At the end of last month, Xbox gamers were met with a pleasant surprise when Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights released onto the Xbox store on June 29th with little to no forewarning. After getting its full release on Steam and Switch earlier in the month the hype and acclaim for the game was building, but the game’s own website had no concrete release date set for my favorite console. I don’t know if it was the smartest move but I’m glad developers Live Wire and Adglobe and publisher Binary Haze Interactive got this solid 2D Metroidvania to us in a timely manner.
Ender Lilies is one of those games that lets the player decide how much of the story they want to explore. Much of it is told through notes and letters that can be found in the environment. Your first spirit companion, the Umbral Knight, also delivers some narrative in the occasional conversations he has with Lily – the little girl you play as. There are animated cut scenes that expand the story as well, one for each of the bosses you defeat. The basic narrative revolves around the fact that the kingdom is in ruins due to the strange, mysterious rain that overtook the land long ago, corrupting all the inhabitants and turning them into undead horrors called the Blighted. The only hope for the kingdom rests at your feet, as Lily has the power to purify the blighted, but unfortunately in order to do that they must be at death’s door after being defeated in combat. You’re taking away their pain, but also ending their life at the same time. There are a large number of notes that can be found that really expand the story and explain many of the causes and effects of the blight as well as paint a picture of all of the different characters involved throughout the whole ordeal and you can choose to read them if you’d like.
Despite this considerable power and immense burden, Lily is just a child; however, there are many things that can be obtained that will aid in her endeavor. Lily does all the basic moving and platforming in the levels but lacks any combat moves. Instead, there are a number of spirits that join her on her quest and take care of the combat and help her with the more advanced platforming. Whenever the button assigned to that spirit is pressed they appear briefly next to Lily as they perform their skill. Some are just basic attacks with a specific weapon that particular spirit uses, like the Umbral Knight who uses a sword, or Gerrod the elder warrior, who swings a huge hammer – these spirits have infinite uses. Others like the Fungal Sorcerer, who casts a cloud of green poisonous mist, or the Cliffside Hamlet Elder, a very big fellow who launches himself into the air and does a belly-flop-style pound to the ground, have limited uses. The uses are recharged every time you rest at a respite, which is essentially like a bonfire in Dark Souls, letting you regain your health and your spirit charges, but also just like Dark Souls all the regular enemies you killed respawn. It is very appropriate that these are called respites because they truly are – almost every time I found one I breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that I had a chance to get my bearings and essentially refuel my character. Each respite has its own room/section on the map and you don’t have to worry about enemies while you’re in one. You can only assign spirits and equip relics while resting at a respite and you can also upgrade the spirits here with one of the two types of blight you find in the world. The relics are your typical stat-boosting power-enhancing/granting items found in any RPG. They range from HP and damage boosts to earning you extra XP. Some of the more unique relics include one that greatly reduces the damage you take from the red toxic clouds found in the last area of the game. All of these options give the player a huge amount of choice on how they want to equip Lily to tackle whatever section they’re going to next.
The combat has a nice flow to it; you can use a secondary spirit or two, and then while they are on screen doing their attack you can attack with your main weapon. To add more variety there are two spirit loadouts that can be switched back and forth at any time with a press of the right shoulder button. I found myself sticking with certain spirits for a lot of the situations, but if a boss fight was imminent I would tailor my loadout for the boss. You gain spirits by purifying the bosses and mini-bosses after you defeat them in combat, each of them gives you a spirit and the main bosses grant you a new move to expand your exploration capabilities. The first boss very early in the game – Guardian Siegrid – grants you the ability to double jump and your first secondary attack skill. Later after beating the dark witch Eleine you get the ability to swim underwater as well as a projectile magic attack. Each new ability greatly expands your exploration capabilities and I found myself backtracking to look for missed items after I acquired each additional move. That’s probably the feature I enjoy most about the Metroidvania genre – getting to go back to earlier areas and trying to find and reach new areas or sections of the game. The combination of gameplay loops in the genre usually has a good balance keeping the game feeling fresh and making players want to continue playing. It’s no different in Ender Lilies, which has a fantastic combination of combat and exploration.
A couple of mechanics aid in the exploration. One is common in most Metroidvania titles: the ability to fast travel. Granted a few hours into the game, this lets you instantly travel between any discovered respite. The second feature is the helpful map that turns any room that you’ve found everything in from blue to gold. I don’t know how many games I’ve played where I had close to everything discovered but had no idea where the last items were and dreaded the idea of combing through every room again. There are a few more aspects that make the game a bit easier, one is the dodge move that Lily has from the start of the game, it’s a decent length dodge with a large amount of invincibility frames. The only downside is that she ends up on the ground and it takes her a second to recover; luckily later on she acquires a dash move that replaces the dive.
Another helpful tool is the prayer ability which heals Lily. She starts with three prayer uses and they recharge when resting. More prayers can be obtained by equipping certain relics whereas other relics increase the prayers’ power and speed of use. There are also breakable objects throughout the levels that sometimes restore a bit of health or spirit uses. Similar to this there are two types of flowers that can be found: a white one that restores a prayer use, and a red one that restores your spirit uses. These flowers are much more common earlier in the game and help ease players into the sometimes difficult gameplay. One additional aspect, or lack thereof, is that there’s no penalty for death. In most of the other games I’ve mentioned you lose experience or currency when you die and if you want to recover what you lost you have to go back to where you died. Ender Lilies doesn’t borrow that mechanic which is nice because it encourages you to explore the world to a greater degree. You can go on a “suicide run” or decide to explore a different area entirely after you die and not face the consequence of losing anything.
Overall the game features a large number of enemies for you to encounter and defeat, and the game does a good job at ramping up the difficulty. Some of the enemies hit extremely hard taking large amounts of damage from your health bar. You can find items hidden in the world that increase your health and this is necessary to avoid being taken out in a hit or two. The bosses provided the most challenge for me in the game. They move quickly and have an array of attacks that can damage Lily. Each boss I defeated left me feeling very satisfied, in part because of the difficult fight but also because I knew I was about to get a new ability. The mini-bosses are just stronger versions of the regular enemies, most of them aren’t that difficult, but it’s usually somewhat of a surprise when you encounter one, so you might not have an ideal loadout or you might be low on health. There is a levelling system that has you earning experience from defeating enemies. At first, I didn’t notice any of my stats increase when I levelled up, but on closer inspection, I realized that my attack power went up slightly with each level.
The art style in Ender Lilies really makes the game shine. The characters have sort of a modern anime look to them and are full of detail despite the limited color palette. The game makes use of a lot of greys and dark tones giving most of the game a very bleak and gloomy feel. When you stumble upon one of the more colorful sections such as parts of the water area they really stand out. The game was built using the Unreal engine so while the game is played at a side view, the levels have multiple layers in the foreground and background and this gives all the environments a substantial feeling of depth. The game takes place in a sort of fantasy setting with a dark tone, you explore run-down villages, damp caves, eerie castles, mysterious churches, and many other settings. I marvelled at each new area I entered and couldn’t wait to see what they contained and where they led. One aspect I liked was that some of the areas are accessed by doors or pathways in the environment. One in particular really stood out, it was a pathway leading back into the distance with multiple fires lighting the path of either side. The audio design is also a standout element. There are a good amount of tracks that fit the sombre mood of the game. Each area seemed to have its own track and there’s a decent amount of variety among them. The sound effects also fit the game well, all the different effects for each spirit help them stand out. When starting the game from the main menu I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Dark Souls menu sounds. One aspect of the game that I found strange was the lack of any sound during the animated cutscenes after purifying each boss. The art is well done and the animation solid, but having no sound whatsoever seemed odd. In addition, if they would have added voice acting to those cutscenes I think it would have taken them to another level.
I’ve spent just under thirty hours playing Ender Lilies and I probably have 99% of the items. I did a lot of backtracking every time I got a new move, so that time could easily be lower for some players. There are multiple endings in the game and the only one I haven’t witnessed is the third and final one, but I’m close. I’ve unlocked most of the achievements in the time I played, and I know I will unlock most of the remaining ones by completing the game, but I’m unsure of a few of them since they don’t have any descriptions. The large variety of spirits give this game a decent amount of replayability, you could try playing through the game again using spirits you shied away from the first time around. The limited number of upgrade resources makes it hard to make full use of all the spirits in one playthrough. Hopefully, the game sells well because I would love to see some additional content released later on.
It’s easy to compare this game to other Metroidvania’s like Hollow Knight, Bloodstained or Blasphemous, though while it doesn’t quite reach the same lofty heights as those games, yet Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights is a fantastic experience from start to finish that can be enjoyed by more than just fans of the genre. It can be challenging at times but a few quality of life features make it more approachable than some of its genre brethren. It’s a solid action adventure with satisfying combat, a stunning art style, and a huge detailed world waiting to be explored that tells a rich yet sorrowful story.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.