A young girl without her memory. The departed shade of a long dead hero. An abandoned town filled with what remains of its former inhabitants. This is the scene as you begin Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights by developers Live Wire and adglobe and publisher Binary Haze Interactive. It is the very essence of these mysteries that drive you forward, trying to figure out just what was going on in this village, what happened to devastate the land, and why is young Lily, your protagonist the only apparent survivor? And furthermore, what the heck even is a Quietus?
Well, I can answer that last one for you right away. Quietus is a very old word with several meanings, many of which are relevant here. The first is death, the second a release from servitude or debt, and the third is something with a calming or soothing effect. How are these relevant? Well, for starters, while Lily is our playable character, she is no knight, no warrior, and must rely on the aid of spirits to fight the violent creatures and traverse the broken terrain of the village of Land's End. Initially she can only call upon the Umbral Knight, a fallen shade who greeted her upon her awakening, but very shortly thereafter she comes across a revenant of a warrior nun who had sworn her life to protect Lily. Driven mad in her undeath, Lily and the Shade fight the Nun Siegrid, and after defeating her, Lily offers a prayer for the Knight, cures her madness, frees her soul and gains her spirit to fight alongside her and the Shade.
So begins Lily's journey to remember her past and discover what horrors have befallen Land's End, what the rain has to do with the scourge of undead, hopefully stop it all, and survive. The plot - which I will not be spoiling here - safe to say is fascinating, told through a mix of scattered letters and journals, monologues from the fallen shade as Lily makes her way across the ravaged countryside, and beautiful hand drawn cut scenes that play whenever you defeat a boss. These, along with the extra movement options to help Lily explore further, absolutely feel like a worthwhile reward for overcoming the challenge of the punishing boss fights.
This, I suppose, is a perfect time to cover the gameplay and mechanics. Ender Lilies is undeniably and unabashedly a metroidvania, with all the exploration, acquisition of items, and backtracking that moniker entails. It's also taking very obvious inspiration from From Software's Souls titles in that combat is very deliberate, enemies hit hard and timing is very important to survival, dodging and rolling at the right time is a vital necessity to avoiding taking hits especially because the game lacks mercy invincibility, and healing - in the form of Lily offering a prayer to heal herself, her one innate combat capability - is both a limited resource and requires a warmup to function. Putting that another way, the game wasn't pulling any punches with its narrative and it sure as heck won't be doing it with combat, either. So is Ender Lilies a game about avoiding conflict from overpowered enemies? No, far from it. While you will absolutely take a LOT of damage and have to respawn a lot if you're not careful (as a general rule, anything that's red WILL hurt Lily so make sure to avoid those), Lily is absolutely empowered through her collection of spirits and relics to fight, defeat, and give repose to every single fallen soul to be found in Land's End.
Spirits, essentially the lingering souls of bosses and mini bosses that are helping Lily with her quest come in three varieties. Main Skills, like the Umbral Knight, who have unlimited or very numerous uses and are essentially Lily's primary weapons. Sub skills, like the ones offered up by Siegrid and many other sub bosses that offer fewer uses but different attack options and patterns, and ability, which are basically just your movement skills like double jump, ground smash, and entirely free movement in water, including up waterfalls. Ability skills are always active, and Lily can equip two sets of any three skills at once, changing her selection out at one of the thankfully many rest locations scattered about the map. Lily can also upgrade her collection of spirits with Blight, and further enhance her capabilities with the relics to be found around the map. Of course Blight is hard to come by and you can only equip so many relics without also finding the collectibles to grant extra relic slots, so all the more reason to keep exploring.
So yeah, let's talk exploration and movement for a moment. First, Lily moves fluidly and responsively. While you need to be careful to avoid damage, you never feel like she's sluggish when moving or dodging, and even the heaviest and slowest spirit attacks feel like they make sense for why they briefly restrict her movement. Lily automatically mantles up nearby ledges and platforms if you get close to them, which is absolutely a wonder for exploring and traversing an area, but can make things slightly worrisome when you're attempting to cheekily hit a strong enemy from just below the platform it's on. The game also encourages exploration through a series of unlockable shortcuts, making second and third trips through an area much easier than the first. On top of this, any enemy defeated stays defeated until the next time Lily uses a rest area. And Lily gets to keep any spirit or item she has collected, even if she dies before reaching a respite - and further respawning her at the nearest save point without penalty when she does die - she can also freely fast travel between any visited save point from almost the beginning the game. Ender Lilies also handily lets you know when you've found everything a room has to offer by changing color on the map, which is helpful given the sheer size of a number of the rooms Lily has to trek through.
Every single one of those rooms, from the rain soaked graveyards to the crumbling town, to the bone filled catacombs, poisoned lakes and snow filled mountains are absolutely gorgeous, with just enough music to lose to the background, enhancing the mood without being overpowering. And the addition of soft humming or quiet singing almost behind the tracks makes it feel like the music is something Lily is performing for herself, for a bit of reassurance in a difficult time. Even the boss music - usually bombastic and overpowering in action games - is subdued, though not without a sense of weight and purpose reflecting each boss' personal style and motifs.
I briefly mentioned the punishing bosses above, but it's worth bringing them up again because, while they are absolutely crushing, they are also lovingly and deliberately crafted. You are probably going to die several times to each boss, but each time will help you find their pattern and survive a bit longer, until you can finally triumph. So far, all proper bosses I've encountered have had a total of four phases, usually marked by the boss pausing and screaming, though in some cases instead of screaming they've transformed and brought out a whole new form with a whole new health bar. So if it seems like a boss is dying too easily, there's probably a trick waiting up its sleeve. But when you defeat them, that alone is worth it, even before the new power and knowledge you and Lily acquire
To end this review, Ender Lilies is a game that just keeps drawing me back. I keep booting it up for just another few minutes, and that turns into hours and then it's probably midnight and I need to go to sleep. It absolutely will suck you in with its moody but gorgeous visuals and music, while keeping you on your toes with its difficult combat. If you're up for a challenge that respects your time as well as your skills, look no further than Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights.
This review was based off a preview steam key provided by the developer.