I came into Sundered: Eldrich Edition with a couple of expectations.
First, I adored developer Thunder Lotus’s first game, Jotun, so much that I just had to see what else they’ve made. Jotun (review here) managed to take a stark and quiet world and make it beautiful, punctuating it with awe-inspiring battles against screen-filling gods. Based on Jotun, I was expecting similar graphical wonders from Sundered.
Second, this year has seen a bevvy of Metroidvania games that somehow all managed to be unique and interesting, and I feared that Sundered wouldn’t have enough gas in the tank to stand out in a year that gave us Hollow Knight, Chasm and Dead Cells.
I discovered that my expectations were kind of right on both accounts.
Sundered is as enigmatic and oppressive as its predecessor, Jotun. And this new Eldritch Edition is also available as a free update to the PC, Xbox One and PS4 versions, adding new areas, a new boss and local co-op multiplayer for up to four players.
The game opens with protagonist Esche pushing against a hard desert wind, only to find herself transported to a weird ‘elsewhere’. From then on, she must make her way around an ever-shifting world in search of powerful shards, which she can either destroy to gain points for levelling up or ‘corrupt’ to gain extra abilities. This choice essentially amounts to following a ‘good’ or ‘evil’ path, respectively, leading to one of four endings. But if I’m being honest, the story bounced off me rather quickly, and I pushed forward because of the gameplay rather than the plot. I wanted the story to be mysterious in a way that intrigued me, but instead it was cryptic to the point of opacity.
Where the game shines is in its movement, traversal and combat. It feels very fluid and satisfying right from the start. The pace is similar to Jotun, actually: each movement feels deliberate, and your strategies will often hinge on the eternally useful roll move to whisk you out of danger. There’s a certain crunch to the combat that feels empowering when pulling off combos successfully, and an artfulness to jumping and dodging attacks.
Artfulness is a good word to describe it, because Sundered features a stunning hand-drawn animation style that reminds me of the old Lord of the Rings cartoon or Wizards. Everything comes to a head with staggering boss battles, another of Thunder Lotus’s signature features. The bosses are brutal, to say the least. And dying sends you right back to the ‘Sanctuary’ at the center of the map, where you can upgrade your health, armor and so on using the points you collected on your last run. This also means that every death results in a long trek back to the point where you died – and the procedurally generated parts of the map reconfigure, too. Your mileage may vary depending on how you feel about that last sentence.
I was of two minds on world design as well. Some parts of the map are fixed, while the parts in between are generated afresh with each run. But having a semi-randomly generated world is a precarious choice, because if you don’t get it just right, it can become boring. This is my biggest hang-up with Sundered. It was a valiant effort, but the world’s lack of personality, the plethora of dead zones between battles and the inherent sloppiness of randomization meant I didn’t find it very engaging. Getting to the next objective is imperative not only to drive the game forward, but because everything in between is a bit, well, boring.
Sundered has its moments, and I think just seeing what was around the next corner was enough to compel me to keep playing, but I don’t see myself coming back to it. With the plot flying over my head and the world design feeling half-baked, the gratifying combat just isn’t strong enough to carry the experience for me. At the very least I’m glad to see Thunder Lotus stepping out into different genres. Maybe next time they’ll knock it out of the park again.
Sundered: Eldritch Edition is available for PC, PS4, Xbox One and Switch. We reviewed the Switch version.
Disclosure statement: Review code for Sundered was provided by Thunder Lotus Games. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.
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