Gates to Aesgaard – Episode One was an action-horror mod released by ThePriest909 and KoukouStudios back in 2007 and received its last update in 2012. For horror mods relating to Oblivion, this is the most downloaded and endorsed. Often heard how it was terrifying among other things.
From what I understand, this was meant to be a series or possibly a trilogy (not sure which one) but the developers decided to stop modding. Instead, they decided to focus on creating their own game called Lethe (Episode 1), you can check out the indie game right here. However, I haven’t seen any new updates recently so not sure if they are still working on it or if they decided to move to other projects.
The main requirement that this mod asks of you is to use only torches. Using light or night-eye is highly discouraged and will ruin most of the mod’s ambience. Also, the description mentions sound design was one of the key elements they focused on; so wear some headphones/ear buds and crank up the volume. This method is more epic when you have the combat music disabled so you do have that “sixth sense” of when combat is starting. However according to the description the lighting is about 60% of the experience so using night-eye will ruin nearly the entire experience compared to light spells. If you do play this, I recommend sticking with torches. Do not worry about bringing a lot as you will be given plenty of torches to last you the entire adventure.
To begin the quest, you need to be in an exterior cell and wait for a few seconds. You will get a letter from an old friend who wants your help exploring an old ruin. She mentions an incident that caused you both to go separate ways but you never find out what it was. The quest journal will mention that the letter was delayed from reaching you, which basically means that Ashen Rose, the name of your friend has already left without you to explore the ruins. Head over to her house and have a look around to find clues to where the ruins are located.
While searching her house, I am going to say having a sewer grate (or manhole cover I guess?) in her house and having it say it leads to the “crypt” is a little old. It looked more like a basement of sorts than a crypt. Maybe it was formerly a crypt then repurposed into her basement? Reading the custom books was interesting, I was briefly confused for a moment. At first, I thought the ‘Sonia’ character she mentions is referring to your character. Now that I think about it, it might been referring to the popular companion mod that ThePriest909 made called Red Sonia. That was mildly confusing.
I mentioned earlier that only torches are allowed, but while playing Gates to Aesgaard I noticed that sometimes you were given potions of light or scrolls of light/night-eye. I do not know whether these were randomly spawned or you were provided them by the creators. If it is the former, then okay but if the developers provided that….I find that odd since that would more or less defeat the purpose of the ‘torches only’ rule.
The sound design is something I have mixed feelings about. This is for a variety of reasons. I thought the sound design could been done better. Mainly because my philosophy is that sound design for any game, especially if its horror is extremely important. There were times when the sound design was good in certain areas but it felt a little off to me. I also had the problem where I seem to have a bug from a mod I previously played because I keep getting a looping dialogue every few minutes. So having that, ruined much of the experience for me as well but that isn’t the fault of the creators. It is just something on my end that I have not fixed yet. It might been the Malevolent mod since that was the last mod I did for Oblivion before stopping, then eventually beginning this mod without getting rid of that mod.
Story-wise, most of it is told through notes and I have a feeling that I may have missed some notes. I really did enjoy reading the story of the Axeman since it explains a lot of the story while Ashen’s notes is explaining her story and seeing how her mental state evolved as you went deeper into the ruins. So technically there is two stories going on. One is about the sadistic king and his cruel generals who ‘disappeared’ during a revolt while the other is about Ashen Rose. Some of the story is also told through video cut-scenes which often reveals your next goal or piece of the story. I think the videos scared me more since they always have a loud sound that plays prior to the video. That sound terrified me more than anything else since it is always so unexpected and you do not know when you will get a cut-scene to watch. I think the story was pretty fascinating since it takes you to a different realm and you learn about these so-called ‘gods’ especially about the king. It hints that the king has possibly become ‘otherworldly’.
The enemies of the game for some reason reminded me of Silent Hill. Probably because they didn’t have faces and it kept reminding me of the nurse enemies from the Silent Hill franchise. The enemies were rather limited since it kept to same types throughout. Despite the enemies being severely limited, their designs were quite well-done. Sneaking is to be avoided since if you have a high sneak skill along with your preferred weapon skill (e.g blade) then they will not pose much of a challenge, especially if you do sneak attacks. I ended up having to sneak through at certain points to give myself a break because I was not a fan of being surprised. I have combat music disabled so I literally have no idea when I am about to be attacked by enemies. It made the experience more terrifying especially when they just come out of the darkness with no warning. I was looting a chest at one point, as soon I exited it and was getting a new torch out, I suddenly was hit by a spell and several melee attacks. Scared the daylights out of me. When I got the torch out (forgetting I had it on a hotkey), only to see I was surrounded by several zombies and a few of the cursed priests. The cursed priest sure like their lightning spells.
Now I do not know whether this is intentional or not but I hated going underwater in the mod. As soon you begin swimming underwater, everything literally turned black and I had no idea where I was going. This had two effects on me:
- It annoyed me severely since I had no idea whether I was going the right way or not, several times I had to swim back and forth in the dark waters because I swam past the door. So swimming back and forth to find the ‘sweet spot’ so I can activate the door and move to the next area. This was especially true in the Cursed Ruins section since I literally had no idea where I was going and ended up missing the side-passed where I was meant to go completely.
- It gave a sense of vulnerability since you have no way to navigate, which led to a sense of paranoia cause you’re hoping to be able to find the other side of the water clogged tunnel before you ran out of air. I had no water-breathing potions or spells so the sense of urgency was even greater.
So the question remains whether this was intentional or not. If it was, the kudos to the maker for making those parts feel like the longest minutes of my life and nearly making me rage-quit cause I had no idea where to go. If not, then basically what the hell?
It is quite obvious that I did not enjoy the Cursed Ruins section. Nevertheless, the level design was amazing. When I first entered the abyss, I thought it wasn’t too bad then found out that it was actually much more vast than I initially thought. Some sections made me think of Silent Hill, in particular one of the tombs belonging to a cursed general whose name I do not remember. Actually the tomb might have belonged to the psycho king. I got a little lost towards the end since I had no idea that I even had a map marker (didn’t bother to look at my compass) leading me to where the exit was. When I did finally follow it, I thought it was lying to me cause I thought the ‘hole’ would lead me to my death when really, it was rather shallow and had a path leading to the exit portal. I got a little upset cause I could not loot the armor from the cursed generals, I wanted their armor but I did get their weapons. Hearts too. I do not know why though, was collecting the hearts necessary or just something you can pretend to be a trophy item?
Another thing I liked was the names of some of the areas. Some of them were just plain creepy like: treatment rooms, Nowhere, Silent Souls, The Prey Room and so forth. Just looking at those names before entering made me go ‘nope‘ even though I had nowhere else to go.
Just playing the first episode makes me hesitant to play the second episode. However, I was not exactly known for having the most…sane of ideas. So I will be playing the second episode as well.