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All In, Enderal [Travelogue of Skyrim Total Conversion Mod, Enderal]

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Guile, May 21, 2017.

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  1. Threadmarks: Update 61
    Guile

    Guile Clothes That Kill Virgins

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    The Takeaway: Endings (1)

    I’ve been trying to find a way to divvy up how I want this to go, and it’s been hard finding a system I’m happy with. There are things in the ending that are the culmination of 40+ hour long mysteries or character arcs that the game has been building throughout most of its runtime, and things that only pop up now in the ending(s) as a plot twist. And then there’s stuff like the Black Guardian who is kinda both. There were things that I think worked and things I think didn’t, and things that worked but I was kind of hoping would go some other way. The best way I’ve come up with is to try and follow the flow of the endings themselves, but along the way to pick out each main mystery, character and set-piece of the ending and run through what I think about it. This will probably necessitate some jumping around, so we’ll see how well I stick that landing. I thought about color-coding things green and red and blue to indicate how well it worked for me, but honestly I feel like everything has pros and cons to it so that didn’t work out.

    Well, I say ‘the ending’ but I think I’ll start at the tail end of For the Greater Good, work my way through Shards of Order I and II, Fleshless, and then the actual endings of Catharsis and Brave New World. And maybe the new ending, A Story From Spring, if I can find it on youtube.

    This is gonna get long. Strap in.

    For the Greater Good involves attending a bunch of funerals, the last round-up of companion talks, and then the High Ones possessing a bunch of Keepers as a ‘everything is fucked’ prologue to learning about Natara’s betrayal. I want to stress that individually and as a means of setting the stage for the endgame, all of this stuff is good. Even if I’m baffled as to how Calia managed to survive getting bounced around a metal ball falling from the sky only to pop out on landing and bash her head on a rock, the companion work is as on-point as it always is. Even if I think they missed a step by not making her an Initiate we actually know, like Elia, the possessed Keeper bit does a good job in making you care about this no-name initiate in the 30 seconds she gets. Because she’s a fan of the Prophetess, she likes us and so it’s hard not to like her back. Then the possession. It works well. The dialogue is smart, voice acting is good. That uneasy sinking feeling sitting in your gut like a lead weight, that’s a good feeling.

    The problematic bit here is Natara deciding, “Hey, you know, Jorek had a pretty good idea with this ‘betray the city to Coarek’ plan, let’s do that again.” It’s excusable as a desperate woman grasping at straws to see hope where there is none, but she literally saw how this went down the other week with Jorek. Maybe she wasn’t there in person when Coarek explained how he intended to crucify every single person from Ark that he could catch, but presumably someone mentioned it to her at some point? And last time there were these Nehrimese infiltrators stabbing commoners in the marketplace, it was a bad scene. I have more sympathy for Jorek, who up until that point had only seen the Nehrimese and Arantheal locked in a bloodless religious argument. But that ship kinda sailed. Into our harbor, to start murdering us to death.

    I feel like things needed to be more desperate for her allying with Coarek to seem like a good idea. With Sha’Rim being able to throw up impregnable entropy barriers and the general setting ability of teleportation means that I’ve been popping in and out of the city a dozen times to go about my business. You can’t really see the Nehrimese army camped outside, either. That’s a problem for making the player feel the city’s dire straits.
    I’m thinking there should have been more background conversation showing this being a problem. The farms are outside the city, maybe the Order worried about food stores running low or the Nehrimese burning them. Maybe the city is facing parchment storages for their lucicrously-convenient teleport scrolls. Needing to pay the Rhalata to smuggle food and contraband in and out through Undercity tunnels, and that being unsustainable. That last one would pull double duty by planting the thought of Undercity tunnels in our head, to come up later when we need to find the City of a Thousand Floods. Show Tealor ignoring these factors, knowing that one way or another this is all over in a couple of weeks anyway, but have Natara take them seriously and come up with plans to stave off the mundane problems. Tealor and Natara have an explosive argument in-game with a similar theme, but I’d like to see that fissure splintering more. Maybe have sidequests helping Natara with her quartermaster problems, which would pull double-duty with getting us to sympathize with Disapproving Order Mom more.
    Well, all that aside, the real problem was some random (extremely well voice acted) Keeper stumbling back through the gates and explaining the plot. Either give us enough of a warning (one of her rogue Keepers having a change of heart, say) to come down off the mountain and see Natara let Coarek into the city, or let it be Natara who drags herself back to report her fuck-up and beg for absolution. Her going out off-screen isn’t the end a complex, angry, contrary bitch like Natara should have gone. Of course, Coarek ended up getting much the same treatment as his victim here, which I guess you could see as justice, but that doesn’t really help the feeling like this could be so much cooler.

    A question with the benefit of hindsight: Just how constrained are the High Ones? They don’t need to break the Beacon to win, which might have been tricky with just a few possessed humans, but literally the only thing they need is for someone to turn on the Beacon and it’s off to Disneyland. They can’t do it. Possessed humans can’t do it. Only a certified, 100% organic human can turn on the machine. I figured at the time that they were just goofing around, and maybe they are, but it feels like they’re bound by the Cycle to repeat themselves too. How else would things be happening so very similarly every time?

    Shards of Order I involves the four-man squad (Tealor, Sha’Rim, Jespar and the Prophetess) heading down through the secret Order tunnels (that have never been mentioned before now, but I suppose, why would they be?) into the Undercity, and heading on to the City of a Thousand Floods. I appreciate again how Tealor’s speech puts his martyr complex in plain language, and Jespar is hanging around afterwards to draw the player’s attention to it with big red warning signs. I wonder if Calia would be more down for Team Martyr, if I’d picked her as my love interest?

    A question with the benefit of hindsight: The whole goddamn Cycle apparently hinges on Tealor choosing Sha’Rim for his team. On the one hand, Sha’Rim makes perfect sense for a dream team, being a master Entropist and probably some other stuff too. On the other hand, Lexil is the one with the actual ‘Archmage’ title, and Commander Eren is apparently a bad enough dude (ette?) to murder Coarek’s heavy, Sammael. Heck, Calia is up and around now, if not up to full strength. Any of those three would have been a logical draft pick too. If it was Lexil there at the end, he would’ve said ‘Yes sir, Mister Arantheal’ and popped on over to Word of Dead that High One ASAP. I don’t think this was a bad way for things to go, it was the most dramatically impactful way for it to shake out after all. It’s just funny that Sha’Rim and the High Ones are both hinging his (and therefore, their) whole plan on getting chosen for this one job.

    There’s basically no reason for the possessed Keeper we run into in the basement except to build up the sense of unease. He does a good job of pushing the eerie atmosphere, but it does remind us: why was Tealor not more concerned about the Beacon when any Keeper seems able to be possessed at will? At the time, we still thought the High Ones were trying to destroy the Beacon. I’m going to go ahead and fill in this hypothetical pothole myself and hypothesize that was why Calia was found at the base of the stairs leading up to the Beacon, during the ending. While we were the strike team, she was the defender. It doesn’t exactly fit, unless Tealor for some reason knew about the Beast when we never told him, but it kinda fits. In retrospect, the mission reports for her must have been pretty crazy. There was that time she killed an entire mage mercenary company by herself, and all.

    I would not have wanted Tealor’s job. S’all I’m saying.

    Shards of Order II involves getting to the City of a Thousand Floods. One noteworthy bit here is the High One’s ghostly puppet show recreation of Arantheal’s old shame, sending off his child over his God-king-wife’s protests. It’s a bit of an exposition dump, as so much of Enderal’s endgame is, but not an egregious one. You could even say this is an excellent exposition dump. We get to see the scene in ghostly red, and there’s in-character reasons for the High One to be dragging Tealor right now. I mean, amusement, of course, because the High Ones are all a huge bunch of 4th dimensional cunts. But also, the more I think about it the more I think the Black Guardian has to be right about this being a trial. I’m not sure if Tealor passed or failed, or even if this is a pass/fail type of trial. It feels like this could be picking at his weaknesses for funsies. But with the benefit of hindsight and the Guardian’s guess…

    As a side-note, Young Tealor certainly seems to have gotten his way here and sent Baby Narathzul off with a handmaid, all the better for poetic irony (if you’re a High One, I mean) when his son murdered his life’s work and also his wife. Indra must be kind of a wimp of a Lightborn, to let her man talk to her like this. I also wonder how common arrangements like this were with the Lightborn. I mean, they’re still human (-ish), why wouldn’t they marry or have a hundred concubines, whatever floats their boat? This is pretty great from a world-building perspective, and I love that I still love that I’m getting world-building this late in the game, if that makes sense.

    Then there’s the High Ones suddenly summoning in a couple dozen horned red axe-wraiths. Are these High Ones? Are they just ghosts? I have my doubts about how well this gels with the Black Guardian’s later assertion that the High Ones can only tempt and trick, not end the world themselves. And it feels weird that they never do this before or since. It’s a cool fight, but it feels like SureAI is stretching the lore of the game to fit in a fun fight? If I needed to come up with a reason for it to fit with what came before, I’d say this is probably also part of some trial, and the High Ones can’t do this whenever they feel like it. Because otherwise they could have just tossed wraiths at the city until they won, because these guys are hard and there’s only like a hundred Order members. Heck, the ghost-dragon alone could probably burn Ark to the ground.

    A question with the benefit of hindsight: These carbon-black figures in the Pyrean capital were a great choice to build atmosphere. Now that we know the Pyrean Beacon is located in the temple at the heart of the city, it means they are literally running to their doom. Great parallel with what we’ve been doing all game. That said… why are they all standing up? In the endings we see that all our pals are doing a lot of huddling in the fetal position. Maybe the Pyrean Beacon works quicker than our version? But also, if these statues survived 50,000 years from their time to ours… why haven’t we seen them in other Pyrean locations around the world? The whole world got Cleansed, after all. I can’t remember if we saw them in the Living Temple, but really anywhere with lots of crystals was supposed to be a Pyrean site, right? No statue-people there. Maybe they turn into crystal… except these guys didn’t. Maybe they’re a power source, maybe they’re the red wraiths somehow, maybe… I can’t quite figure it out.

    This whole segment contains some things that are never really explained. What is the Numinos doing sleeping here? Is the Numinos the High One formed by the Pyreans, and it’s still forming 50,000 years later? What I reeaally wanted here is to interface with the Numinos myself, and get some answers straight from the tap. It’s possible this would just dilute Sha’Rim’s betrayal with a bunch of unnecessary lore stuff, but I really think you could make it work if the Prophetess and Sha’Rim went into the Numinos together. Or heck, what about all three amigos? You could get some answers from the nascent High One, you could see some of Sha’Rim’s memories and see Arantheal slowly come to the realization of what’s driving Sha’Rim rather than him announcing ‘haha, I’m betraying you now and here’s why.’ This would by necessity balloon out the quest with a bunch of new assets and cells, but it has the potential to be amazing. We’re all here for the character drama, right? It’s not just me? Just plug me in and feed that complex character backstory straight into my veins, please and thank you.

    A question with the benefit of hindsight: Sha’Rim here mentions that he was behind Lishari’s death. On the one hand; of course he is, damn. His timing on that was ridiculous, showing up as soon as I saw the cooling body on the bed. It explains what she wanted to talk about. It’s possible him being an old lover was a dodge of his own, but it would explain why she was naked in bed when she died. Except why would she have slept with him if she was about to finger him? Maybe she didn’t know who the traitor was, exactly, and trusted the wrong guy? Oh, also: if he’s really talking to his wife Naea all the time – and as a master necromancer, why would he be? – then does she just… like to watch? Awkward.

    And, kind of getting away from the ending more and more here but... I do feel like getting a sidequest to help Commander Eren look for the murderer would have been lovely. Lishari’s death felt swept under the rug, which was weird. The Order could give two shits about Narathzul’s followers, but I personally wanted nothing more than to investigate at the time. A little quest to look into things would draw out the ‘get rekt scrub’ revelation at the end here if you looked into it and decided he was in the clear, only to be wrong all this time. Plus it would flesh out Eren, which is only a plus. She kind of showed up halfway through the story, and I never quite knew what her deal was.

    Shards of Order II ends with the last appearance of the Veiled Woman. She started the game by seeing you dead. I believe it’s claimed that she’s responsible for the Fleshless/Emissaries, which include at least the Prophetess, Tealor, Coarek, Jespar and Calia, and maybe some secondary characters too. Lexil survived when his master came down with fleshmaggots; Sha’Rim survived a purge. That seems suspect, to say the least. Probably not Constantine and Lishari, more’s the pity. She ends up saving your life again, here at the end. She’s so important, and we know so little about her. Her powers, her purpose, her motivations.

    Honestly though, while my first thought on running through this part was ‘But what about the Aged Man and Veiled Woman, tho’ and wanting to know everything about her, I’ve come around to appreciating her. Enderal has a lot in common with cosmic horror-style weird fiction, a la the Lovecraft mythos. In cosmic horror, half the time everything is going wrong because someone learned knowledge Man Was Not Meant To Know, and Enderal has that vibe. In those stories, you almost never get to know what the hell is going on or why.

    I don’t think the problem with the Veiled Woman is her being a deus ex machina, or not ever understanding what the hell she’s doing and why. We don’t know how the High Ones eat humanity to reproduce or how humanity comes back, either. The problem is that the Black Guardian draws attention to her during his monologue and offers a tasty snippet of information that is at odds with what we’ve observed of her during the game. That she’s a function of the universe, not a person. She doesn’t think, or feel, or anything so human is that. Like the blind idiot god Azathoth at the center of the universe in the Lovecraft mythos, the Black Guardian would have you believe the Veiled Woman sits at the center of the story but is a mere background element with no plans of her own. Except we know that the game is changing, because the Veiled Woman is doing something different than has ever happened before. It makes us anticipate gaining something like an answer, which we are then denied. You can’t ask the Black Guardian about her after that non-answer. You can’t ask the Veiled Woman. It’s just offered up and then ignored, and that feels bad.

    I’m also not crazy about her popping up and shoving the Prophetess through a portal to the Black Guardian. You have to walk a fine line about player agency, or players start to feel like their character is getting pushed from place to place with no will of her own. They start to wonder why the Veiled Woman isn’t just cutting out the middle man and saving the world directly instead of through you. The portal itself is also pretty confusing; where does it take you? There’s icicles in this tunnel. Are you still under Ark? How did Jespar find you? How did you get back to the secret tunnel after the boss fight during the ending?

    If I was going to fix this problem, I think I’d cut the Veiled Woman out of this section entirely, except with the Black Guardian. My suggestion: what if instead of finding random gewgaws to trigger the Numinos vision, you were finding parts of the Black Guardian who had of course seen the Pyreans’ fall as it has everything else through the centuries. Its power helps trigger your own, though you do not know it yet. The Black Guardian was known to the Pyreans as the God of Death, wouldn’t they want his blessing in their last desperate hour? But maybe their well-meaning symbol damaged him, made him lesser, and it was only by putting it back together that he returned to himself. You could be his savior, in a way, even as he explains the cycle.

    You could first see the giant Centurion strapped to a cliffside on the way in through the City of a Thousand Floods. The High Ones could reference it and sneer about it when debating with Tealor, maybe, something about a grand tribute to man’s hubris. The Guardian would be unmoving, dreaming of the lands above through the Eye or hiding from the sight of the High Ones. It is only in the hour of the High Ones’ triumph, with the world soon to unravel again, that he dares to wake and speak. If he were more accessible, it might explain how he made his flesh constructs, bit by bit over millions of years, only able to work and practice when the High Ones were diverted. The rest of the time, he dreamed and watched and waited. Or maybe returning his stolen pieces to him would reawaken the ability. The words of the Guardian could wake you, and you drag yourself back up through the city to find him, following his voice. He’s amazed at your resilience, since no Prophet has ever survived the Ruler leaving before. You could spitball ideas with him as you make the journey, including a random hypothesis that the Veiled Woman is making new moves, which she shouldn’t be able to do. You could have a little discussion about it, even if it just ends with the Guardian confident this is something else at play but you feeling resolute about God putting Her finger on the scales of your life again.

    This would let the player feel like a badass instead of a pawn, even if you probably still are that other thing. It wouldn’t just drag the Veiled Woman up to give you a kick in the ass through a deus ex machina portal, but leave her at a step removed. It would explain how Jespar – trapped in the City of a Thousand Floods after the wraith-dragon brought down the temple façade – managed to show up in time to save you. It would help break up the half-hour-long discussion during the Fleshless quest and give players a little something to do with their hands.

    It’s a thought, anyway.


    This feels super long already, probably because it’s trying for a more in-depth analysis than I usually do for this Let’s Play, so I’ll chop it off here and make it a two-parter with Fleshless and the endings next time.
     
  2. Threadmarks: Update 62
    Guile

    Guile Clothes That Kill Virgins

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    Late as usual. Sorry, as usual. Took a trip to New York, got four wisdom teeth removed, fun times had by all. Onward!


    The Takeaway: Endings 2

    … To the Black Guardian. I already talked last time about how I liked the idea of having the Guardian be more visible during earlier parts of the quest, and replacing the Veiled Woman’s last appearance with him talking you through getting back to him/waking him back up. Let’s set that aside and talk about the Black Guardian physically for a minute:

    The aesthetic of the Guardian is pretty much a dead match for the Starling tech we’ve seen through the game. The blocky gold metals and the eerie green flames; the Guardian itself is a super-sized Centurion. This is the aesthetic of modern Starlings like Agnod’s crashed ship, or Kurmai’s Gertrude, or Horst. The aesthetic of the <Old X> side-dungeons which I’ve been assuming were old Pyrean ruins all this time but were probably just the Starling cities that didn’t zoom up into the sky. It’s the aesthetic of the Star City that the Guardian will shortly recommend I flee to.

    This is all especially interesting, because the Prophetess comes to the same conclusion (big stompy gold robo = Starlings) and the Black Guardian is adamant that he is not a Starling, and is in fact older than them by far. Now sure, from a Doylist perspective (that is, the perspective of a real life reader, outside the text), the similarity was probably just to save on assets; they already had a giant robot, so rather than make a whole new asset for this guy…

    But it’s more interesting to consider this from a Watsonian perspective (that is, from within the text). And for that, we consider what the Ancient Starlings have been for us, thematically. I’d call it ‘superhuman knowledge brought down by human hubris.’ The Starlings were the source by which we learned of the City of a Thousand Floods and the Numinos, and so is the Guardian here to lay some final truths on us regarding the nature of the cycle. As the Starlings survived the Cleansing by using their great knowledge on some desperate ploy to hide from the Cleansing, so did the Guardian. As the Starlings eventually fell to infighting without the High Ones needing to do a thing, so shortly will the Guardian. The Starlings’ mentality doesn’t exactly map to the Guardian’s; so far as I know, the Ancient Starlings never tried to rule humanity from their floating sky city the way the Guardian would. But their purpose in the story is really very similar.

    It was a good choice thematically for the Guardian to wear their colors, even if it does mean two entire civilizations were actually that gaudy.

    The meat of the Black Guardian conversation, besides explaining the Guardian’s own backstory, is the Black Guardian laying out the two paths for the endings. He recommends fleeing to the Star City in no uncertain terms, but when you press him he acknowledges that you could also run up there and break the machine. Neither option is terribly appealing; the ‘heroic’ choice involves blowing up Enderal, while the ‘cowardly’ choice involves spending tens of thousands of years alone in the Star City, waiting for humanity to repopulate.

    As a side note, I wish we got a little more about how exactly humanity spontaneously repopulates in between cycles. The Guardian has been watching this happen dozens of times, does it seriously not merit any commentary? Whoever runs the trial is clearly pulling the species back from extinction just to run through the same exact cycle again. Whoever’s in charge, I feel like the cycle is broken. They repeat the exact same set of variables for millions of years, kept on track by a bunch of sadistic ghostly a-holes, hoping for… what? That humanity will win this time?

    If that’s what you want, just make us perfect noble super-beings, not the terribly flawed creatures that we are. There’s a certain absurdity to it. Like, at least with the Mass Effect cycle, new races were rising each time. The Reapers didn’t pick humans back up, dust us off and send us back in every single time to see if we do something clever this time.

    Anyway. Endings. It’s interesting that the two endings map reasonably accurately to our two companions; Jespar has long considered running for the hills (help back on by luuuuve), while Calia is a regular little paladin, evil shadowy monster form not-withstanding. Does Calia go with you if you flee the way Jespar does? That would seem weird. I’d expect her to take a crack at poking the Beacon even if you insisted on running away to Star City.

    Actually, at the time, my thought was that the endings seemed weirdly bleak for this game. It was difficult to pick apart why I found the bleakness unusual, though, that’s where the ‘weird’ really comes in. Fan-favorite characters have been dying throughout this entire game. I’ve been tossed from cutscene defeat to deus ex machina save half a dozen times. Enderal is a shithole populated by xenophobic peasants, supercilious noblemen and vast quantities of things that want to kill you. At this point, I like maybe three people still alive in the game, and that number will soon be cut by two-thirds. So why was I surprised that the cycle continues grinding away as it always has despite this pebble in the gears?

    I think it’s because of the Veiled Woman.

    Twice now she’s popped in as a deus ex machina to save the day, three times if you count getting me tied to a corpse and tossed overboard as a ‘save.’ So when she appeared after Tealor left be down in the dark, and sent me on my way with a side of cryptic nonsense, I just kind of assumed things were back on track. I mean, apparently she literally broke a part of the cycle (Prophet dies after Emperor leaves her) over her knee with a loud snap. Except then she provides just enough of a nudge to get me to sacrifice myself for the good of all or to save literally one whole person from the cycle.

    I’ve never gotten the impression that she has any limits on her power or autonomy; she regularly breaks the laws of space, time, life and death whenever she shows up. If she, say, seemed to be pulling a fast one on whoever was running the cycle/trial, keeping things quiet and covert and slipping a little help under the radar, then I’d more easily accept this kind of bare-bones help-but-not-really. If she seemed to be struggling to emote, or didn’t have a human form, I might assume she’s part of something much greater and only able to break away for these tiny moments. But instead, she seems to be in charge of the whole thing, and kind of sassy about it. With her kind of power, the only real explanation for being stuck with this choice is that she cares enough to change things but not enough to actually ensure I and my friends survive. I expect she doesn’t like me much.

    Question with the benefit of hindsight: So we know magic is taking phenomena from a sea of potential timelines that are apparently pretty similar; the ‘somewhere, Constantine’s beard is on fire’ concept. So is the Veiled Woman pulling this gambit on an infinite number of slightly different Earths? Or does only one timeline have to succeed to win the trial and get to not be destroyed? If the humans in the Constantine beard-fire timeline succeed, does that save everyone in every timeline? No way to know. Just a thought.

    The Black Guardian ends the conversation with a pretty effective bait-and-switch. He gets you to push a lever that begins sucking you into him and (presumably) will let him out. How does this work? Why is that lever on the outside? Would the lever let him run around in my body, or is his old body still doing fine in that weird watery casket on its chest? I have no idea, and I guess it doesn’t matter anyway because Jespar shows up to save the day.

    The trick he plays on the Prophetess is really effective, I think half because I’d kind of zoned out over a half-hour-long conversation and half because this hasn’t happened in like 20 hours (and not in the main story). There’s only a couple of recurring villains to talk to, and nobody is really trying to convince you to come along or of how nice they are, honest. None of the High Ones try to get you to change sides; they know they’re going to win just like every time before. Sha’Rim isn’t trying to turn you against Tealor Arantheal; he’s not a republic serial villain, he completed his master plan five minutes ago. Coarek talks like an evangelist, and he does have your soul ripped out if you lie to him, but he’s mostly focused on Tealor. No, the only villain who ever actually pulled a bait-and-switch like this is Pahtira, who tricked you into sticking your hand in a black hole. Which is appropriate, since she also ended up in a giant robot. The guy who ended up in the Black Guardian was either their cycle’s Yerai or their cycle’s Pahtira. Parallels all up in this bitch.

    Honestly, the Black Guardian is one of the high points of the entire game, even if I think there are small ways to tie him into the story better.

    I don’t really have any problems with the way the endings are constructed. Yes, they’re dark, but not that dark. Sure humanity is dead (again), but living out your life in a paradise-city in the sky with your boo isn’t the absolute worst thing that could happen. Yes, it’s weird that interrupting the Beacon in the middle of doing its thing causes it to explode, but I’m not a magitech engineer. I think that some visual cue that wandering around as everyone else has their soul torn out is difficult might be nice, but it’s still nicely atmospheric without that.

    My problem is that most of these people – all the biggest names left alive on both sides of the war – are comatose. Archmage Lexil Merrayil is mumbling deliriously but you can’t talk to him. Sammael’s dead. Commander Eren and Coarek are checked out. Coarek’s other lieutenant, the rogue girl, isn’t even around. Calia and Tealor get a few lines, and that’s great! I just want more of that.

    What was that cultist-looking motherfucker Sammael’s deal? Or the rogue-type girl from the island? Who knows. How did Commander Eren manage to kill a guy who can tear your soul out of your body? Iunno. Is Lexil still keeping the faith, certain he can come up with a way to stop this, does he wish he’d left us to go looking for his mom like he talked about that one time? Eh. How does Coarek feel about fighting his way in here only for Tealor to flip the table at the last second and accidentally kill everybody? You’ll just have to imagine. How do those random no-name Keepers that have been keeping me abreast on Order gossip all game feel about all this? Sorry, they’re all dead.

    That’s the easy way, if you just want to record a few more lines. If you want to keep the quiet, maudlin tone of the ending.

    The more-work method would have been to get back up there right in the midst of everything. It’s easy to give up and flee to the moon when everybody is already dead. What if, instead, Coarek with a bloodied Natara at his feet was shouting up at Tealor to give himself up like a good martyr, and Tealor was steeling himself to make the hard choices? If Eren and Sammael were locked in combat there in the courtyard? If Calia had unleashed the Beast and become the terrified savior of the few, faltering nameless Keepers? If Lexil was frantically prodding the machine and muttering ‘Stall him! Give me five minutes, I’m sure I can come up with something if I just had five minutes to think!’

    And there you and Jespar are. There to tip the scales, right? Not… as such, no.

    Could you talk Coarek down, engage in a proper three-way debate with the fate of the world in the balance? Would Coarek deviously use a dialogue to let Sammael get close enough to tear out your soul again, dooming the world?

    Question with the benefit of hindsight: Just a random thought here, but if I’m a Fleshless… some kinda person-copy made by the High Ones, or a magical construct or a soul-made-flesh or who the fuck knows… how can Sammael just tear out my soul like it ain’t no thang? Who are you, buddy?

    Ahem. Could you kill Tealor and everyone else in that courtyard, guarding the Beacon like Cerberus at the gates of Hell? Could you abandon your friends in their hour of need, turning your back on their last entreaties and screams? Could you force the last staunch survivors of the Temple into the pods, even be it against their wills, determined to save any you could? What if the High Ones showed up for one last gloat, secure in the knowledge that humanity always dooms itself?

    Maybe having a bunch of options here would have been too complex to code, or not fit the themes and style SureAI was going for. But I can’t help but regret all the exciting possibilities that the endings we got closed off.

    The endings also have one last trip to the dream house, which was also kinda short-changed. In the ‘break the Beacon’ ending Catharsis, you have to click on the four tombstones out front of the house, symbolically choosing death. In the ‘flee to the Star City’ ending Brave New World, a ghost of Jespar leads you away from the house, symbolically symbolizing your flight from death. Both solid, symbolism-wise. The problem with these is that I had no idea what the fuck I was supposed to do, and had to consult an online guide before I even noticed the tombstones were there.

    Plus, look. I recognize that Daddy was a creation of the High Ones, and they already got everything they wanted out of me. There’s no reason for Mr. Nightmare Fuel to show up. But I was pumped to walk up to the house, rap on the door, and punch Daddy right in his smug, nonexistent face. I’m not saying that I needed to symbolically murder the hold the High Ones had over me like this was Cloud Strife kicking Sephiroth out of his soul at the end of Final Fantasy VII, but it would have been nice, y’know?

    We could have had a dialogue with the High Ones, free from artifice because they no longer need to manipulate me (or an independent construct of theirs, since in one ending I’m ostensibly trying to hide from them). Or it didn’t have to be Daddy. I would have accepted Aixon, that weirdo sort-of self from the drug-trip prison vision; how annoyed would that asshole have been if he realized I totally slipped the net? Heck, I would have accepted a conversation with Dream Jespar, like, ‘Look, it’s been a hard couple of days, take care of Real Me, okay?’ since he's here already, and all. Or a future vision, interacting with Future Jespar rallying the world against the High Ones (you get a voice-over explaining how things went in the ending in which you died), or letting me talk with some Fleshless from the past, or whatever! The Echo is weird, I would have bought almost anything as being possible at that point.

    I dunno, I guess I didn’t have enough talking despite the Black Guardian being like 75% talk.
     
    useless101, Malorius and RyubosJ like this.
  3. Threadmarks: Update 63
    Guile

    Guile Clothes That Kill Virgins

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    This’ll be the last update I make as part of this series, I think, until and unless I run through the new content from Forgotten Stories. Thanks for sticking with me through this long (long, long…) project. It’s been something I could use to unwind for a couple of hours a week (or month, I can be honest) writing stream-of-consciousness blather about something I enjoy. It’s amazing how easy writing this series has been, compared to things like short story work or fanfic.
    And now, off we go with…


    The Wrap-up:
    This game has been a pleasure to play.

    I don’t claim it’s a perfect game. Maybe only an 8 or a 9 out of 10, if I were a game reviewer assigning a number based on a gut check. Some of that is the limitations of the game engine; I think the landscapes are generally better than base Skyrim – many are legitimately beautiful – but there’s no getting away from Bethesda’s poe-faced and stiffly-animated character models. Some of that is the occasional gameplay decision that didn’t really land; that platforming segment in the Living Temple, some way unforgiving difficulty spikes throughout the game, especially early on, and my loathing for cutscene defeats has likely been noted once or twice among my readers. And as my readers would notice, while I like almost everything plot-related in the game, I think some parts of them could stand to be deeper or better.

    But the story is deep and evocative. It tackles complicated, adult subject matter with purpose and determination. And by ‘adult subject matter’ I don’t mean ‘sex’, although hey, there’s that too! And nobody makes a big deal of you getting into bed with your love interest now and then. It’s just a thing consenting adults do when there aren’t Vatyr to be murdered or mystical evil doo-dads to find. But I mean issues of life and death (and undeath), of racism, of responsible use of power both political and personal, of rhetoric and hope leading people into evil, and of course, religion. Looots about religion. Sci-fi is the traditional medium for exploring real-world issues with enough distance that people don’t have knee-jerk reactions based on real-world events, but clearly it can work in fantasy too.

    People are allowed to have good reasons for the things they do, even the stupid ones that get people killed. People in general in this mod are great, barring a few bizarre exceptions in the side-quest content like the addict girl who seemed normal at first glance, then had a psychotic break, locked her brother in a cage and tried to murder him and the heavily-armed malcontent he hired (you). The voice acting is top notch for any game, which makes the VA work incredible for a free mod.

    The worldbuilding is dark but lovingly crafted into a fascinatingly cracked society. Enderaleans are a bitter, xenophobic lot, trapped in a strict caste system, and strongly religious in a world where God is dead. Barring a few kindly souls, they generally hate you, individually and institutionally. But I still want to know everything about them. Let me know more about Sublimes, SureAI. Give me more proselytizers and town criers in the Ark marketplace. Let me poll random fleshmaggot victims about their political opinions. Give me more lyrical gushings from the greatest terrible poet I’ve ever met. Teach me about the Rhalata grubbing in the muck, Natara’s supercilious reams of Order history, the Qyran intellectual polygamists and Arazealean witch hunters and asshole Kilean merchants and militantly atheistic Nehrimese, the Starlings dreaming of their lost home in the skies, the Skaragg barbarians with Lovecraftian horrors locked in cave paintings, the myriad wonders and terrors of the Lightborn’s reign. An unnecessary amount of the world SureAI created seems to be populated by bandits and monsters and undead (wandering the trackless wilderness from monster to monster is somebody’s jam, but it isn’t mine), but the parts of the world with people in it pop more than Skyrim’s werewolf warriors and lonely, sullen mage colleges and nonsensical thief guilds and empty, pointless orc villages ever did.

    The music is absolutely wonderful. This is a game where I have stopped while riding through a random farm and listened to a track from start to finish. If the music team for Enderal have other work on Soundcloud or CDs or whatever, please, let me know. Because, wow. And the minstrels in every tavern might be the same two vocalists (one male, one female), but the songs are hauntingly beautiful and further color Enderal’s background with a steady, thoughtful hand. I mean, sometimes that background is fucking weird, like with the Song of the Vatyr, but that shit still had a lot of thought put into it.

    I think that’s what makes it easy to get so into Enderal, in the end. A smart plot is necessary, of course. Well, a plot, anyway; intelligent narrative design is appreciated but probably not required. I’ve played games where the plot was vague nonsense, and that can be okay if there’s something else to focus on instead. People to interact with, characters you can wind up and watch putter along, you need those too. But then you give those characters backgrounds that bounce and catch against others, creating a tapestry of competing ideologies and beliefs. That’s gravy. Then you add art and music, poetry and history and culture. Collections of religious fables and encyclopedias. Mythology and beliefs; competing mythologies, even. A bonus. Extras. But as you pile on all these separate pieces, the world becomes richer and more interesting. It becomes the sum of all these things, and even more than the sum of its parts. In little ways, it becomes a true world, that you can watch from the other side of your computer monitor. If you’re lucky, and SureAI has done their job right, the secondary world comes alive and you exist there instead for a little while. SureAI put a lot of thought into everything to do with this world. They worked so, so hard to create a world with heft, with the weight of history. A living world makes it easy to want to live there.

    Well, maybe not live there live there, Enderal is kind of a shithole. But you get what I mean.

    Better to end this retrospective here, I think. I can feel it getting heavier with – not the weight of history, but of all that pretentious arthouse critic stuff. So I’ll just say: so long, SureAI, and thanks for a year and a half of enjoyment.
     
  4. Introspective Tinkerer

    Introspective Tinkerer Searching for their Answer

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    You interested in trying the other game's?
     
  5. Guile

    Guile Clothes That Kill Virgins

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    To my understanding, the last game besides Enderal was Nehrim as a mod for Oblivion, right?

    I'm kind of curious, but Oblivion was never really my jam.
     
  6. Introspective Tinkerer

    Introspective Tinkerer Searching for their Answer

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    There was also one for Morrowind.
     
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