it wants to tell, filling in where Skyrim stumbled, while still stamping its own world and identity on top. If you don’t mind its tendency to take the controls or insist on a specific approach particular quests, it’s one of the best additions to Skyrim so far. Certainly, it kicks the living snot out of the official DLC that Bethesda yawned out for Skyrim before moving on. Seriously, all that potential, and what did we get? Hearthfire. Bloody Hearthfire.

To download Enderal, head here. You’ll need the installation package, the launcher, and an installed copy of Skyrim – don’t worry, a base version will do. The installation will automatically backup the original game and any mods you have running, starting you out clean. A few mods are Enderal compatible, but check first. It’s about a 10GB download, with patches already available in the launcher. It runs pretty smoothly on my system, though I did hit a few bugs, including not being able to change screens in the character creator and the menus sticking off the bottom of my ultrawidescreen monitor. Overall though, it was fine. It’s worth keeping it up to date though because even more content is on its way very soon – a quest chain called The Golden Sickle, starring Dave Fennoy (Lee from The Walking Dead games), once it’s been debugged properly. There’s also plans for more, including a story pack later this year.

All of which is very cool, though the game itself isn’t exactly short on content as it is. Now that The Witcher 3 is over, we’ve got a bit of a gap before the next big fantasy game hits, and Enderal is a great way of bridging that gap with something fresh yet familiar, pretty yet complex, and with old school sensibilities but a reluctance to flay the skin from your bones and turn it into a grisly coat. If that’s not worth a download, I don’t know what is. WinZip, maybe. Useful program. But this is definitely more fun.

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  1. Thurgret says:

    7zip. Undoubtedly (in my mind) a superior alternative to WinZip.

    Also, yes, Enderal is splendid.

    • OmNomNom says:

      Winrar is faster and has better format support than both

      • aepervius says:

        winrar cost money 7zip does not.

        As for compressing better, the difference is minimal enough that I ditched winrar and never looked back.

          • Arcturan Megadonkey says:

            Meh. I guess it’s my age showing, or I’ve been reading about too many insidious dark patterns lurking in software and on websites and their increasingly vile presence on the web that rarlab with it’s surprisingly trusting license means I didn’t really get a chuckle out of that video (not that it offended me or anything).

            Just to double check I wasn’t wrong, I went and downloaded the macOS archive from their website and I was able to run the executable straight-up, no nagging or anything. The only thing I spotted was a plain old txt file containing the license asking you to pay up if you use it for more than 40 days.

            But I agree though, 7zip is better. Or in my case, p7zip installed via homebrew.

        • PancakeWizard says:

          “winrar cost money”

          No it doesn’t. Why would you buy the ‘pro’ version? It’s like Winzip, everyone just uses the shareware one.

  2. Stevostin says:

    Can’t get interested in Witcher.
    – no FPV = no immersion
    – no system = not a world = no immersion
    What’s essential in Bethesda formula is that’s it’s a system. Indeed that focus is often made at the expense of the story, but it’s also an absolute requirement for that story to be your story. Can we have the best of both worlds ? Sure, it’s called New Vegas but RPS totally missed it at the time.

    (and to be fair, Bethesda occasionally has some good story bits)

    • Thurgret says:

      Could you clarify what you mean by system?

      • Press X to Gary Busey says:

        Some level of simulation resulting in emergent[buzzwords], open-ended or unforeseen permutations of situations and possibilities. Rather than just tightly scripted events or a being on a more-or-less tightly held leash I’d guess.

        Like the stuff resulting from the often-weird loved/hated Radiant AI.

    • KhanSolo says:

      Bethesda games are a great experience for people who never read actual books. Otherwise they are pretty shallow. I stopped being able to play one the moment I opened the geck. I am still waiting for a bench that sits five people.

      • fish99 says:

        There’s some solid stories to be found in Bethesda games, just not in the main quest line. Also you’re making an assumption there that everyone that reads books also plays games for the plot, which I can assure you isn’t the case.

      • Siannah says:

        “I am still waiting for a bench that sits five people.”
        Yet the same guys bashing Bethesda for stuff like that, praise the other RPGs as the second coming of christ, where you can’t sit on any bench at all….

      • klops says:

        If by that you mean the quality of the story and writing, I’d include almost every other game ever done there.

      • CartonofMilk says:

        Games are not meant to tell you a story, they’re meant to allow you to write your own. I can’t believe so many devs still don’t get this.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      I don’t feel any difference in immersion between first person, and third person games, or perhaps it’s because in the Witcher, I’m playing as Geralt, not as generic-RPG-hero.

      One difference I have noticed, when I die in (eg) Skyrim, I swear and start again. In the Witcher I find myself always saying “Oh Geralt!”, as if it’s all his fault I tried to fight something far above my level.

      • deadlybydsgn says:

        Yeah, it’s different.

        TES games put you in the shoes of XYZ Prophesied Person, whereas The Witcher games are all about Geralt interacting with his world and the other characters. You aren’t trying to BE Geralt — you’re just controlling his story. And that’s okay.

    • ohminus says:

      I see it the other way round. There is no way to model Geralt’s senses in a first person view, and the camera allows you to get close enough to get a pretty good close-up view of things. And it’s Bethesda’s games that lack a system. They are a sack full of features poured into a sandbox without any rhyme or reason and without anyone actually ensuring that it all makes sense. Conversely, Witcher 3 has every part of the world placed with deliberation and with a sense for how it fits into the larger world. Features in Bethesda’s games have become ends rather than means.

      • FreshHands says:

        Doesn’t change the fact that I could sink 100+ hours into the rather mediocre Fallout4 without noticing – while I still wonder how 30 hours of Witcher3 came together.

        Of course, you could read this remark in favour of both games, I guess.

        • neems says:

          Well I have apparently played 69 hours of Fallout 4, God only knows how. And I have played 198 hours of Witcher 3 (and still haven’t finished the dlc).

        • OmNomNom says:

          I’m exactly the same, I love most RPG but I bounce right off the Witcher series for some reason. I’ve tried to play them all over the years (multiple times) and I find I just get bored silly after about 5-10 hours

          • OmNomNom says:

            Meanwhile I have 450 hours in Skyrim….

          • brucethemoose says:

            You aren’t alone. I REALLY want to like it, but I’ve bounced off TW2 and TW3 every time I’ve tried.

        • ohminus says:

          Fallout 4, the game with the protagonist who became an electrical engineer, a civil engineer, a mechanic and a scientist all in one, all while in cryogenic sleep… “Jack of all trades, master of none”? Pah. We’re building settlements in our spare time and building new weapons from scraps.

    • Chaoslord AJ says:

      Dark Souls is third-person and really immersing for me. Guess it’s the feeling of danger that does it compared to carefree autosave/quicksave-games.

    • Wednesday says:

      I really don’t understand where this myth of New Vegas being well written came from. I can even remember the PC Gamer review highlighting it as dry and listless.

      New Vegas was just F03 rehashed, it really brought not a lot new to the table, save in the area of companions, where it did a lot better. What it *did* do, was reintroduce some of the original fallouts most aggravating mechanics. Re rolling a few hours in because you’ve discovered your sniper build can’t hold a rifle. Oh yeah! That brings back memories. Crappy, crappy memories.

  3. Mordaedil says:

    I’m having a problem where I crash right after the introduction scene, where an old man narrates a bit after loading and then it just goes and blows up. Any ideas/workaround?

    • Thurgret says:

      Seem to be people posting on reddit about Enderal in general (at least, my searches for information have led me there), so maybe that’s a good place to look.

      Mod definitely installed correctly? My approach to that sort of thing would probably be to just reinstall it and see if that helps. And maybe do a clean install of Skyrim, though I got away without that – their launcher seems able enough to move all Skyrim things into a backup folder.

    • SpitefulHammer says:

      Make sure SKSE is set to run as admin in compatibility options, that helped me.

    • Liveware Error says:

      I had that same issue and an uninstall and reinstall on Steam worked for me, so you can try that if all else fails!

    • Capt. Bumchum McMerryweather says:

      I take it your install of Skyrim has mods installed? If so I would suggest making a total backup of your Skyrim folder and installing Enderal to a clean install of the game. Given that this is a total conversion, it isn’t really designed to play nice with any mods, and while some do happen to work, most of them will causes hitches and bugs

    • Totor says:

      If your task manager is opened, close it, had the same issue and it worked for me.

  4. Premium User Badge

    Thirith says:

    It does sound good, Richard, but I remember Nehrim (by the same team, if I’m not mistaken) getting similar praise back then, and that one didn’t do much for me. The main reason, if I remember correctly, was the writing: while Bethesda doesn’t have great writing, they don’t tend to go for the epic-exposition-and-world-building-by-dialogue trap, which is one of my bugbears in fantasy and in RPGs. On the whole, I prefer implicit world building and characterisation, and I find that those are too rare in a lot of genre fiction, doubly so in genre storytelling in games.

    • Richard Cobbett says:

      There’s a lot of that here. Can’t comment on how much it’s changed, but I’ve played games worse for it.

      • Premium User Badge

        Thirith says:

        Thanks. It’s a shame, since it sounds like they did a lot of things very right, but I think I’ll give it a miss then. It’s a style of writing that I find positively grating by now. Then again, I’m only just getting started on The Witcher 3 (+ DLC), so it’s not like I’ll run out of RPG goodness any time soon! :-)

    • Sonntam says:

      The world of Endoral is not that fascinating to sift through the dialogue detailing the intricacies of the setting. But most of that can be skipped by simply not asking characters for additional information.

      The mod really shines at the main plot, though. It’s mysteries are hinted at, it unfolds at a wonderful pace and the quests are varied and surprise you again and again. There are few games where I did not guess the plot twist midway through, but Endoral had several of them and all of them were as logical as they were stunning. It was great to look back and say “aha! now it all makes sense”.

      I think different games have different focus. Elder Scrolls is all about the world, but Endoral is not. The world and its histories are meant to illustrate main themes of the game. They are the spices in a dish, not the dish itself.

    • FreshHands says:

      As an interested third party, I would be delighted to have an example of this thing you abhor.

      A good counter-example (game) would be sufficient, thanks in advance!

  5. sleepless says:

    “There’s no levelling-by-doing for instance, just by purchasing or discovering expensive spellbooks.”

    This sucks. Knowledge shouldn’t be a luxury reserved for the wealthy elite classes!

    • Sonntam says:

      It’s funny how well this system “fixed” the whole economy of the game. Usually by the end of the game you are loaded with cash you can’t get rid off, but in Endoral I had to ration money even till the very end of the game. It was nice not to have a broken economy for once.

  6. Gavinius says:

    Only a few hours into the game, it reminds me a lot of Risen – at least for all the right reasons, with the bonus of getting magic quite quickly.

  7. Foosnark says:

    I can’t get past the name “Enderal.” It sounds like a prescription drug either for suicide, or for relieving the symptoms caused by Orson Scott Card novels.

  8. webwielder says:

    Hearthfire? Yeah that sucked, but there was other DLC for Skyrim. Dragonborn was legitimately incredible in my book.

    • SBLux says:

      I seem to be in the minority who really appreciated Hearthfire. For me, the ability to build my own house and really feel like I live in Skyrim changes the way I approach the rest of the game and so I feel I got way more out of it than a few extra story based missions.

  9. Chaoslord AJ says:

    Premium content gotten for free. Imagine a Piranha Bytes style RPG having a story to eclipse “slay the disappointing god-dragon”-Skyrim. Love the exploration with my bow-assassin and the lack of hand-holding. I’m glad now I persisted through the linear first hours with the endless waves of wolves. When the hub city is reached the world opens up.

    Will also check out the predecessor as overthrowing seven immortal tyrant-mages sounds like just my thing to play.

    • Emeraude says:

      Not exactly free. I’d be interested in getting this from everything said, but no way I’m buying Skyrim for it.

      • felis says:

        And you also need a PC to play it. And an internet connection to download it. No way you are gonna get an ISP and a computer for it, right?