Sundered lives it up to its name leaving me divided between love and hate.
When I heard about Sundered, I was immediately excited. The developer had blown my mind with Jotun -their last title- which had a dazzling art style and great mechanics. The trailer for Sundered is equally as entertaining with its awe inspiring boss fights and impressive level design. Then I got the game. Everything holds true to exactly what you see in the trailer except one thing I didn’t expect — I kinda hated the combat. Which is a problem as that’s pretty much the whole game.
Now before you start making assumptions, I do recommend this game. The game has so many amazing qualities to it that I would be a fool not to. This game easily rubs shoulders and shines alongside games like Hollow Knight, Ori and the Blind Forest, Song of the Deep and many more that I have played and can’t remember to mention.
Sundered deserves your attention and it’s for all the right reasons but there are issues that I personally had with the game. You may have a completely different experience from me and I will explain those issues and experiences which I had below.
Let’s dive in.
Getting down to the basics.
Sundered is a action/adventure Metroidvania. Assuming you’re not familiar with that term. basically the gist is that is you have a huge map with many different branching paths and sections. Bosses, power ups, and special abilities are littered across this map for you to find and use to get into bigger and badder areas. It’s that simple. Powers can range from simple things like the double jump, to more impressive things like a huge energy cannon or strong focused attack, etc.
Sundered does things differently, with procedural blocks. Which at first sounds and looks odd but you get the hang of it pretty quickly. Certain things like bosses, powers, and special rooms have a fixed location on the map. Between those fixed locations are the procedural blocks, which are then filled with procedural rooms with exits to those fixed locations. Every time you die those procedural blocks rewrite themselves and have new designs to move about them.
From a technical standpoint its a really cool idea and it works rather well. Then there were times that I found it to be a bit of a nuisance, especially if I just wanted to get somewhere fast. You will die often in Sundered and everything resetting itself is going to slow you down. Which leads you to skipping and running through hordes/enemies just so you get can actually get to where you’re going. Just so you can either die or make progress. The room designs themselves are quite unique and I never felt like I was going through the same room twice. This is mostly due to the amazing art style and aesthetic that the developer put into the game. Later on, these blocks become more intricate which is great, but also a pain for the same reasons.
The goal of the game is rather simple, kill all the bosses and collect their Elder Shards. Then you choose to either, “Resist or embrace” which basically boils down to a morality decision. You have multiple endings in this game and if you’ve played Bioshock you basically understand how the system works. If you embrace the powers you have change form and become more powerful versions of themselves. If you resist you get a bunch of shards to improve your passives. This system is really awesome and the way your powers dramatically change makes it very tempting to embrace. Matter of fact the only time I felt powerful is when I did embrace.
In the form of progression outside of powers, you have a massive skill tree. As you slaughter thousands of enemies you collect shards that you use to unlock passive bonuses. These passive bonuses are perhaps the most integral aspect to the game. Why you ask? Without them you will never make any progress. Enemies inherently have a set amount of health and damage they can do. So no matter how much skill you have if you are in a higher level area then you are going to be one hit by a horde.
All these systems are fine and work well together. The problem lies in the games non-linear nature. There are three huge areas that encompass the game. Most areas are open to you to explore, but the monsters inside are far more powerful than you. Sundered wants you to explore and doesn’t really tell you where you should or shouldn’t be. It’s a rather strange choice for a Metroidvania style game. If you keep up with the skill tree though and farm shards you shouldn’t have too much trouble. Doesn’t change the fact that the skill tree really saps away skill based combat over just being overpowered. Speaking of combat.
Hordes, oh Hordes.
You know that scene in Bruce Lee movies where he fights like twenty guys? Did you ever wonder why they didn’t all rush him and attack all at once? When it comes to combat, that is Sundered in a nutshell. The reason it wouldn’t of worked in a Bruce Lee movie is the same reason I didn’t like it in Sundered. For one, spacial awareness, people can’t phase through other people but in Sundered they rush like a massive snowball of damage. Secondly it just looks sloppy and isn’t fun.
I felt that Sundered celebrated its enemies more than it did me as a player. There isn’t ever a moment that I felt like an action hero, kicking butt and taking names. The only time I did, is when I choose to embrace and alter my powers. That could be on purpose but this takes a great amount of time and investment. In the meantime you are dying over and over again spamming the same basic sword combo. Monsters feel way cooler in their attacks compared to the hero.
I will be honest, some people love that kind of thing. They want a challenge to overcome and don’t mind dying hundreds of times over. Normally I wouldn’t either, but the combat doesn’t feel satisfying enough for me. I didn’t die because I made a mistake, I died a death by a thousand cuts.
The horde system is just not my cup o’ tea. Most of the time the enemies just group into blob of monsters and fly backwards and forwards across the screen. Which is a good thing because you can just spam attack and kill a bunch if you don’t die first. There are also elite versions of enemies in the game. You can find these randomly and sometimes attached to treasure chests as a sort of challenge room. These are the times where I felt the combat was most focused. Your reward is charms, which offer more ways to customize your characters passives. These charms all have a give and take to them. Gain health, lose damage, you get the basic idea.
Boss fights are compelling because the combat is forced to be focused. I enjoyed the bosses far more and even found them to easier then just the normal type of play. They also look incredible but more on that in a bit. Sadly, these epic moments are few and far in between.
To wrap up my thoughts on combat. I don’t think it’s bad, but it just wasn’t for me. Plenty of other people seem to enjoy it though.
Tentacles, squelching and Lovecraft horror!
When it comes to animation and visuals, Sundered can do no wrong with its dark menacing themes. If this is what hell looks like then it is gorgeous! Everything from the backgrounds to the foreground have more detail then my eyeballs can handle. Sundered’s use of color in its animation is a sight to behold. This game easily deserves awards for its art. You can tell the developer pushed themselves harder than ever for the aesthetics of this game. Surpassing their previous work, Jotun. Which is saying something, because Jotun was a fantastic game.
From the epic boss fights to the way tentacles pull you into the ground, everything just flows together. The same could be said for the music and sound effects which elevate what you’re seeing. Despite how I feel about the combat, the way the game looks and feels is what kept me playing. I wanted to see everything because it all looks so amazing. If that tells you anything. Monsters are simple but have terrifying designs with razor sharp teeth and tentacles. When you use your embraced powers you feel the change that is happening in the main character.
The only downfall is the method in which the story is told. Which to say that there isn’t much of a story here. You come across crystal rooms that seemingly are telling a story. The only problem is that you feel like your starting in the middle of the book and have no idea who or what the hell is going on. After playing for eight hours I still didn’t know what or why anything was happening but to be honest I didn’t really care either. Still it could’ve elevated the game further by having a narrative we could follow along with.
Sundered, innovative or more of the same?
One thing is for sure is that Sundered gives you plenty to sink your teeth into with multiple endings and a long game. You are going to be raging for a long time as you embrace or resist, try different builds in the skill tree, and check out the multiple difficulties. Yes the game does get harder, believe it or not.
Sundered does feature full controller support. It also has Steam achievements/cards.
While I wouldn’t recommend playing this game with a keyboard/mouse, you do have key remapping which is always a nice and welcome feature. No complaints on the options front of things.
When it comes to innovation I have to look at the baseline of features. Sundered does plenty of things right to make it stand toe to toe with most Metroidvanias. Especially with its art and over the top boss fights. However, when it comes to making itself stand apart from them it doesn’t really do anything all that unique. The horde system, skill trees, and procedural blocks are nice but nothing that blows my mind. That being said Sundered is a solid game and very well made.
Like I said at the beginning, I would be a fool not to recommend this game. If you love a challenge, don’t mind raging a bit then this is a great Metroidvania. It just didn’t personally click with me. Which is fine.
As always be sure to come back and check out B3 for all your gaming needs! Thank you!