Early Access games can oftentimes be a huge gamble! It can serve as a developer’s chance to make a solid first impression, but if they botch the landing, they’ve just lost a potential purchase when the full game releases. It’s a risk to be sure, but the biggest benefit it offers is that anyone who plays it can provide feedback to improve the product for the final release. It’s the reason why larger companies often host beta tests to get an idea of what needs adjusting; the same is true for smaller titles too. This brings us to ENDER LILIES: Quietus of the Knights.
As the first game published by Binary Haze Interactive, along with first-time developers Live Wire and adglobe, they’ve decided to go the Metroidvania route with ENDER LILIES. Not only that, they’ve incorporated an illustrated art style as opposed to using pixels. Its art style alone certainly leaves a strong impression, but how does it play?
Kingdom of Cursed Rain
Upon looking at the game’s promotional art, you’d expect to be playing as the stalwart knight with a shroud of mystery, but in a nice bit of subversion, that’s not the case. ENDER LILIES sees you playing as a timid young girl named Lily. She’s awoken by the aforementioned knight, who has an aetherial form and wishes to serve Lily as her protector. As you search the land and read various notes left by the locals, you learn about the White Priestess; a woman who is revered across the land as a symbol of hope against calamity. Not too far in, you discover that the land is afflicted with a curse of endless rain. Anyone who happens to touch it is corrupted by what’s known as the Blight, causing them to be transformed into monstrosities with the urge to kill. Being immune to the curse’s effects, Lily now has to purify the corruption brought about by the Blight and return the land to its once prosperous state.
The game has a very bleak tone throughout, but that was an intentional decision that I think enhances the story. You’re exploring a cursed land, corpses that exclaim their dying will as you approach them, all while those unfortunate enough to be infected by the Blight attack anyone who approaches them. This also extends to the boss fights; after you defeat them, you get these dreary flashback sequences that instantly make you feel sorry for the boss you just vanquished. That’s an astonishingly rare accomplishment in this genre!
Lily is a silent protagonist; she doesn’t say much, but her expressions and mannerisms go a long way towards establishing her character. She’s scared and timid, understandable given the world she’s been woken up to after her slumber, though she has the aetherial knight to console her, and he’s a character I quite liked too. Even without a physical form, he is sworn to his duty and has this air of mystery about him. Seeing these two interact, especially after boss fights, helps establish their relationship and personalities; this is extremely impressive, given that one of them doesn’t even talk! Even though I was unable to see the conclusion of this tale as the Early Access version does not have all of the levels, I want to see how it ends once the full game releases!
Those that Stand by You
ENDER LILIES is a Metroidvania through-and-through. A grid-based map, 2D platforming, a multitude of attack options, and a fast-travel system. So, what makes this game different? As a matter of fact, quite a bit.
You have a default attack that summons the knight to attack with his sword, but you’ll quickly gain more offensive options. Taking out mini-bosses and the actual bosses themselves awards you with them becoming aetherial warriors for you to call upon. These new warriors offer a variety of attacks like projectiles or a new physical attack, greatly diversifying the combat. At first, I was concerned that these would be a needless addition because of how easy the combat was. Though as the game progressed, new enemy types with unique attack patterns made these options greatly appreciated!
What makes these even better is the customization system. You’re able to set 6 different attacks to swap between in combat by pressing the right bumper. While a majority of attacks may only have a limited number of uses and cooldowns to avoid spamming, resting at a save point restores their uses, so it’s not as bad as it could have been. In a sense, this is a natural progression of the heart system from Castlevania. Instead of collecting hearts to serve as ammunition for items, ENDER LILIES not only simplifies this process but actively encourages experimentation because doing so won’t drain your resources. Add on top of that the option to level up each attack to improve their stats with items, and for the most part, this is a great combat system! I say “for the most part” because currently, some of the projectiles are quite overpowered, since you get over 50 uses of them before you have to recharge them. As a result, you could theoretically play with long-range attacks, and considering a lot of the attacks encourage close-to-mid-range combat, that’s a balance issue that should be adjusted for.
Movement is just as important as your attacks. The controls are pretty tight and responsive, which is critical for a game heavily reliant on platforming.
As the game progresses, you’ll unlock more traversal options, like a double jump and the ability to swim underwater. And trust me, as you enter new areas, you’re going to need them! Lily is a glass cannon; her skills may be powerful, but it only takes about 4 to 5 hits before she’s killed. Dodging is key to survival, with a handy dodge button allowing you to dive out of danger. Plus, I can’t deny that constantly diving forward was a pretty hilarious sight! Hilarity aside, it’s important to learn how to dodge as soon as possible since there are no health pickups. Despite this, Lily can pray to get some of her health back, but this is a limited resource that you need to properly manage.
If that’s dodging and praying is not enough, you’ll find items to equip that improve various stats like damage or health. As well as improving stats through items, as you defeat enemies, you will gradually gain experience and level up. Each level only slightly raises your stats, so the effects of leveling up ultimately feel negligible.
In all, the combat genuinely surprised me and helped elevate the game’s quality! With the game’s customization system, I’m fairly certain that one person won’t have the same set of skills, which is nothing but a good thing!
A Map with no Goal
At the time of writing, there are three unique areas for you to explore, each with a boss to conquer. The map is separated into zones, and I quite like it! It doesn’t spoil the layout of the zone, encouraging you to explore. When you’re ready to move on, the game marks where to go if you want to travel to a new zone. And for those of you completionists out there, you’ll love this next part: each zone is color-coded based on if there are any items left to find in that zone or not! This results in less meaningless backtracking, as you’ll know exactly where to look for hidden items. Though if you can’t reach it before acquiring a certain upgrade, you’ll at least know where to go thanks to this great addition to the user interface!
But the map itself isn’t what I liked the most, but rather, it’s the level design. While they give you the freedom to explore, most Metroidvanias are usually quite linear. They require you to get a certain item to move to another section and there’s a distinct order the developers want you to follow. ENDER LILIES subverts this notion by opting to go for non-linear design. After leaving the first area (which serves as the tutorial), the game offers two different paths for you to take, but in a stroke of genius, no one path is the correct one! You could travel up to the abandoned town or you could move down to the luminescent forest. Regardless of which one you choose, neither one halts your progress and allows you to fully complete the area and acquire the upgrade that resides there. Rather than making these upgrades pivotal for traversal, they’re used to unlock more secrets and encourage exploring the environment, which is exactly what you want a player to do in this genre! There was even an area I would have reached without completing all three areas, but the game locked me out due to it being in Early Access. Fair enough, but I really want to see how far this unique design lasts when the full game releases!
One issue I did have was something you wouldn’t expect: the camera. It feels a little bit too zoomed in at times and I regularly had to perform leaps of faith; not something you want a player to do in a game with platforms. There are even times where enemies may be right below you, so you might end up taking damage that by all rights could have been avoided.
After completing everything the Early Access build had to offer, I discovered that instead of pressing up or down on the d-pad to pan the camera, it’s instead set to the right analog stick. I have an issue with this: in a lot of 2D platformers, holding up or down on the d-pad will pan the camera in that direction to give you a better lay of the land. For some strange reason, ENDER LILIES sets this to the right stick, which is odd since there are animations where Lily looks up and crouches down when holding the d-pad up or down respectively. Plus, with it being a 2D game, your brain wouldn’t automatically consider using the analog sticks, since they’re an imprecise means to move in a 2D game. If there’s one thing I’d change, it would be the option to pan the camera by holding up or down on the d-pad.
Bleak, but Beautiful
Perhaps ENDER LILIES’ most striking aspect is its presentation, and rightfully so! The game aims to have a very dreary vibe with muted colors and derelict environments and it nails this! The environments are gorgeous and finely detailed. While I was concerned that the muted color palette would harm the game’s presentation, because of the dark tone the game is trying to convey, it actually greatly enhances it! There was also a lot of variety in locations, such as a dilapidated town overrun with goblins and a luminescent forest inhabited by a coven of witches. There’s enough variety to keep exploration interesting and engaging! Also, while the game doesn’t have a lot of cutscenes, they have this great sense of artistry with how the camera moves and how they’re framed.
The strong visual presentation also applies to the character designs; they’re beautifully drawn and help sell the bleak tone throughout! Highlights are definitely the boss and enemy designs. These were previously living people afflicted with a curse and you get that impression with how they look and are animated. Speaking of character animation, something about it feels… off. You can tell that not every single frame was animated frame-by-frame, as if a character’s limbs are tweened to move in certain ways (which technically still counts as animation.) In case you’re unaware, tweening in animation is when an object is moved to another position without needing to draw more frames. It’s a time-saving measure that looks a bit odd at times, but it’s understandable.
As pretty as the game is, it does cause some unintentional problems. Given that this is a 2D game, it’s vitally important to convey what objects are platforms and what’s just part of the environment. This is where ENDER LILIES drops the ball. You’ll regularly find objects like cliffs or shop roofs you think you can jump on, only to fall right through them. At least there isn’t any fall damage or bottomless pits, otherwise this would be a far worse issue than it already is.
The game’s sound design is quite mixed when compared to the visuals. While the music wasn’t spectacular, it did its job quite well. I even found myself whistling to one of the tracks while exploring. There’s even a neat touch to how the songs are presented, with them subtly changing based on the environment. Some notable examples include certain components of a song being removed when by save points or vocals being brought more to the forefront of a music track adding a sense of tranquility. This naturally adjusting soundtrack kind of reminded me of how NieR Automata’s soundtrack was composed and that’s never a bad thing!
However, other aspects of the sound design are not as impressive. Some of the zones in the game have absolutely no sounds to add atmosphere. Sure, pure silence can help set a certain mood, but it happens too often, and including ambient sounds like the stillness of an empty church or water droplets hitting a cave’s floor would be appreciated. On top of that, some sounds seem like they’re missing. When Lily purifies a person infected with the Blight, there’s this great visual effect to convey this, but no sound is played to accompany it. This makes the effect ring hollow and dulls the impact that could have been there.
There’s no voice acting of any kind, but there are over 10 different languages supported. Any scene where characters talk is done through text and I think it works. What doesn’t work is that during certain character interactions, you can’t press a button to advance dialogue. With a game that relies on text to tell its story, not having an option to manually advance dialogue is an odd choice.
ENDER LILIES: Quietus of the Knights genuinely surprised me! This could have been your standard Metroidvania with a unique visual style and that would have been enough for some, but it goes a step further than that. It attempts to add new twists to the standard formula and while it’s too soon to tell if it fully succeeds, this first impression is a strong one!
Currently, ENDER LILIES is on Steam Early Access, but the full game is planned to be released on Steam, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, Playstation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The 1.0 version is planned to release sometime in Q2 2021 and I’m looking forward to seeing if Lily and the aetherial knight can cleanse this cursed land. ENDER LILIES is a game you should keep an eye on; it could turn out to be something special!
ENDER LILIES: QUIETUS OF THE KNIGHTS IS (TENTATIVELY) RECOMMENDED
If you enjoy metroidvaniagames, perhaps you’d like to take a look at Touhou Luna Nights?
Many thanks goes to Binary Haze Interactive for a PC review code for this title.
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