Sundered Is a Lovecraftian Metroidvania Game You Need to Play

Sundered is a gorgeous and ambitious follow-up to the great indie game Jotun. We played it at PAX East and here's what we thought...

It’s no secret that I love Thunder Lotus’ last game, Jotun, a hand-drawn hack-and-slash indie that made it onto my list of the best games of 2015. Its minimalist approach to its beautiful setting and story about a Viking woman who must defeat Nordic giants in order to enter Valhalla is a lesson in constraint and just the right amount of combat and exploration. Since Thunder Lotus is an indie developer, Jotun is also a lesson in doing a lot with very little. The small budget actually aided in Jotun‘s success, which features some of the most gorgeous vistas I’ve ever seen in a game, and the overwhelming emptiness of the world you actually traverse complements this tale about purgatory perfectly.

While Jotun focused on boss battles and quiet exploration, the indie developer’s new game, Sundered, is a much more ambitious project, one that really showcases the team’s growth. The game is both much bigger in scope and design. At first glance, Sundered‘s most striking difference to its predecessor is the tone. In a way, Jotun felt like a hand-drawn homage to games like Journey, stories about hope and heading towards the light. But Sundered is the complete opposite, a dark tale full of caverns and Lovecraftian horrors. As you make your way through the dark levels, without a clear direction and monsters on all sides, you’ll find yourself heading deeper into darkness under the watchful of eye of a monstrous creature with tentacles – clearly meant to be a nod to Cthulhu.

Basically, I’m so down with this game. 

You play as Eshe, described as a “wanderer in a ruined world,” who sets out on a journey to discover what’s happened to his planet. That journey takes the protagonist to a challenging and cavernous terrain, a place I didn’t exactly thrive in. Yet, I can’t deny that I’ll be dropping several hours into the game, trying to discover all of the secrets of its deliciously Lovecraftian world. 

I played a demo at PAX East 2017 and was immediately impressed by the game’s art style, which once again consists of hand-drawn characters, enemies, and settings. The world of Sundered is truly a sight to behold. I love the horror-inspired turn Thunder Lotus has taken here – a world full of cyborg-like shoggoths, whose aesthetic you might call “Scicraftian.”

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Another thing you’ll notice if you spent a bit of time with Jotun is that Thunder Lotus really wants to keep you busy with Sundered. Gone is the quiet exploration of the developer’s Viking adventure – there aren’t many moments of peace in Sundered, which almost constantly bombards you with creepy enemies. I spent most of my time hacking through weird creatures that really like to swarm around Eshe, who has a handy dodge ability – and later a grapple – to keep clear of attacks. Still, it makes the platforming portion of the game a bit more challenging since you don’t really get many quiet moments to figure out your path. 

The combat is fairly simple, a combination of cutting down enemies, dodging, and shielding, all rendered beautifully with hand-drawn animations. Overall, Eshe is a lot of fun to control, and the more hectic the situation the more entertaining it is to watch the character zip from one enemy to another. 

Platforming feels a bit expedited, more in service of getting you to the next combat scenario than to pose a challenge. Again, the challenge in the platforming really comes from the countless enemies that randomly spawn to take you down. There’s a fun little wall-running ability that you’ll apparently learn as you play through the early part of the game. My demo took place a bit into the game, so I’d already unlocked some of my abilities. Sundered features a skill tree where you can upgrade your health, damage, and armor. From a quick glance at it, there seems to be a bit you can do to improve Eshe. There’s a lot of trial and error in the game, and the skill tree will be vital to making your character a more formidable opponent for the monsters.

But if you are slaughtered by Cthulhu’s pets during your adventure, you’ll be returned to a hub world where you can choose where to jump back in. One cool thing about Sundered is that the world is a procedurally generated, meaning that you won’t be forced to play through the same level again if you die. Of course, this will take away from the experience of those hardcore platformer fans who love to memorize levels and find faster ways to traverse them. I didn’t get to play more than one level in the demo, so I can’t really say how the roguelike approach will affect Sundered‘s overall campaign and story. 

Sundered is certainly still a ways off – only in alpha – but what I played at PAX East was promising. It certainly feels and looks like a Thunder Lotus game, but with a much bigger emphasis on combat and RPG elements. Hopefully, Sundered will also have some of Jotun‘s thoughtfulness and captivating storytelling. I’m very excited to find out. 

John Saavedra is an associate editor at Den of Geek US. Find more of his work on his website. Or just follow him on Twitter.