‘Sundered’ Alpha Hands-On Preview & Developer Interview

During PAX East we had the opportunity to play Sundered, the upcoming indie title from Thunder Lotus Games to follow up their last title, Jotun. The game promises large-scale and fast paced platforming “metroidvania” action and adventure, and we got to see most of that during PAX East, however we missed out on the an important part of the demo: the large scale boss battles. Luckily Thunder Lotus Games is running an Alpha of the game, which we brought back from PAX East to dig a bit more into the game and make our way to a boss encounter.

The Interview

At PAX East we had the opportunity to speak with Jo-Annie Gauthier of Thunder Lotus Games about Sundered, and their previous game, Jotun. A large amount of the discussion talks about Jotun as the game was the focus of our latest IndieComplete podcast episode, however the beginning and later half of the interview focuses on Sundered.

Gameplay Impressions

In Sundered, players control Eshe, and initially find themselves in a sprawling cavernous area, a world “befallen by a cataclysmic event called the Terror,” as the developer puts it. Like their previous game, Jotun, this new title is meticulously hand drawn and animated, and it shows.

Our demo time at PAX East was quite a ways in the game, as we were well powered-up with lots of handy abilities, like wall running, air-dashing, and a hook shot. At the core of the game is a 2D platformer that’s focused on large-scale exploration and close combat with hordes of aggressive enemies.

As Eshe you are very quick on your feet, and in the air. As long as players watch for enemy attacks, Eshe is quite proficient in slashing through hordes and dodging around. As well, if you land a mid-air attack, Eshe can then perform another mid-air jump, making combat very airborne if you can manage it. All around the platforming controls feel well tuned, the only imprecise moments came when trying to land Eshe on the tiniest of ledges or surfaces.

The environments in Sundered are massive, with the general regions of an area pre-planned. However, within each of these regions, the paths within them are procedurally generated, so each time the player is killed, the paths are randomly scrambled, making new paths.

And die a lot Eshe does, as is the design of the game. When defeating enemies, they typically drop ‘shards’, and once the player is killed again and restarts the level, you’re given the opportunity to spend these shards on abilities, and increased stats via a skill tree.

All told the PAX East demonstration gameplay was solid, as was the overall look and animation of the game, however when we set the controller down for a moment too long to take notes, the demo reset, and we missed out on the tantalizing boss battle of massive proportions. Not to be thwarted however, we came away with an key for the Alpha version of the game that was also recently provided to the game’s kickstarter backers for playtesting and game balancing.

And so, back from PAX East, we have dug into Sundered‘s alpha build to try our hands at a boss battle, and have found quite a different experience so far. As with any showfloor demo, they typically provide a slice of the game short enough for the typical attendee or journalist to play before they go on to the next game or event, but meaty enough to give a memorable impression of a game. Whereas the demo of Sundered was very fast-paced and packed with abilities and responsiveness in a map of manageable size, the alpha (and we want to stress this, an alpha build is an early version of a game still in development, and is not an accurate representative of the final product at this stage) starts players at the beginning of the game, understandably with Eshe with very few abilities, and a new world to discover at its own pace.

And the boss battles do not come quick. Only after some 4 to 5 hours of playing did we discover the first one, and even then more time is needed to built up Eshe to be able to defeat this boss, named Hysteria.

This new cataclysmic world players step into is guideless, large, and aesthetically dark, almost horrific but not in a frightening sense. As Eshe, it’s up to you to explore and discover where to go, and as we did, we died constantly. Bit by bit we built up Eshe’s abilities, and got a little bit further into the world more often than not, but inevitably player death was always waiting, as the more of the map Eshe explores, the more difficult enemies become, along with the environments too. From our playing of the alpha it feels balancing and pacing improvements would keep the game’s level of engagement it achieves in combat and jumping around terrain, and get rid of the frustration of being too relentless in trying to kill the player.

After a few hours of dying over and over while making progress exploring the map and building up Eshe, and often dying short of a previous run, we understood Eshe will be dying constantly, however it puts you in a headspace of just knowing you’re running to your death, and the question becomes just how far you’ll make it this time. Hopefully with the right tweaks progress will come a touch quicker, as otherwise the pace feels like an afterthought in its current form, a long slog as you search for a change of pace.

When we finally made it to the first boss battle against Hysteria, we were reminded of the huge boss battles of Jotun, however here in Sundered they are far more deadly. Some of the dynamics of the battle do teach the player as it goes along how to take on Hysteria, however at other moments it feels impossible, like the enormous death laser it shoots at the outset of the battle knocking out most of Eshe’s health and provides absolutely zero notice this attack is about to occur, and is very difficult to time a jump over as Eshe can barely jump a millimetre higher than the attack itself.

However, as there are elements that need to be tweaked in the current alpha build, playing through the game it feels like all the components are there and ready to provide a fun and challenging game as development continues. We look forward to seeing how Sundered turns out.

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