Inching my way gets old after a while.
You know when a game tries to do something that sounds great on paper, but when the game finally comes out and you play it, it feels completely off? This usually happens when a developer tries to throw in one too many mechanics. They mean well, but ultimately hurt their experience due to wanting to have it all. That’s how I feel with Sundered. It means well, and looks amazing, but there is one major flaw that holds it back from being a great Metroidvania game.
Players take on the role of Eshe. She begins by wandering a desert before being dragged under the sand by some kind of creature. When she wakes up, she finds herself in a strange, twisted world of magic, technology, and ancient evil. She listens to a voice that claims it can help her escape, but at what cost?
Platforms: PS4, PC
Price I’d pay: $13
As I stated above, Sundered is a Metroidvania game at heart, even down to the map overlay. Players will traverse an area, find a passage they can’t make it through, then acquire a skill or item that will get them past it to move on. The same gameplay loop we have seen before, and one that I actually enjoy. What is different here is much like Rogue Legacy, when Eshe dies (and she will, trust me) the map will stay the same, but the overall layout of the rooms changes – much like a rogue-like. I didn’t know this was the case until after I had died a few times. I first noticed this while running around. I saw that the same room kept popping up when I was travelling. I’m talking exact copy to a T. At first I thought I was in some kind of maze, kind of like the Lost Woods in Zelda, but I noticed that on the map, I was filling in parts of it like I was exploring more. That’s when I realized that the layout changes every time I died. Now, while that is strange and confusing at the beginning, what really made it not work for me was the combat and the enemy spawning mechanics.
Since everything is random, the enemies are random as well. To begin with, I was introduced to them slowly, but within an hour of playing the game, I was being bombarded by multiple different types of enemies swarming me. Now, I can dodge, jump, and attack along with a few other special things that take up some of my energy, but when I have upwards to 20 enemies attacking me from all sides, it’s pretty hard to stop dying. Then I die, and guess what? The room layout changes again. I can only hope that I was able to make it to a shortcut or obtained a new skill that may allow me to progress. If not, I was back at the beginning of the world and having to slowly make my way back to where I was.
Now, it’s not all bad. The progression system is actually really nice. It comes in the form of a skill tree that has nodes that can be unlocked and upgraded using points obtained from killed enemies, broken environmental pieces, and corrupted treasure. These nodes can offer up better defense, stronger attack stats, better luck, etc. Then, on top of that, players will have perks they can equip that significantly change Eshe’s stats, but these all come with a drawback. Then after defeating a boss, they will drop on Elder Shard which can be used in two different ways to give Eshe better abilities. Of course, what the player chooses to do with them will affect Eshe and ultimately the ending of the game, so choose wisely.
Since this is a combat and platforming heavy experience, one would hope that the jumping mechanics were tight. Unfortunately, I found them to be a bit too floaty for my tastes. It wasn’t a deal breaker, but it most certainly reared its ugly head a few times when platforming here and there.
Now, visually, this is a beauty of a game. All the animations and characters are hand drawn and really pop against the backgrounds. When getting into boss fights, this is where the visuals really shine. I can’t stress this enough, the screenshots do not do this game justice. It really is something special to see.
All in all, I feel like Sundered had a great idea in place, but due to the procedurally generated rooms mixed with the nonstop enemy encounters, I felt like I wasn’t able to progress enough in a span of time to make me want to keep going. The game wants me to die and because of that, it felt like it didn’t matter if I was skillful enough to make it through, they wanted me to bang my head against a wall for about 30 minutes so I would gain enough shards to level up a few things then take it on using their progression system rather than my skills as a player. It ends up being a frustrating endeavor after a while. Now, that’s not to say there isn’t some enjoyable things to be had here, but I would be weary on spending the full price tag for now. After a little price drop or a sweet digital sale, give it a shot then.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.