I fear that my controller may never be the same after my time with Sundered; this game is the first in years that made me throw my controller down in rage. Yet it all started so well as Thunder Lotus’ latest game looked to add its own twist to a thriving metroidvania genre. In some aspects it succeeds while in others it doesn’t quite measure up to similar titles.
You play as Eshe who is dragged down to an eldritch landscape filled with monsters and machines, all of which aim to kill you. Very little overt story is given, with players encouraged to explore the three regions of the Sundered to discover what befell a land where worlds collided. As you venture through, a disembodied voice of what claims to be a god tries to guide Eshe through the world, though you don’t have to listen to it.
In true metroidvania fashion, Sundered sees players tracking back and forth through Sundered’s regions to unlock various abilities and acquire shards through killing monsters. The purpose of these shards is to spend them to improve Eshe’s attributes in the only safe haven in the game, known as The Sanctuary. Here you can upgrade Eshe’s armour, shield, health, and damage as well as improve various attributes. You’ll also be able to equip perks you’ve picked up.
These perks are mostly gained through exploration and for most of the game exploration is fun, introducing tougher opponents to face off against and landscapes that have been hand drawn brilliantly. One of Sundered’s crowning achievements is its art style, with all three regions having their own aesthetic while the beasts within are designed well and look imposing from the start. Of course, as Eshe gets stronger these opponents become easier to beat, but getting to that point requires time and patience.
Sundered is a game that will oppose you from the very start, demanding that you adjust to its sheer difficulty. It is a game that rarely lets you rest and if it thinks things have become too easy, it brings in the horde. The horde can arrive at any time with its arrival signalled by a gong alerting you to prepare. No matter how powerful Eshe becomes, the hordes generally prove to be a challenge, throwing a large number of opponents at you at once. Eshe will valiantly swing her blade, which boils down to pressing one button and various directional buttons, or use a cannon to cut down the numbers. In some areas hordes are endless, requiring skill to cut through and avoid death. You will almost inevitably die against a few hordes, but death is not an end in Sundered.
When Eshe dies she is transported back to the Sanctuary where the shards can be spent to improve her skills, in turn allowing you to reach further into Sundered’s world. However there is a fine balance where this can feel like a worthy challenge and becoming tedious. Unfortunately, as you go further into the game, it’s that tedious repetition that comes to dominate. The tedium is broken up by the mini-bosses and boss fights, but there can be long stretches between them, and if you’re not powerful enough to beat those challenges you’ll have to keep killing the smaller creatures for shards until you have the strength required.
The mini-boss and boss fights provide the main motivation for Eshe as they hold fragments of Elder Shards, with three fragments creating a whole Elder Shard. When Eshe has an Elder Shard, the disembodied god encourages you to visit an altar to corrupt an ability, making Eshe more powerful but taking a piece of her humanity away. You don’t have to do this and can instead destroy the Shard, which nets no powered up ability but retains Eshe’s humanity. How you proceed determines which ending you’ll get in Sundered.
The boss fights look down right brilliant and show Thunder Lotus’ game at its best, but can also be rage inducing in their difficulty – it was the final boss fight that caused me to throw my controller in anger. These main bosses tower over Eshe, but all follow a similar pattern when it comes to defeating them. Each has pink shards sticking out of them and destroying those shards eventually destroys the monster, except for in one fight where doing so just halts it temporarily while you go for another target. The mini-bosses aren’t quite as imposing and can be hit anywhere though.
Each of these fights have their own set ups and will require you to have certain abilities to complete them, but they can be done in any order. The pain of this is that should you die you’ll be sent back to Sanctuary and will have to venture through the same environments time and again until your grinding allows for victory. The world of Sundered does change its layout at times, but the differences aren’t hugely noticeable.
What truly lets Sundered down on PS4 at least though is its performance, even with the latest patch installed. The game frequently stutters and locks up for a few seconds, which can throw off your movement in a fight completely. The loading times are also far too long, and Sundered crashed on me at least five times with all of these crashes occurring during a loading screen. There were also times when the screen became so overloaded with enemies that it was hard to see what Eshe was doing. In one boss fight a bug caused all the creatures to freeze in place, but Eshe could still attack, though no damage was dealt which led to having to return to the Sanctuary through the options.
Sundered is a game that has all the ingredients to make a fantastic experience, but they haven’t been mixed together as well as they could have. The sense of progression can feel slow due to the grind of having to go through the same things over and over to improve Eshe, which becomes boring. The difficulty even on normal is really challenging too, exacerbating the repetitive nature of Sundered. Thunder Lotus have created an absolutely beautiful looking and sounding game, but get below that exterior and you’ll find an experience that is average at best.
Version tested: PS4