Enderal is a free Skyrim mod available on the Steam store released on the 14th of February, 2019. In this case, the term mod doesn't quite do it justice: What we are looking at here is a full-blown game based on Skyrim. It brings it's own own voice acting, an entirely new skill system, it's own lore and a completely new world to explore. The only prerequisite is that you own Skyrim. It does however not work with Skyrim: Special Edition. If you do not own the standard edition, you will not be able to play it. With that out of the way, let's take a closer look at Enderal.
What makes Enderal mechanically different
The developers have not been afraid of changing core mechanics, reimagining many aspects of Skyrim, and thus created a very unique experience.
For example, unlike in Skyrim, there is no fast travelling to locations that you have visited once. But there are alternative means of transportation, namely transportation scrolls and Myrads (similar to Morrowinds' Silt Striders). This completely changes the experience as you have to think about how you travel, and it makes the world feel larger. One of my favorite moments in Skyrim was climbing up the mountain where the Greybeards live. Right from the very start you can see where the destination is, and it does take a while to get there - that is what makes the world feel large. Dungeons do not provide the same feeling, you never know when you reach the end. What's worse about Skyrims' dungeons is that they all look very similar, and there's simply too many of them. Thankfully, the people behind Enderal did not make the same mistake - there is much more variety.
Another very interesting change is that health no longer regenerates automatically. This means that food actually has a purpose now and isn't just decoration in houses. This does also feel very reminiscient of Morrowind, and it makes for a much more immersive experience. In Skyrim I was drowning in potions after a while, in Enderal I have to actually explore the world to find means for healing myself. And because I usually have no means of fast travelling, I have to be careful about using my potions. This also makes finding loot a much more rewarding experience than in Skyrim. Also Skyrim throws new armor sets at you rather quickly, you never stick with a single set for all too long, Enderal makes this progression slower, and as a result, getting new pieces of equipment is very rewarding. There are also sets with additional benefits when wearing multiple pieces of it.
One other thing that has changed, skills do not level up just by doing things. Crafting a hundred iron daggers isn't going to make you good at smithing. In Enderal, what you actually have to do is read skill books, and these can be found scattered throughout the world or bought from merchants.
All the changes together make for a very engaging RPG experience.
Not just another place in Tamriel
With all the aspects that were inherited from Skyrim, what about the world and lore? Well, Enderal is placed in it's own universe. You won't find it on the Tamriel world map anywhere.
The game doesn't start in the typical Elder Scrolls way either, you are not a prisoner. You are actually a stowaway on a ship to the island - Enderal - hoping to find a better life. The trip doesn't quite go as intended though, you get caught and thrown in the sea. Through a miracle (well, not quite, as you learn in the story), you still end up on Enderal. And from there you slowly unravel the mysteries on the island.
Moving to the lore, the schools of magic are similar, but not the same. The lore behind magic is different as well - in Enderal there is something called the "Sea of Eventualities Essentially there are multiple realities and arcanists are able to see those different realities and conjure parts from it.
A lot of the lore is delivered through books that are scattered throughout the world. I'm not good at judging the writing, since I'm not a native speaker, but I enjoyed reading most of them.
Enderal's lore isn't quite as well developed yet as Elder Scrolls - which isn't surprising considering how many games there are already in the Elder Scrolls series.
Based on the screenshots you can probably tell that the game does look rather pretty. Some areas have received a lot of attention to detail, in other cases the opposite is true. For instance, some houses have an almost identical interior.
I also had some problems with the brightness in the game. Particularly in dungeons and during night it's rather frustrating that I had to use a torch to see something - because as soon as I see an enemy I have to switch to sword + shield and fight in darkness. Using magic to produce light is also annoying, because the spell needs to be cast again and again. It is realistic, but more convenience here would have been nice. Having a mod like Wearable Lanterns bundled with the game would have solved this.
Performance & Other Issues
As Enderal is based on Skyrim, it does however share some of the problems that can be attributed to the dated game engine. For example, the framerate is taking a large dip when there are lot of objects on the screen. Ultrawide screens also are not properly supported, the UI is cut off in some places. Luckily there is a remedy, a tool called Flawless Widescreen. For my particular setup, I had to override the display detection, because it falsely assumed I have a triple monitor setup.
I did also experience a fair amount of crashes. There are some enhancements in place to improve performance, which also have a tendency to cause more crashes. I did not spend too much time messing with the settings however, so I cannot provide any recommendations here.
Additional inherited problems are also NPCs stopping for no reason, even though you are supposed to follow them. Sometimes they also turned around to wait for me, even when I was close. On the bright side, NPCs are running faster in Enderal. I did not have to switch between walking and running constantly to stay close. If you've played the quest in Skyrim where you have to follow Irileth to the guard tower where a dragon was sighted, you will know what I mean.
Enderal brings new life into Skyrim and is a very well put together game. And it really is a full game - just built on top of Skyrim. It brings a completely new world to explore, changes core mechanics and generally feels very high quality. It is a throwback to Morrowind without regenerating health and without fast travel. But, being built on Skyrim does also mean it shares some of the problems that the engine has, mainly poor performance. For those already owning Skyrim and looking for good RPGs, it is absolutely worth trying out. Enderal is available on Steam for free.