Once upon a time, these houses used to be homes. Inside, jars and flatware line the open shelves, and books sit unopened on kitchen tables next to empty fireplaces. There are trunks and boxes and bundles of something - clothing, perhaps? - huddled together, as though someone was getting ready to leave. They wait for owners that will never return.
Today, these homes lie mostly in ruin. Walls have crumbled away and missing slates leave gaping holes in the roofs. Sometimes, but not often, you'll see a splash of something crimson thrown against the broken planks and know that something terrible happened here. What was once a warm, lively village is now damp and dark, and it echoes only with the endless patter of the rain outside and your light, speedy footfalls.
The buildings of Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights are a stark reminder of what Land's End used to be before the Rain of Death fell, decimating its earth, its flora, and its people. The folks that used to throng here are now twisted beyond all recognition, morphed into trolls and skeletons and pulsating beasties, intent on one thing and one thing only, it seems; stopping you.
Occasionally, you'll defeat an enemy that will be so relieved to have been bested by you - so overwhelmed by grief and exhaustion - they'll beg you to purify their soul before they die. In exchange, these freed spirits vow to fight at your side and while that might sound a touch strange - surely they're only swapping one imprisonment for another? - you'll be grateful of their offer as you open up more and more of Land's End, believe me.
This ramshackle town isn't the only place you'll visit, of course. And while I'm not convinced the Switch version of Ender Lilies packs the same visual punch as its PC counterpart, it's an astonishingly beautiful game that's only enhanced further by a sublime, languid soundtrack. There's an enchanted forest and underground mines and a foreboding castle and water-drenched caverns. All are dark, unwelcoming places stuffed with treacherous environments and angry ghouls.
The single constant is Lily, a small child of pure, white light that sits in the centre of your screen. It's not a particularly novel conceit - both Inside and Little Nightmares feature protagonists that bring a splash of colour against an otherwise monotone backdrop (and arguably more successfully in Inside's case) - but it's an effective choice nonetheless, especially as you watch on as her long white locks twist and darken with every boss she defeats, as though each battle leaves an indelible smudge of darkness upon her. As if she carries the weight of that burden - knowing she had to incapacitate, and then purify, tormented souls - with her forever.
Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights is a Metroidvania, a game that requires you to work methodically through a sprawling, interconnected map linked together by secret pathways, both open and secret. Like those that have come before it - perhaps mostly notably Hollow Knight and Ori in recent years - you'll slowly unlock hitherto hidden paths as you expand your skill-set, frequently backtracking when you realise you can now leap high enough to open that chest maybe, or jump into the water now you know you hold your breath. The map is expansive but not overwhelmingly so, and as the fast travel system unlocks very early on in your adventure, moving between areas isn't as frustrating as perhaps it could've been.
She's a curious thing, though, is Lily. While the central character, she neither says nor does very much at all, just leaps and dodges and pirouettes around Land's End, bringing forth the spirits of the fallen to fight her battles for her. You can call upon the combat prowess of a knight or a crow or a witch to fight upon Lily's behalf as she cowers behind them, or - more often than not - bellyflops across the screen, forever dodging trouble in the hope of avoiding damage. It's not hard to see why; Lily is not a formidable opponent, and, courtesy of a ruthless revive mechanic, she will succumb to only a handful of injuries.
Thankfully, she can buff herself with relics left lying about the place, and boost her attack and HP status by gathering up collectable fragments, too. It's a system that falls just on the right side of tedious, although you can't tinker with it too much as your combat and relic loadouts can only be adjusted when Lily is resting at one of the predetermined saves spots across the world. Other collectables - Blights - can also be used to enhance the power of your spirit companions, for which you can tailor and switch between two different configurations, enabling you to carry two loadouts with you; one, perhaps, for slow but heavy damage, and maybe another set that can be used whilst underwater.
I've written before of my love/hate relationship with Metroidvania, chiefly because my dexterity - or lack thereof - makes aerial acrobatics and boss fights excruciatingly frustrating, but Ender Lilies is more forgiving than most, and may be one of the most accessible yet for those interested in the genre but have hitherto been put off by those brutal, roguelike punishments for death.
It's described on Steam as souls-like, which isn't technically true because there's no soul-gathering mechanic here, or even the need to loot your own corpse should you die. With every kill Lily gets a little stronger, a little tougher, which means even if you crash out in a particularly brutal boss fight, the only progress you'll lose is your location; your spoils, relics, and - perhaps most importantly, your XP - are never lost. You just start again at the last bench you saved at.
Combat occasionally feel sluggish, and you're often overwhelmed by both the strength and numbers of The Blighted enemies around you.
Moving about the world isn't effortless, though. While Lily can jump further than you might expect at first, mantling is an imprecise science, and I often felt I missed a jump not because I sucked, but because Lily does. Combat occasionally feel sluggish, too, and she's often overwhelmed by both the strength and numbers of The Blighted enemies around her. Some of those later bosses are unnecessarily tanky damage sponges, too.
If you're looking for something that improves or builds upon the astonishing work of Moon Studios or Team Cherry, you're unlikely to find it here. That said? Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights is a surprising and compelling adventure that's been crafted with care and oodles of charm. Yes, it requires patience. Yes, it requires a natural curiosity, and a willingness to overlook its occasionally clumsy control scheme. But I spent many a night wandering around Land's End, staying up way later than I'd anticipated, keen to unravel more of the story and expand Lily's impressive skillset. If you enjoy Metroidvanias and have been looking for a new challenge that's not too punishing, I suspect you might, too.