Sundered: Eldritch Edition is gorgeous, mysterious, dark and addictive. Its Metroidvania fusion with rogue-like elements elegantly demonstrates how the two genres should have always been intertwined.
Through the great and terrible voice-over acting, you discover this sometimes charming, sometimes disturbing world through great gameplay, compulsive collectibles, and loose but engaging story beats. It lacks a conclusion that helps the experience stay with you as strongly as the frame to frame gameplay experience, but there is much to enjoy about this indie darling.
Developed by Thunder Lotus Games, the makers of Jotun, you play as Esche, a warrior who stumbles upon an ancient dark force undisturbed for decades. Using the sanctuary as your point of call, you explore three sections of the map where you will encounter twisted creatures in their hundreds.
Deep within these territories are challenging mini-bosses and frightening main bosses heavy in their slumber, ready to wake and be defeated by you through perseverance and a slow, steady progression system which allows you to retain the shards (currency) you earn on each of your runs.
Gaining new abilities allows you to unlock new areas. Furthermore, defeating enemies and finding hidden treasure bundles brings the unlocking of small but necessary upgrades for Esche in the Trapezohedron’s Tree, including more health, more shield, more energy to dash and avoid enemies with, and more still.
You can grind out this progression if you need or want to, as Sundered: Eldritch Edition on Xbox One can be challenging in certain places if you haven’t unlocked all the available abilities and/or have enough upgrades for your character, but it’s balanced to just the right amount so that you don’t get fed up with being unable to progress.
There’s always another path to find, another route to explore, and this is only amplified by the internal layout of the game being randomized each time you play. The core path is still the same, but the internal caverns which you trek change each and every time you die.
This long but effective road to progression and discovery pays off beautifully by the end of the game where you’re dominating monsters and bosses, and it feels fantastic while you do it. The gameplay is just great.
The only slight change that could’ve improved it is if a few more varied moves were allowed in the first few hours of gameplay, switching it up from not having many abilities to learn to master. The gameplay is oh-so more impressive however when you take into account Sundered’s beautiful cartoon animation.
The layers of backgrounds also help create a wonderfully eerie atmosphere, not least helped by the subtle but effective score, topped off by the most terrifying voice-over I’ve heard, perhaps ever. The mysterious force which makes you take this path in the first place gives you glimpses of what happened in this world, when coming across crystals possessing knowledge of the past.
It also comments differently depending on whether you choose to embrace the dark powers available to you after you collect 3 elder shard pieces (combining them to become one elder shard) or you decide to destroy the elder shard. Each avenue possessing different benefits for Esche.
I initially chose the dark side. Embracing every single dark ability available made me extremely powerful, though I felt bad every time I gained another because I knew that in the long-run, this may be something to deeply regret. Although that feeling of regret does resurface by the end of the game, it didn’t bother me enough to not give it a go.
I did however want a bigger payoff for battling every part that this game is able to offer, including small bonus areas available in this particular mode; each of which hold new abilities and a new boss fight once you have collected them all.
Although the core pillars of Sundered: Eldritch Edition are great and mostly impressive, there is a small disappointment with the end result not coming together perhaps as effectively as the developers might have hoped for. The glimpses of story that you’re exposed to throughout the 8-12-hour campaign wonderfully tease you of the dark past of Sundered. However, by the story’s conclusion, I would’ve liked to have been given more context or a complete telling of what happened here and why.
Leaving this game with a sense of confusion in terms of its story is perhaps the biggest fault for me. This however may have been purposeful, with the emphasis on gameplay being front and centre because that’s what the developers want to emphasise. I can’t blame them if that is the case.
On the whole though Sundered: Eldritch Edition is addictive and fun. Together, that makes this game really great. It doesn’t execute things as brilliantly as Symphony of the Night (but what game does?), but it will absolutely be in the conversation of recently released excellent Metroidvania’s for years to come. Yes, there does contain some minor flaws with the gameplay and story, but overall, the experience is a pleasure to play through.
I want to see what Thunder Lotus Games will create next, and I’m excited for their future projects. The potential of this studio is certainly triple-AAA in terms of the indie scene.