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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.
     
    DeltaCortis, Hellkite and RyubosJ like this.
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