Thunder Lotus Games previous title, Jotun, was one of those games that would instantly grab your attention, thanks to a fantastic 2D art style perfectly adapted to the game. The same can be said of Sundered, which beckons you in with a fantastic 2D art style, clearly the strongest point in the game. Unfortunately, like Jotun, Sundered does not fulfil its potential due to a few technical issues and poor design choices.
Sundered is a pure Metroidvania, which means you will go through 2D environments from side to side, top to bottom, and vice versa, trying to a way to progress. When you unlock a new ability, you will repeat the process until you find a new area you can access thanks to the new ability. In terms of the gameplay, Sundered works. The controls are responsive, the action is fluid (except during the occasional slowdown), and the character's progression system is very solid, but before we elaborate on that, a little context.
In Sundered you will control Eshe, a very agile girl who will have to face a labyrinth-like world full of bizarre creatures (bosses, in particular, are insane). One of the main themes in the game is "resist or embrace", which refers to special abilities that you either adopt or choose not to adopt. If you consume them, you will grow stronger, but you will lose humanity. How you approach this will dictate the last few enemies you face, and what ending you will see.
Sundered has some roguelike elements, even if they aren't all that pronounced. The core level structure of levels and boss locations is always the same, but smaller areas in between are generated procedurally. There is also no true permadeath as when you die you will be sent to the hub area and will have to repeat your path. Everything you achieved will be saved though, and you get to keep experience points to evolve Eshe, meaning you will go back stronger every time.
This is one of the best features of Sundered, the attributes and perks system. There is a huge skill tree that you can follow, divided into three possible directions, and you can unlock these attributes by spending the points you get by defeating enemies or destroying objects. You can improve Eshe's strength, health, and energy shield, for example, but you can also unlock new perk containers, up to a maximum of three.
These perks are conquered by defeating bosses (each area has a final boss, as well as secondary bosses), and allow you to change the way Eshe behaves. Each perk offers an advantage in exchange for a disadvantage, but you may create combinations that negate or compensate for these drawbacks. For example, we choose a perk that transforms 40% of health into shield energy (the shield regenerates automatically, health does not), but health gets limited to 1. This means you die when the shield goes down. Although health does not regenerate, you can use items to heal your character, but that's useless if your health is limited to 1 by that perk. Well, it's a good thing then, that another perk increases the number of health items from two to four, by also turning health items into shield items. These two perks form quite a useful combo, as now you use items to heal your massive shield bar. There are several similar combinations you can try, that may fit a particular playstyle.
In addition to the perks and attributes, throughout the adventure, you will unlock a range of abilities, including double jump, a cannon, gravity boots, and even a hook. This allows access to previously blocked areas, as is the norm in Metroidvania games, and works well for the most part. In terms of controls, Sundered is quite solid, but the rest of the game has problems. In addition to technical issues, including overly long loadings, Sundered suffers from a design choice from Thunder Lotus Games which, in our opinion, seriously undermine the gaming experience.
Sundered's enemies are not given fixed positions in the game world. Instead, the studio created a system in which enemies spawn procedurally, which makes the experience unpredictable. However, there are "events" in which an alarm goes off and the player is bombarded with enemies. These events can be extremely difficult, and due to the procedural nature, quite unfair. We found situations that seemed literally impossible to survive, with enemies and shots appearing from all directions. The fact that many of these opponents, especially the flying ones, can navigate the scenery without taking platforms or geometry into account, puts the player at a further disadvantage, and there are even opponents who can shoot lightning from great distances, ignoring the scenery as well. This design choice is terrible in our opinion and seriously undermines what could have been an excellent game. There is a difference between a challenging game, and an unfair one, and Sundered often leans towards the latter.
We played the PS4 version, which according to Thunder Lotus Games, will receive an update that aims to solve some of the issues we encountered. However, we can only review the experience we had with the game as it was presented for review. Sundered has a lot of good elements, but the way the team approached the enemy spawn system turned out to be a considerable low point. We do not know if the game will be tweaked in this regard with future updates, but at this point, you should be warned that this game may not just be challenging but also a bit unfair, even if you are a fan of the Metroidvania genre.