The upcoming title, ENDER LILIES: Quietus of the Knights, is the debut game for both publisher Binary Haze Interactive and developer Live Wire, and it is preparing to hit Early Access later this month. However, leading up to this, Game Rant went hands-on with some of the early levels of the Soulslike/Metroidvania styled title.
These following first impressions are based on the opening two hours of gameplay, which surprisingly seemed to go by incredibly quickly as ENDER LILIES draws the player into its bleak, dark-fantasy world. Seeing that the game’s tags on its own Steam page already compare it to other titles, yet the two that really have the closest comparisons would be Hollow Knight and Monster Sanctuary.
The combat and traversal are both very reminiscent of the Hollow Knight experience, with these opening moments being relatively easy, but still ramping up the difficulty as the player dives deeper into the world. Many of these commonalities are also present in the entire Metroidvania genre, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that two games within the same grouping share features from time to time. That isn’t to say, though, that ENDER LILIES feels like a clone in any way, with some of its more unique abilities being the ones that the game leans into the most.
One major departure that ENDER LILIES takes from other Metroidvanias and especially from some of the best Soulslikes is the inclusion of cutscenes and an evolving narrative as the player progresses through the world. There is a lot of mystery that is left up to interpretation and smaller bits of lore hidden in item descriptions and enemy interactions, but the main story is presented up front. Binary Haze even stated that there will be an opening cutscene that was not in the version we played, but will be available by the time the game hits Early Access.
What was clear about the actual gameplay from this first impression was the versatility of combat and the vertical and horizontal motion that the player character Lily has available to her. Interestingly, the combat isn’t even something that Lily partakes in, instead summoning spirits to attack enemies for her, starting with the Umbral Knight. Looking again to comparisons, the combat is reminiscent of 2007’s Folklore, a PS3 exclusive that has a similar approach of summoning spirits to act out attacks based on button presses.
However, while Lily summons spirits to attack for her, they appear immediately to attack in a fluid motion, which is the major separation from the Monster Sanctuary comparison made previously. While defeating and collecting enemies is a large part of the game, these spirits act more like skills or weapons than individual monsters to take hits and act dynamically in a fight. So, ENDER LILIES manages to keep the capture-collect-train mentality of these types of games, but while still maintaining the faster paced action expected in a Metroidvania.
The major aspect of combat that stands out in ENDER LILIES to go in line with the Metroidvania genre is the utility of the Umbral Knight. This character acts as a standard attack that can strike in three hit combos, and while other spirits can be used to easily attack enemies from a distance or on isolated platforms, it is possible to fight only using the Umbral Knight. It’s an understated aspect of the games in this genre, but in most cases, new abilities give players new ways to engage in combat, but every enemy can be defeated with the basic attack alone.
This utility of the Umbral Knight means that while there does seem to be complexity added to combat through the extra attacks that spirits make available, mastering the core mechanic is essential. It’s a tough balance to maintain for most developers, where adding new attacks should feel like special rewards that changes combat, but also shouldn’t completely replace basic attacks. The Umbral Knight is a successful application of this design aspect, especially considering its damage can be altered, but only by using rare materials like Hollow Knight‘s nail and pale ore.
When it comes to the game itself, apart from any comparisons or measuring against the genres it strives to emulate, ENDER LILIES succeeds in a lot of areas, especially combat. Having a dodge and three charges of heals available right from the start gives some great contrasting accessibility to the difficulty that can come from taking only a few hits kills Lily and sends her back to the last rested location. However, it doesn’t take too long for many of the general enemies to become fairly mundane, and even the few Soulslike boss fights and mini-bosses encountered in those first couple hours were a little too easy.
On the other end of the Metroidvania genre is the need for interesting traversal and movement abilities, most importantly in recent indie titles being the jump. The jump and double jump in ENDER LILIES are snappy and responsive, and being able to automatically grab ledges makes judging whether or not a gap is passable more difficult without testing and risking a progress-negating drop. However, when it comes to combining movement and combat, the way that using attacks like Umbral Knight stops the player dead in the air can really cut into the forward progress by destroying momentum. It’s one of few negatives found in this two-hour first impression, and it’s not nearly enough not to keep us excited to see where the game will go next.
ENDER LILIES: Quietus of the Knights enters Early Access on January 21st, 2020.