It’s time to add yet another Metroidvania title to your Switch roster! Sundered: Eldritch Edition is a Lovecraftian journey through an ever changing landscape that throws all manner of hell your way while it sits back to see how you react.
H.P. Lovecraft introduced the world to the unknowable, cosmic horror that has practically become an artistic medium of it’s own. Inspiring games like Bloodborne, Call of Cthulhu, and Conarium, exploration of the cosmic unknown, and the madness we face from learning the truth, have become captivating canvas’ from which developers like From Software and Thunderlotus draw their inspiration.
Sundered is something ripped directly out of an H.P. Lovecraft novella. Crawling with tentacled monstrosities, dark, eerie, labyrinthine corridors, and some names that are nearly impossible to pronounce; Sundered, if nothing else, is automatically sensational to take in.
Sundered puts you in control of Eshe (pronounced more like Ash); a stranded, lonely woman trying to brave some unknown desert. As she stumbles upon some ancient looking ruins, Eshe is swept away to a mysterious cavern by an ethereal eldritch being known as the ‘Shining Trapezohedron’. For the sake of time, we’ll call him ‘Trapez’. It turns out Trapez needs help obtaining his lost power, 7 Elder Shards that are currently in the hands of some seriously nightmarish abominations. If Eshe agrees to help, that power will be bestowed on her as well.
The story slowly plays out the deeper you explore. A war between the Eschaton and the Valkyries ended with both sides becoming horribly disfigured and corrupt. The Eschaton were the ethereal beings that Trapez descended from, while the Valkyries were a technologically advanced race of humans. The Valkyries created otherworldly weapons that Eshe collects in order to progress the story. Trapez is the devil on her shoulder, making the argument that while these weapons are in fact powerful, they’re nothing compared to what he can offer. Eshe must decide whether her journey will lead her to embrace this power or destroy it, and Trapez usually has quite a lot to say regarding that choice.
Collecting shards doesn’t boil down to only finding 7. Some shards you acquire from bosses, others you find in the world, and others need to be forged. During your journey you’ll stumble upon ‘shard fragments’, these fragments can be combined to create one shard after you find three of them. Personally, I would’ve preferred they went with a different name considering the terms ‘shards’ and ‘fragments’ mean the same thing, but it’s an extremely minor discrepancy.
Once you collect a shard you have a choice to make. You can either break it down for currency to pump into the skill tree, OR you can return to an ability shrine and Trapez will augment said ability. For example, upgrading the double jump gives you the ability to glide after performing a jump. There is a wall climbing mechanic that requires you to run towards the wall in order to run up it. Throwing a shard into that ability lets you climb up walls anytime, anywhere.
When you acquire a shard Trapez makes a point of telling you how you should use it. While it might be tempting to just corrupt all of your abilities, since it drastically affects the difficulty of the game, there are permanent consequences to your decisions that extend beyond how they affect your abilities. When you destroy a shard, not only are you given a good amount of resources to pump into the skill tree, but new abilities and passive skills appear on the skill tree after you destroy a shard. These only appear after destroying the shards and appear in a fixed order as well. On top of this, the choice you make regarding shards affects which final boss you will face and which ending you get, there are 3 endings, and 3 different bosses.
Like any good Metroidvania, as you discover new abilities, new paths become open to you. While there are only 3 biomes to explore, they become pretty expansive, especially after returning with a new skill that lets you dive even deeper. Thunderlotus has taken a try at procedural generation. While some might attribute this to a rogue-lite element, things work a bit differently in Sundered. The overworld has a set layout. Ability shrines, the forge, boss rooms, all remain in the same spot, along with the primary areas that connect together to get to those places. The sub-rooms that are within these larger ones are what constantly change every time you die. While this is an interesting premise, there is a lack of variety here that makes navigation eventually become easier.
After an hour or so, you’ll begin to recognize the layout of these sub-rooms and things begin to blend together. A lack of variety and bland color pallet make things a bit redundant, but getting used to seeing the same or similar rooms pieced together makes navigation more comfortable. It is a valid attempt but sadly, the execution misses its mark. Personally, it didn’t bother me too much, but those looking for a more Dead Cells experience will need to look elsewhere.
The progression system is something I thoroughly enjoyed though. While you explore the 3 biomes, Eshe collects “souls” that can be put into the skill tree. However, the only time she can is when she dies. Instead of losing everything and needing to retrace your steps to collect that precious loot, Eshe retains it upon death and that is when you’re allowed to upgrade her. This is an extremely rewarding mechanic and makes death feel like a necessary measure.
At the start, Sundered can be extremely difficult. Hordes of monsters are thrown at you and it isn’t hard to quickly become overwhelmed. After a couple of runs and subsequent deaths, however, Eshe can start to take a couple more hits, and enemies begin dying a lot faster. It’s an awesome mechanic and great twist on an old formula. Getting your ass spanked repeatedly only to finally return and wipe the floor with them later is a rewarding feeling that never gets old.
To assist you further, Eshe can collect perks that can be equipped in the skill tree. These can be things like gaining a bit of health after every kill, or increasing the power of your canon. While these certainly make things easier, each perk has a caveat to it. Say you equip one that lets you recover shield energy each time you kill an enemy. While that certainly seems like a beneficial skill, it also increases the time it takes for your shield to regenerate after it’s gone.
It might not seem like much, but when you’re surrounded by enemies and constantly taking damage this needs to be taken into account before you set off on another run. Another perk makes corrupted treasures drop 45% more shards, but hordes spawn almost 3 times more frequently which drastically slows down traversal progression. On top of that, each perk has three tiers. While Rank 1 might only reduce your shield by a few points, Rank 3 will have drastic repercussions.
Hordes are a love/hate element in Sundered. They never spawn in the same place twice, and like the sub-rooms, they’re procedural as well. This leads to some seriously infuriating, inconvenient encounters that will seriously test your skill and patience. Some hordes feel thin, while others can feel daunting, and even borderline unfair. The scale of the game works against you sometimes as well. Upon reaching certain areas the camera will pan out to show the gorgeous backdrops of the world you’re exploring. While breathtaking, it also makes keeping track of Eshe during a fight difficult. Especially when playing in handheld mode, Eshe looks like the size of a speck of dust in some larger areas. Combine this with huge hordes of monsters coming at you from every angle along with all the particle effects and things can get confusing pretty quick.
The soundtrack of Sundered is a missed opportunity as well. While certain string instruments pop in to enhance a surprise discovery or boss fight, it’s practically non-existent throughout the majority of the game. Minor ambient noises permeate through the speakers as you run through the game, but I couldn’t help but feel like the soundtrack was more of an afterthought than anything else.
The environments and monster designs are one of the biggest draws to this game though. Thunderlotus doubles down here on what made Jotun so aesthetically appealing. Everything in this game is hand drawn and to their credit, it’s remarkably well done. The animations are smooth, the environments are absolutely stunning, and the monsters (bosses especially) look fantastic.
Overall, Sundered is a great addition to the Metroidvania genre, but its performance on the Switch isn’t as nearly refined as it’s PS4 and PC counterparts. During my roughly 20 hours with the game, I encountered constant framerate issues, clipping, and at least 7 crashes. Three of those crashes happened during my descent to the final boss which became increasingly frustrating. While these are things that can, and absolutely should be patched, it’s something to keep in mind for the time being if the Switch is the platform you prefer to play on.
Sundered is a beautiful descent into madness, with endings that deliver some worthwhile twists that will resonate with you after you’ve finished. The embrace or destroy mechanic has lasting consequences that put weight behind your decisions and adds a lot to the replay factor. If you want to see every ending and fight every boss, Sundered will require at least 3 playthroughs. While the layouts might become bland and forgettable, what you do with the shards you find drastically changes how you play the game. Frame rate issues and crashes aside, Sundered can be extremely enjoyable, and is a must play for any fan of the genre or H.P. Lovecraft.