Sundered, because to its excellent creative vision, might be a very gorgeous animation even if it lacked gameplay. However, the Thunder Lotus studio’s arcade creation is not only visually stunning, but also extremely difficult and entertaining pleasure.
The initial few minutes with Eshe, the character we play in Sundered, may not leave a lasting impression. We confront groups of animals in the hallways of an overgrown and abandoned structure, and our talents are limited to avoiding their assaults and a single strike that causes just mediocre damage. After exploring numerous halls, we arrive to an impressive-looking shrine, gain a new power, and are immediately attacked by another wave of foes, one of which manages to murder Eshe. We are reincarnated in the sanctuary a split second later, where we spend the gold we earned along the way on upgrades distributed around the massive skill tree. Then all you have to do is go over your newly obtained advantages and choose the most important ones before returning to exploring in a slightly altered system of chambers and corridors.
Sundered’s map is made up of portions that change with each death, thus returning to previously explored areas of the massive complex does not become tedious soon. However, just a portion of the map is procedurally produced – crucial rooms always remain in the same location and are easy to locate on the map, even if we have just left the sanctuary. We can now schedule further vacations thanks to this approach. Is a certain mini-boss too difficult? There are various more options available to us. Is getting to a new location difficult? We will very definitely locate more routes on the board for which we have the necessary abilities or a high enough level. Sundered is as non-linear as it can be while still having a comprehensible, albeit little clichéd, storyline. We are pleased with the developers’ approach, and we really employ several alternate ways to minimize downtime caused by obstacles beyond our existing capabilities. The previously described progression mechanism is really straightforward: the enormous skill tree is separated into modest, three-level boosts and larger enhancements that gradually raise the character’s effectiveness. Choosing these more major abilities necessitates first unlocking the lesser ones, although Eshe’s evolution is largely at the player’s discretion.
Part of the story, driven by an enigmatic voice accompanying the main character, deals with the decision between the light and dark sides, good and evil. This is mirrored in the development mechanisms, where shards of ancient crystals collected from time to time may be put on skill altars or destroyed, earning access to new areas of the talent tree in exchange. These kinds of decisions alter the direction of the game, but they aren’t revolutionary enough to make you replay Sundered again. The gameplay’s simplicity may be off-putting. A single strike, supplemented over time by an assault with a weapon with high stopping power but limited ammo, isn’t much, and the encounters demand us to have quick reactions and evade monster charges rather than completing intricate combinations. This is not to say that overcoming opponents is simple; the longer we remain in the complex, the stronger and more numerous the successive groups get. Over time, however, we may begin to feel as if we are repeating the same set of motions and dodges. The strain is somewhat heightened by boss bouts, which look fantastic and challenge the player to escape assaults that cover the majority of the board. These massive opponents not only impress with the level of workmanship and a plethora of smile-inducing details, but they also provide a task that we will devote a significant amount of time to. Standing in front of these giants, we have the impression that we are taking part in a significant event for the planet of Sundered, and decreasing their life bar to zero gives us a great deal of happiness.
The mini-bosses, like titans, have their own distinct quarters distributed around the complex. Most of them are essentially larger and somewhat stronger versions of normal monsters, and the trick to defeating them is to repel hordes of assistance. There is some difficulty here, and the rewards make the work worthwhile, but in comparison to the major opponents, it is a tiny, unmemorable interlude.
Thunder Lotus has demonstrated for the second time that its graphics and craftsmanship can enchant the receiver. Sundered may have you riveted to the screen for hours, and recognizable features from games like Rogue Legacy and Castlevania work nicely together, but it’s difficult to call it a game changer.