Sundered review

This was a difficult review to write as I hit a fair few speed bumps on my path to finishing Sundered Eldritch Edition on the Xbox One. Most of them were to be expected when tackling a Metroidvania style game filled to the brim with hordes of enemies and towering bosses but some of my issues stemmed from technical issues as well as one encounter with a game breaking bug. Despite all this, I made it to the end and have some mixed feelings about something that piqued my interest when it surfaced on PC a while back.

Sundered Eldritch Edition, as it is now subtitled, is the definitive release that’s meant to have all the extra bells and whistles, as well as a nice spit and polish to present it to players in the best possible way. As I said above, it’s a Metroid inspired Lovecraftian action platformer, where you learn new skills to open up more areas of the map and in turn, open up bigger and badder bosses.

We’re given very little in the way of guidance and are expected to explore, investigate and get more powerful in order to defeat the Lovecraftian horrors that inhabit this strange place. Environmental details and certain areas help expand the story and give you a better understanding of whats going on, but it basically boils down to a classic case of humans being a corrupting force.

When anyone says Metroidvania these days, it probably brings up mental images of expansive environments littered with hidden treasures, secret areas and a healthy dose of Rogue-lite elements. Sundered does indeed cover most of these but it does it with its own unique twist. You seem upon death the world does reset and enemies respawn, but rather than finding an entirely new procedural world in front of you, key areas remain the same, it’s just the path towards them that’s different. Boss rooms stay in place, ability rooms stay in place, but the corridors and what you face in between get shuffled about so it feels fresh but familiar. Procedural generation is all the rage these days and it can lead to boring level design and takes away some of the uniqueness of a hand crafted world. Not so much in Sundered. It feels like it’s been pieced together by a person rather randomly bodged together by an algorithm so it helps make the world feel more structured and cohesive.

And what a world it is! I’d argue that some of the areas are typical tropes – caves, forests, industrial areas – but the way its presented is beautiful. Hand drawn sprites and backgrounds that look like old Disney movies with their hand painted cells and rotoscoped animation give them game a look which we haven’t seen much of since things like Dragons Lair and Prince of Persia. The way the character moves and their clothing billows behind them as they dance around the scenery, obliterating everything in their path is quite spellbinding.

Exploration is encouraged with hidden areas, abilities, perks and passive skills dotted around the place. It also leads you into challenge room type areas where a chest is unlocked upon defeating hordes of enemies. These were fun and allowed you to test yourself in battle against difficult odds. And then there were the boss rooms…

The huge bosses tower over the player but unusually they aren’t that tough. The final few boss puts up a challenging fight, but once you spot the glowing weak spots on each beast, it’s just a case of reading their rather basic attack patterns and going to town on them until they are felled. They are intricately deigned and impressive in scale but it was disappointing to beat them so easily. This may have been due to the rather generous upgrade tree.

You see, whenever you kill an enemy they usually drop XP as well as health and the occasional passive ability. Death in this game isn’t really a curse either, it’s more of a blessing. The further you get in the one life, the more challenging the game gets. Enemies will become stronger until it gets to a point that the hordes become nigh on impossible to stop. It’s possible to beat the game this way, but dying lets you level up various stats and unlock abilities. It covers the usual stuff – health, attack power, defence, shields etc etc – and it branches off in lots of directions. Unlocking powers unlocks new branches and you get more powerful. Nice and simple, but it allows for you to build your character how you want, or if you collect enough shards you can grab everything.

And that’s it – you go from area to area, defeat each boss, get stronger and then defeat one of the final bosses. One? There are three endings available in Sundered, play it the way you want, play it with only clean abilities or play through with full corruption. Each play style unlocks different end bosses all of which are hard as nails. There’s also an optional boss for you to challenge if you can complete the mask puzzle rooms. There’s a good amount of replayability here, so its just as well the game is fun!

I enjoyed my time with Sundered, despite one major hiccup. During my initial playthrough I did suffer from a save glitch that wiped about 4 hours of gameplay. This has now been patched though, so you don’t have to worry about it affecting you. There has been a lot of rogue-lite plaformers appearing recently and most of them have been good. It’s easy to compare Sundered to Dead Cells as they both focus on melee combat for their killing. The good news is there is definitely room for Sundered if you enjoyed Dead Cells as their moment to moment game mechanics whilst similar are handled in very different ways. I really enjoyed knowing that the thing I was looking for was in the same place but that my journey there would be different every time. The slick combat made me want to fight everything I saw and the lovely visuals drew me close into the world. If you have any love for this sort of game, do yourself a favour and pick it up.

CX Score
80%

Summary

Pros

  • Slick fighting
  • Gorgeous art style
  • Lots of exploration

Cons

  • Easy boss fights

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