It appears that Diablo-like ARPGS are somewhat like buses: you wait ages for one, and then two arrive at the same time. We’ve recently seen – and enjoyed – Grim Dawn: Definitive Edition, but now the next one rolls into view, that of Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards. Coming from a collaboration between Digiart Interactive and N-Fusion Interactive, is this a promising entry into an increasingly crowded marketplace, or are you better sticking with the big names of the genre?
The setting for Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards is not some distant realm or mystical plane; in fact, it is refreshingly mundane. Well, as mundane as you can get when you are a demigod and have to fight other gods! But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Aluna is set in 16th Century Latin America, a world of Incas and Spanish conquistadors. Based on the popular comic book series “The World of Aluna”, Aluna is the daughter of Pachamama, the Goddess of Earth, and a Spanish Conquistador – and as such has been gifted a shard of Pachamama’s power, which enables her to use magic. Aluna was raised in Spain, and has now come back to the land of her mother in order to become its protector. Her mission is to defeat Nagaric, an evil being who desires the amulet that Aluna’s mother gave her. Aluna’s mission is to restore the amulet’s power and stop him. Simples right?
The way the game looks is very nice indeed, with a wide variety of locales to visit, explore, and have a massive brawl in. The scenery ranges from deep jungle and ruined temples to the seaside, from cliffs to caves, and villages and towns along the way. Each area is nicely drawn, and the creatures that you end up fighting are also well designed to fit in with the feel of the locales. For instance, on the beach you’ll be fighting giant crabs, while in the jungle, monkeys and jaguars will be your opposition, alongside carnivorous plants. This isn’t even mentioning undead warriors, lizard men and ghost pirates!
As you go through the big levels (there is a lot of real estate between you and your goal) you will also come across bosses based on, or at least inspired by, Latin American lore. So you’ll face off against the god of the jaguars, for instance, or the god of the bats or crocodiles. It’s fair to say that these battles can be very challenging.
Sound wise and Sentinel of the Shards is very much on the okay side, with a nice sort of ambient sound effect going on. The game is let down a little by the voice acting, as it isn’t the most convincing voice work I’ve ever heard, and if I have to listen to Aluna shouting her various catch phrases as she fights much longer, I may have to resort to ear plugs. The only time I want to hear her, weirdly, is when she is hurt so I know when to heal, but she normally says something when a hard look from an enemy can kill her, and so that’s a bit of a missed chance.
Combat and loot are the two legs that a good ARPG rests on, and Aluna is no different. Aluna does have a dodge move, and so there’s a good mark for that, as flicking the right stick to run away soon becomes second nature. Add this to a special attack that throws arrows out when she rolls and you can hurt people while remaining safe.
It’s good that there are two possible ways to fight in Aluna too, with ranged weapons or melee ones; which you choose will depend on how you build your character. Having always believed that discretion is the better part of valor, and that if peril has to happen it should be as far away as possible, I mostly opted for ranged weapons. There is a lot of loot dropped, as you’d expect, and while a lot of it is trash and only fit for selling to the merchant, you do get the occasional gem dropping.
As you go through the game, the equipping of new gear becomes paramount, as you will always need to be as strong as possible, mostly due to a general imbalance in the game. This is my only real issue with Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards, but it is a fairly big one: the difficulty spikes as you go through the story are crazy. You’ll be making good progress, marking all the things in your path, and suddenly you will reach an area where the enemies can one shot you, and you have to rethink your tactics. One great tactic I have found as a ranged character is to run in, aggro some enemies, then run away: when you cross an invisible line on the floor, the enemies will stop chasing and attacking and saunter back to their positions, allowing you to get free hits in. Sometimes exploiting poor enemy AI is a valid tactic…
Other than this one rather big failing, the rest of Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards is quite enjoyable. It isn’t good enough to sit at the top table of the ARPG world, but can quite comfortably be found on the second tier. With better balancing through the game it would have been a contender, but the extreme difficulty spikes spoil the experience somewhat.
If we are lucky though, this might just be the start of a new franchise that gets better with age, just like Diablo.
Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards is available from the Xbox Store