Ever reluctant to accept changes in the industry, Nintendo finally announced its plans for mobile game development this morning. It has been a long time coming, with pressure coming from investors and industry-watchers for the storied publisher to follow the shifting market. While the move makes financial sense, and Nintendo could certainly be successful by following the well-worn path created by other mobile publishers, it will lose a piece of its identity if it fails to break from conventional mobile norms.
Nintendo has always prided itself on custom-fitting its own hardware to its software. The synergy between its systems and games has been a selling point, and one reason why fans have known they can count on Nintendo for a rock-solid gameplay loop. For all the calls for Nintendo to put their games out on other systems, including mobile, the hesitance makes sense. Nintendo's strength has always been bolstered by the hardware equivalent of home field advantage.
Stepping into the mobile market, then, marks a big step outside of Nintendo's comfort zone. The risk it runs now is letting the company's discomfort with this new platform influence it into utilizing some of mobile gaming's bad habits.
Almost a year ago, Nintendo received what was possibly the worst advice ever given to it. In a well-meaning letter from Oasis Management's Seth Fischer in February of 2014, the hedge fund manager expounded on the potential to tap the free-to-play market. "We believe Nintendo can create very profitable games based on in-game revenue models with the right development team," Fischer wrote, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. "Just think of paying 99 cents just to get Mario to jump a little higher."
(Take a moment to collect yourself after reading that last sentence.)
Mr. Fischer isn't a game designer, and so it's hard to blame him for giving input that so callously discounts the precision with which Nintendo balances its mechanics. Until very recently, it would have been easy to shrug off his bad advice. Nintendo's experiments with free-to-play had largely bucked the anti-consumer trends that define the term. That is, until the release of Pokemon Shuffle.
Both Rusty's Real Deal Baseball and Steel Diver: Sub Wars shared one vital characteristic: there was a limit to how much you could spend. Even if you purchased all of Rusty's mini-games without earning a single discount coupon, you would eventually unlock them all and be done spending money. Sub Wars was even more straight-forward, with a single purchase. It was a demo version in all but the name. In both cases, to whatever extent you enjoyed the free content, you could play it to your heart's content.
Pokemon Shuffle went a different and altogether unwelcome direction, relying on an energy mechanic. In fact, the F2P hook paired with the familiarity of a rather typical match-three game makes it practically indistinguishable from thousands of games on the iOS and Android App stores. It's the vanilla ice cream of video games: plain, easy, uncreative, inoffensive. In fact, Nintendo had previously announced a partnership to make a themed Puzzle & Dragons game, a series which has historically been another match-three with energy gates.
Energy mechanics have been unpopular in the mobile space, specifically because they're so clearly targeted towards monetizing compulsion. "You enjoyed your time with the game? That's nice, but now you have to stop and wait," they seem to say. "Or, well, you could pay us a little money." The barriers feel more artificial and arbitrary, based entirely around the monetization scheme. There has been such backlash against it that it was strange to see Nintendo adopting it at all, much less on one of its dedicated hardware platforms.
That kind of compromise is uncharacteristic of Nintendo, and raises some concern regarding today's news of mobile development. The company's step into mobile games means it will be in unfamiliar territory, and especially susceptible to following the trends of other mobile publishers. If it relies too much on the conventional mobile hooks, its efforts will inevitably be lost in a sea of the same-old. Given its willingness to try a monetization scheme that was already unpopular when Pokemon Shuffle came out, it may even be behind the curve of mobile trends.
Nintendo's entrance to the mobile games business is rife with possibilities. It could breathe new life into series like Pokemon and Pikmin, or revitalize underused ones like WarioWare or Elite Beat Agents. However, in entering a market that is already so crowded, Nintendo needs to keep its independent streak alive, and be a leader rather than a follower.
Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft is coming back with another Adventure, and that means it's time to pass judgment on the new slate of cards. This time the full set will include 31 new cards in all, and we'll be taking a critical eye to each and every one of them. All of the cards are being categorized as Winners or Losers, which are self-explanatory, or "Oddballs"--cards with unique effects that could be useful with some creative deck management.
On the whole this expansion looks to add some new tools for existing deck types, revive some underutilized classes, and give better tools all around. Blizzard generally knows what it's doing, so the vast majority of these are either good (Winners) or could be (Oddballs). Still, you can't have a deck expansion without some clunkers. Check out the full gallery below, and then dive into our reviews to see what we think.
Blackwing Corruptor - The Shaman's Fire Elemental is so good, why not make a neutral version? That seemed to be the mindset behind Blackwing Corruptor, which sacrifices 1/1 worth of stats for one mana. At the same time, it carries the new "holding" requirement, so it's really only at home in Dragon-based decks. Still, Fire Elemental is extremely versatile, so letting other classes have a crack at the removal-minion combo value is great.
Blackwing Technician - Just like Tinkertown Technician is a staple in Mech decks after the release of Goblins vs Gnomes, expect Blackwing Technician to be a regular in Dragon decks. The stats are decent for the cost, but the added bonus if you're holding a Dragon makes it a must-play on turn three for sheer value alone.
Chromaggus - Like all 8-mana minions, this needs a strong ability to compensate for the cost. Fortunately, Chromaggus' ability is a strong one. Assuming he survives at least one turn, he'll provide a duplicate card. Holding him back until you're fairly certain to draw a Legendary means you'll get two copies of them instead of just one. It is vulnerable to overdrawing, but clever play will let you copy a few cards, and use him to remove a big threat. The Dragon synergy, and not being weak to Big Game Hunter, are just bonuses.
Demonwrath - A clear staple for Demon Warlock decks, this is essentially a cheaper Consecration if used correctly. It will help the recently popular Demonlocks stay competitive against aggressive rush decks while they work on getting their demons out, or in a pinch it can be used to activate your own Deathrattle minions.
Dragonkin Sorcerer - This isn't a class card, but it might as well be for Priest or Paladin. It's very clearly focused on classes that lend themselves to buffing minions, by giving you some additional stat power whenever you do. A Priest's Power Word Shield, for example, would immediately make it a 4/8 at relatively low cost. The Paladin's Blessing of Kings becomes a 5/5 buff, making this thing a hulking 8/10 on turn five.
Dragon Consort - While Paladin already has competition for a strong five-drop with Quartermaster, that one is very situational and relies on Silver Hand Recruits already in-play. The Dragon Consort is more forward-facing, with decent vanilla stats and a benefit that activates the next turn. Paired with a strong 8-drop Dragon like Chromaggus, the Paladin will be uniquely suited to swing the board advantage in their favor on turns five and six.
Drakonid Crusher - There's lots of utility to this card, as it answers two persistently difficult classes. The "Handlock" style of Warlock is easy to get towards critical damage, but hard to finish off. Big taunts, Antique Healbots, and the ever-present threat of Jaraxxas makes it a race against time to finish the job. Drakonid Crusher answers all of those easily. Control Warrior also tends to hit low health, but makes up the deficit with huge armor gains. That armor doesn't count towards health, though, so the Crusher would still be activated to knock off some of that armor. It's vulnerable to Big Game Hunter and Silence, but on the whole it's very versatile and even offers decent vanilla stats without the effect.
Emperor Thaurissan - Expect some big tempo swings with this guy. 5/5 for 6 mana makes for bad stats, similar to Sylvanis, but like Ms. Windrunner his ability more than makes up for it. You're guaranteed right from the start to reduce the cost of every card by 1 mana. If you have four cards in-hand, that's 4-mana worth of cost-savings by trading 1-mana worth of stats. Pretty worth it! More importantly, the ability stacks, so if your opponent can't kill him immediately your cards will just get cheaper and cheaper.
Fireguard Destroyer - Shaman is at a shortage of big beefy minions, especially on turn 4. If you take the Overload cost into account, this thing is at minimum a 4/6 for 5 mana, which is decent. The extra attack boost, though, makes it a must-play, and it's likely to become a staple in Shaman decks. Imagine staring down a 7/6 on turn four, and being forced to take the damage or burn a Big Game Hunter or Silence.
Hungry Dragon - With excellent stats for the cost and the benefit of a Dragon label to boot, this seems like a must-have for Dragon decks. The drawback adds a bit of randomness, but as long as you have at least one minion out, you'll probably be able to deal with whatever it spawns. At worst, you'll spawn a high-attack minion like Flame Imp and your Hungry Dragon is the equivalent of a 5/3 for 4 mana--which is still pretty decent.
Imp Gang Boss - This is a card we'll see in lots of Warlock decks, because it plays so well with both the popular Zoo type and the recent resurgence of the Demonlock. The Gang Boss gives Warlocks a hearty body to play on turn three without bringing out their Void Caller prematurely, and it assures leaving behind an annoying imp even if it dies in a single hit. Imps are weak, but as Imp-losion showed, they can get out of hand when they flood the board.
Lava Shock - Some cards lend themselves to really thoughtful, complicated plays. Shaman has always been a class that requires some level of foresight, since his Overload ability gives overpowered benefits at a cost the next turn. Lava Shock puts an even deeper wrinkle in it by letting savvy Shaman players plan not only their Overloads, but also when exactly to unlock those overloaded mana crystals to use them again. It will be hard to use correctly, but players who can manage it will be extremely powerful.
Quick Shot - This is a gift to the aggressive "Face Hunter" style of play, giving yet another cheap damage-dealing tool. 2 mana for 3 damage puts it on-par with the Dark Bomb, which has become a staple for Warlock decks. Plus, it has an added benefit of cycling for itself if your hand happens to be empty. Since it's cheap, it's much more likely to be playable on an empty hand than Core Rager (see: Losers.)
Revenge - As if the Warrior didn't already have enough Control tools. This fits right in with the current meta, giving the Warrior a nice versatile card to act as both removal of the opponent's minions, and activation for cards like Armorsmith and Grim Patron. The special ability, similar to Mortal Strike, lets you swing things in your favor if you're low on health and acts as a beefed-up Consecration. The only drawback is that if you're already low, it will do some serious damage to your side of the board too, so say goodbye to all those lovely Grim Patrons.
Resurrect - Priest isn't generally very minion-heavy, and Resurrect seems aimed at giving it more board-presence without so much reliance on stealing the opponent's cards and minions. At only 2-mana, it at least pays for itself with everything but 1-mana minions. If you happen to revive a great card like Sylvanis, or even one with a Battlecry drawback like Injured Blademaster, it's a ton of value for the cost.
Solemn Vigil - Paladin's card draw has always been situational. The class mostly relies on Divine Favor, which is an outright dead card if playing against aggressive decks, or Lay on Hands, which is so expensive you essentially spend a turn on it. Solemn Vigil is a nice middle-ground, giving versatile card draw that can give you a cheap card refresh after making trades, or a more expensive one in the late-game when you may have more mana to spare.
Twilight Whelp - Aw, what a cute little dragon! Priest gets an early game minion that isn't just a card-draw engine, by essentially giving it a Zombie Chow without the drawback. You'll need to be holding a Dragon to activate it, and most of them are higher-cost so you may not want to keep them in the Mulligan phase. But if you happen to be holden a Fairie Dragon or Hungry Dragon, this Whelp is a huge swing.
Volcanic Drake - Like the Mage's Dragon's Breath card, the Volcanic Drake is overbudgeted for the stats and relies on minion trading. However, while Dragon's Breath only delivers one-time damage to a target, Volcanic Drake puts out board presence. It would be so-so as a five-mana card, and really excellent for four, so if you make just one even minion trade it pays for itself.
Volcanic Lumberer - Druids are already filthy with big taunts, and Volcanic Lumberer just adds to the pile. It relies on trading to really be worthwhile, but even a single trade (two minions down) would make the stats better-than-vanilla. This would be a great fit for Control decks, delaying your opponent until you draw that all-important Savage Roar combo.
Core Rager - At first glance, Core Rager is insanely powerful. It's potentially a 7/7 for 4 mana, and its card ability seems to play well with the aggressive rush-style decks so popular with Hunter right now. On top of that it's a Beast, which makes for nice synergy. However, its stats are awkward. Having an empty hand on turn four is extremely unlikely, even for aggro decks, especially because of the common use of Webspinner in the early game. That means Core Rager will be relegated to a later play, when your opponent will already have tools to deal with it. It's a card that represents a big swing if you get it out early, but it will be nearly impossible to get it out early without buliding a deck around sub-optimal cards like Wisp. It's just not worth that sacrifice for one card.
Dark Iron Skulker - This isn't necessarily a terrible card, but not a very useful one. The Rogue already excels at board control, especially in its currently popular "Oil Rogue" incarnation. The Skulker is targeted squarely at regaining control after being overrun by small minions, as in a Zoo or Rush deck, but Rogues are doing fine without. Meanwhile the effect is very conditional, only hitting minions that aren't already damaged, and it would trigger the Deathrattle effects of minions that are popular in Zoo decks anyway. The stats are weak for the cost and the effect isn't necessary.
Dragon Egg - Without some buffing, at best this will summon two 2/1 whelps. Those may be helpful for certain Dragon synergies, but they're easy enough to remove across all classes. Plus, since it has 0 attack, you don't get to determine your own targets or remove a target while spawning your whelps, so whatever enemy minion triggers the effect will still be around to remove it.
Druid of the Flame - This card may seem versatile, but neither of its forms have much use. A 5/2 is far too weak on turn three, since it can die to even most 1-drops. A 2/5 is slightly better for small token removal, but without Charge or Windfury it just sits on the board and gets taken down without much trouble. Plus, since Shade of Naxxramas is a staple in Druid decks, playing this card instead is never going to be preferable.
Rend Blackhand - Any 7-drop with only 4 health is too weak to start with, but Rend's problems don't end there. He's also vulnerable to Big Game Hunter, which is in heavy use right now thanks to the prevalence of Dr. Boom. His effect requires two separate conditions to line up at once. And since the card text doesn't read "enemy Legendary," if you have a Legendary out and your opponent doesn't, you won't be able to play Rend without sacrificing your other card. This might be useful in a meta that's very heavy with hard-to-remove Legendaries like Ysera or Kel'Thuzad, but even then it's hard to imagine him seeing regular use.
Axe Flinger - Warrior has been pigeonholed into a Control deck archtype, and Axe Flinger aims to change that. This would be right at home if some intrepid player figures out how to make a proper Warrior Aggro deck. Like Grim Patron, the class' tendency to damage its own minions means this could do serious damage to your opponent. At worst, it's the Warrior equivalent of a Hunter's Explosive Trap. You can remove the minion, but it's going to cost you.
Dragon's Breath - At its base stats, this card has an awful cost. However, the ability seems aimed at minion-heavy mages like the current Mech Mage archtype. If you just save it for a turn with lots of trading, either in the mid-game with low-grade minions, or in the late-game with a card like Dr. Boom, it can be practically free. It could provide great value in the right deck, but consistently having it in-hand when you happen to be trading could prove difficult.
Gang Up - Rogue decks aren't usually minion-heavy, instead relying on a handful of burst damage from weapons or charged minions. That makes Gang Up an odd duck. Like Faceless Manipulator, you really need to rely on copying your own minions since you can't count on your opponent's. That said, Rogues do tend to draw their entire deck with cards like Sprint, so shuffling into the deck isn't itself too much of a drawback. Plus, at the very least, it will make opponents wary of playing really strong cards, since the Rogue will be able to get three of them in response.
Grim Patron - It has awful stats for the cost, but the effect is sure to make for some interesting plays. This seems right at home in Warrior decks, which get a lot of mileage out of damaging their own minions. The synergy with Bouncing Blade, which never found a proper home from GvG, is through the roof. Other classes might get use out of it, too, like a Priest running Wild Pyromancer. We're sure to see some experimentation with this one.
Flamewaker - This might have been a great card before the release of Goblins vs Gnomes, but now it's filling a niche that's already taken. The spell ability plays so well with Spare Parts you would really need to use it in a Mech deck, and if you're running Mechs anyway there's no reason not to play Tinkertown Technician for much better stats. That said, some intrepid Mage player could probably find a way to make this work, and the card itself isn't outright bad. It's just hard to see where it fits right now.
Majordomo Executus - A neutral card that acts similarly to Jaraxxus is just what Hearthstone fans have been waiting for, and this one does look fun to play. However, it will be extremely hard to use well. Jaraxxus' effect takes place immediately, which means it's useful to gain back health quickly when you're on the ropes. The Handlock archtype relies almost entirely on this. Executus, on the other hand, is much harder to control. Since he summons Ragnaros as a Deathrattle, your opponent will usually get to pick when that happens. Ragnaros only has 8 health, so it will almost never work in your favor. Against classes that have plenty of burst damage, they can just make sure to take out Executus the same turn they have 8 points of damage.
Nefarian - Nine mana is always going to be hard to justify, and Big Game Hunter is so popular that an 8/8 is extremely vulnerable. That makes its ability the real benefit, which essentially costs 1 mana for a much more specific version of the Priest's Thoughtsteal ability. Instead of stealing any cards, you're taking random spells. Additionally, the spells are randomized from the class, rather than from your opponent's deck, so you have a chance at grabbing just about anything. Time will tell if Nefarian gets widespread use, but the ability is so unique it will be fun to play around with, at the very least.
Bloodborne is a pretty hard game, which is why players should try to use anything and everything in order to gain an advantage over the enemies you’ll face. Sure, you could follow our Boss or co-op guides, but a newly-discovered exploit can give Hunters the unfair advantage they so desperately need.
The exploit allows you to create a duplicate of any item in a pretty simple way. Before we get into it, we should note that performing this exploit will go against the real Bloodborne experience you’ve paid for, so only consider this exploit if you really need the help.
The first thing you’ll need to do is create an alternate character and progress them through the game far enough so they gain access to the first lantern in Central Yharnam. Once you do, transport yourself to the Hunter’s Dream and then log back into your main character. Once there, you’ll want to empty out your storage chest.
With your storage chest emptied with your main character, go to your alternate character and buy a pebble. Store the pebble you just purchased into your alternate’s chest, making sure that’s the only thing in there. Now go back to your main character and decide what it is you want to duplicate, noting that only items you can have multiples of are the only ones that can be duped. That means no duping of weapons.
Once you have in mind what you want to duplicate, put one of that item in your storage chest as your main character. Now go and purchase a lot of pebbles, making sure to reach the limit you can carry, which is 20. Once you reach the limit of pebbles you can carry, the extra pebbles will show up in your chest as duplicates of the item you currently have in there. For example: if you purchase 5 extra pebbles that you can’t carry, those pebbles will be transferred to your chest and will show up as 5 of whatever item is in there.
Etherium [official site] is fast-paced and energetic but it won’t leave you suffering from a sugar crash. It can pack a punch but it doesn’t burn like a slug of bouron. Etherium is, in fact, like a glass of water. It’s not much to look at and while you’re drinking it, you might envy those whose refreshments have been invigorated by the addition of sugar, hops, caffeine or brewed leaves. You probably wouldn’t want to drink it all the time but you’d rarely turn a glass down and sometimes it’s exactly what you need.>
Assassin's Creed Chronicles consolidates the series' epic tale of parkouring and stabbing into two-and-a-half dimensions, while broadening its perspective to even more historical eras and exotic locals. Rather than focusing on just one time period, Chronicles will release in separately sold episodes, with a new character and time period for each. The first of these stars a female assassin in Ming Dynasty China, the next is set in 19th century Russia, and the third in colonial India.
Based on the handful of levels I've played at a recent preview event, the results so far are okay. Not as good as the best Assassin's Creeds or the 2D games that inspired Chronicles, but okay!
It's a 2D stealth platformer clearly inspired by, and not as good as, Mark of the Ninja. That's fine: Mark of the Ninja is hard to top and I could suffer a few imitators. Mostly, it's nice to see an Assassin's Creed game focus on stealth, which has been pushed to the margins as each sequel became bloated with more features. Chronicles is the first Assassin's Creed in a long time that had me hiding and assassinating in a manner that justifies the series' signature cloak and dagger.
Enemy lines of sight and hearing radii, as in Mark of the Ninja, are represented plainly on screen as cones and circles. Trial and error are sort of baked into stealth games, so this information let me make good decisions and minimize uncertainty.
The shapes are rendered in Assassin's Creed's familiar motif of clean software interface layered on top of the historical era. In the past, this has created an interesting contrast. In Chronicles, it seems pasted on, and not as functional as the visualizations in Mark of the Ninja. Ledges don't always break line of sight as you'd expect and sometimes they surprised me by penetrating objects.
However, they worked fine most of the time, which allowed me to sneak around the edges of the guards' awareness. I hopped across rooftops, slipped into shadowy doorways, and waited for guards to pass by so I could reach out, shank them, and pull them into the darkness.
As I progressed, I collected a few more tools that allowed me to handle more complex rooms with more guards. Firecrackers stun and distract, whistles lure, and throwing knifes are best at cutting ropes that will drop heavy things on guards' heads.
I also learned a few new moves along the way, like the badass ability to slide, stab, and instantly kill an enemy mid-run. This was especially useful during an extended platforming sequence in which I escaped a burning port in China, jumping from ship to dock with the flames fast behind me. It was the flashiest section I played, and its mix of platforming and killing was where Chronicles found its grooviest groove. Neither one is remarkable on its own, but they came together nicely.
As long as I was doing well, Chronicles was moving along at a nice pace. Each room or section was like a little puzzle I could solve with different combinations of platforming, timing, and gadgets, and since I was rated bronze, silver, or gold for every encounter (the stealthier the better), I always tried to sneak in and out like a ninja assassin. When things took an unexpected turn, I could mostly improvise a way out, which was hectic and fun.
When I really messed up, or in situations that left little room for error, Chronicles became stubbornly locked into repetitive cycles. There was one hallway where I had to sneak between two guards with very precise timing. Most rooms had a bush I could hide in or several routes where I could lose the guards, but in this room there was no way to retreat if I was caught.
I could theoretically fight my way through the guards that ganged up on me, but I didn't want to because it was pretty damn hard and not that rewarding. Blocking and parrying is the solution to every problem, but extra long beats between inputs made for awkward timing. I assume that they're meant to give me time to decide if I want to return the blow or leap over the enemy and get some space, but the beat is just a beat too long, which creates confusion and unnatural hitches in the flow of combat.
Chronicles forgoes the series' realistic look for an art style that's mostly desperate to differentiate itself from previous Assassin's Creeds, but it's not as creative as Ubisoft seems to think it is. It falls somewhere between the thick comic book outlines and light water colors, but nothing pops.
An Assassin's Creed in China, for example, could be the visual kick in the butt I think the series needs, but in practice felt more like checking boxes than taking advantage of the opportunities. There are pagodas and the stumpy mountains in the background that vaguely signify "Asia" but it doesn't feel like a real place, let alone one that's embraced like Brotherhood's Rome, or even Mark of the Ninja's version of same thing.
Each of the episodes also has their own little visual flares, which is a neat idea that isn't coming together yet. It's weird that when you go to the Indian setting it suddenly starts to add floral trail effects to sword swings, for example. It's out of character for the series as a whole and doesn't feel well integrated into Chronicles regardless of the wider context.
Everything about Chronicles felt stuck between wanting to respect the main series and wanting to do something completely different. I'm not sure if going boldly in one direction or the other would make it better, but every choice it made felt hesitant. It was kind of fun solving small assassination puzzles, but mostly it reminded me that Mark of the Ninja was a great game.
By Joe Donnelly
It s a total conversion for a four-year-old game, read PC Gamer US s rundown of Nehrim: At Fate s Edge, when the Oblivion mod clinched the coveted Mod of the Year award in 2010. But Nehrim is so impressive that it was a contender not just for best mod, but for best RPG. Such are the lofty standards that German hobbyist group SureAI works to, its total conversion mods feel less like add-ons or additional content indolently tacked onto games post-release, and more like entirely new releases.
Nehrim received plaudits across the board, including four separate Mod of the Year accolades from ModDB. It was praised for its detailed plot, its mature political and sociopolitical themes, and its extensive landscapes.
Enderal: The Shards of Order, SureAI s upcoming Skyrim total conversion, aims to be bigger still. Enderal is almost as big as Skyrim, Nico Lietzau, one of SureAI s team leaders, tells me. There are a lot of areas to explore. In terms of exteriors, there are different climate zones: a desert, a forest, heathlands, mountains, all with different vegetation and climates, there s a lot going on. And of course there are many, many dungeons. A mod of Skyrim quality that is almost as big as Skyrim itself. And it s out this year.
We re in good hands. SureAI has been casting its modding magic since the team s inception in 2003, when a small group of Bethesda enthusiasts came together out of a common love for the freedom and atmosphere conveyed by that publisher s sprawling sandbox worlds. Having met through the German modding community amid the fanfare surrounding Morrowind, SureAI originally consisted of two teams: one working on its debut project Myar Aranath; another on a second Arktwend. Upon completion of the first mod, the Aranath team dissolved, its members fusing with their Arktwend counterparts to move forward as a united front.
SureAI may be a hobbyist group working for free, but regimental organisation and rigorous professionalism rank just as highly with the team as the standard of the games they produce. Although inspired by and running on the engines of previous Elder Scrolls games, Myar Aranath, Arktwend, Nehrim and Enderal exist in their own extensive universe, separate from those dreamt up by Bethesda. They have their own lore, their own characters, their own political and economic infrastructures, their own intricate game systems.
The group operates along similar lines to a professional development studio. Although many of the peripheral personnel work remotely around the world, SureAI is now based in an office in Munich, which houses the ten-strong core team. Lietzau notes that in conjunction with studying game design at university, he sometimes finds himself sinking 40-60 hours of work per week into Enderal s development. And most of the team treat SureAI as their main job, even though the majority of them hold down real jobs elsewhere—most of which are in and around the games industry, but some as far afield as architecture and full-time parenting.
Myar Aranath, Arktwend, Nehrim and Enderal exist in their own extensive universe
With Enderal we started planning before 2011, before the [Skyrim] creation kit was released, explains Johannes Scheer, another of SureAI s leads, and one of its founding fathers. After Skyrim we did some pre-production, where we set the scope of the project, first drafts of the story, and features we wanted to change. We do change a lot of the gameplay, as a matter of fact, and then we just work to a rough production plan.
Features are realised one by one, to see if they re still fun to play once implemented. If they aren t, we discuss and see what we can do to make it more fun. As opposed to a normal game production, we already have assets to start building levels right away, so we can start all the departments at once. We start building the world, the quest designers start working away, and once the quest script is written they start implementing it. That goes on for a long time and we try to play it as much as we can along the way.
Enderal takes place two and a half years after the events of Nehrim, and although newcomers can expect to jump aboard with little difficulty, recurring characters and nods to its predecessors await those more familiar with the lore of the series. The aftermath of Nehrim has sunk the land into civil war, forcing the game s protagonist to flee to the isolated continent of Enderal. Very quickly, however, it becomes clear that all is not well and that a red madness has taken over the minds of Enderal s inhabitants.
The protagonist begins to have surreal and disturbing dreams in which he happens upon the theocratic Order of Enderal. He learns of Cycles —passages of civilisation which see its citizens live, prosper, and then miraculously disappear without trace. It s all very dark, but Lietzau makes clear that s it s not as black and white as it may first appear on paper. It s not as simple as putting rest to a demon army which The Order appears to represent—rather Enderal s plot is to be multi-faceted, ominous, and complex with no immediately obvious friends or foes.
What makes Enderal different from Skyrim besides this surrogate storyline? Perhaps the most obvious transformation is the mod s overhauled class system, which itself adopts a modified version of SkyUI, the community-made improvement of Bethesda s user interface. Basically the intention was to make a class system which is more traditional, but still has all the advantages of a sandbox skill system, says Lietzau. While in Skyrim you could basically skill every perk that was there, in Enderal you have nine classes and every class improves two skills. You can specialise in two, perhaps two and a half classes. That means you kind of have to commit yourself to a path, and we did this to create a sense of identity for the player.
Another significant change is the omission of Skyrim s signature Dragonshouts. Given that Enderal s protagonist is not the Dragonborn, this change is hardly surprising, but it will change the feel of the game. Special skills known as Talents stand in the place of shouts. Every class has two Talents that can be unlocked via the assigned perk tree, which allow the player greater variety in combat. In developing these, the player s combat style will ultimately reflect their class.
Levelling up in Enderal is different to Skyrim in that SureAI has completely disabled the native learning by doing protocol, instead allowing players to gain traditional experience points by killing monsters, completing quests, exploring locations, and possibly even by being witty in dialogue scenarios. Once the player has a certain number of experience points, they can level up. A single Skill Point is also provided at this stage which can be transferred to the class tree, and thus work towards buying the player new Talents.
There are also Learning Points and Craftsman Points, adds Lietzau. Learning Points can be used to advance your skills with trainers—it s a little different from the trainers in Nehrim because in Enderal you can buy books from trainers, meaning you don t have to go back every time you level up. Instead you can buy, say, five books that train your one-handed skill, but you must have the Learning Points to consume them.
A precise shot from the hero s bow ignites the oil, toasting everything in the vicinity
Players also have Craftsman Points, which operate in a similar fashion. While we thought things like speechcraft in Skyrim were hardly ever used—players tended to consider points too precious to use on things like this—in Enderal you can use your CPs to increase your crafting skills, or your speechcraft skill. I think it s also safe to say that this system makes crafting and skills like speechcraft a lot more useful.
These are major, cultured changes and it s easy to get bogged down in the finer intricacies without seeing them firsthand. To put things into context, SureAI demonstrates Talents in action. By pulling from the Trickery and Vagabond disciplines respectively, you re able to combine a flask of oil with a flame-tipped arrow, so I watch as deep within a dingy catacomb SureAI s player character smashes a jug of oil against the floor, catching an unsuspecting enemy s attention in the process. The enemy charges, only to slip on the oil spill and tumble to the ground. A precise shot from the hero s bow ignites the oil, toasting everything in the vicinity—enemy included.
This mix-and-match mentality echoes the Plasmid system of BioShock, and Lietzau assures me a vast array of combinations await keen conceptual connoisseurs. He admits that it is also possible to sneak your way through dungeons, avoiding foes whilst hugging the shadows—but when there appears to be so much scope and so much potential in this nuanced combat system, why would you not want to get your hands dirty?
My conversation with Lietzau and Scheer eventually leads me to two burning questions I have to ask. Firstly: if this is a game rooted in Skyrim, aesthetically, if nothing else, do SureAI think they ve made a better game?
Scheer laughs, almost as if he s surprised that I ve asked, but at the same time surprised that it s taken almost an hour of chatting for the question to come up. Well I d say we definitely succeeded in delivering the same standard of quality, he offers diplomatically. Enderal plays like a triple-A roleplaying game and this is something we re very proud of. In terms of if it s better—that really depends on the player. As I say, we have a different focus, the focus on the whole world just feels different. I think it s up to the players to determine if they enjoy it more or less than Skyrim but I think we definitely succeeded in making something comparable to Skyrim.
I m not surprised by the conservative response. First and foremost these guys are Skyrim fanatics, and it would be uncharacteristic for them to criticise their core inspiration. Nevertheless they re clearly very passionate about their own game. They ve worked incredibly hard on Enderal—and on all of their projects—and know that the best way to definitively answer the question one way or another is to release the game into the world and let the public decide.
This leads me on to my second question: as a hobbyist outfit working for no pay, how do they manage to work so hard, and yet stay so motivated?
It actually works pretty well for us, Lietzau says, but in general, non-commercial projects are always very hard to realise because people lose their motivation so quickly if they re not getting paid for it. If people don t depend on it, some can be really unreliable. We ve had a lot of bad experiences with people coming into the team and promising to do a lot of stuff and have then just left. We now have very complicated application procedures, so that doesn t happen too often, but it is very hard to keep people motivated.
He pauses for thought. For us it works because first of all, through the years of development, most of the people who are not committed leave anyway, so the rest remain. We re also very tight and work as a team, and we try to keep everyone—even if it s someone who has just applied—involved in the process, because it s important to feel as though you re contributing something of your own—especially when working non-commercially. This keeps people motivated for a long time.
For those familiar with Nehrim, it may come as a surprise to learn that SureAI had in fact envisioned an even more ambitious project than what came to be. Ultimately they were governed by limited time and resources. Nonetheless, Nehrim set the bar extremely high as far as total conversion mods go, not least for themselves and successor Enderal. ModDB has preemptively awarded their Skyrim conversion Best Upcoming Mod for the last three years running, all before even a sniff of a release date.
Even now that tentative 2015 date isn t nearly as specific as it could be, but given SureAI s track record, not to mention the quality of what they ve shown off so far, Enderal is almost certain to make good on it. Should this be the case, SureAI s plan is to make the jump to fullyfledged professional independent development studio.
Until then, developing a game based on Bethesda s game engine and legacy, SureAI are standing on the shoulders of giants. But they re doing so wearing a damn flashy pair of Daedric boots.
For more Skyrim mods, check out our round-up of 50 of the best.