Review: Unto The End (Switch)

Excellent production values let down by frustrating combat.

By Achi Ikeda. Posted 06/11/2021 00:12 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
1-Up Mushroom for...
Appealing sound and visuals; atmospheric
Poison Mushroom for...
Challenging combat

Many great epics follow the journey of a man attempting to return to his home. The Odyssey being a famous and my favorite example. 2 Ton Studio’s Unto the End isn’t an epic, but like The Odyssey, it is a demonstration of a man’s solitary struggle to survive and fight his way back to his family.

The wilderness can be harsh, lonely, and unforgiving. Unto the End reflects this by taking place in treacherous environments with deadly foes. The setting is often dark and the hero appears small on the screen, highlighting his solitude and making the player feel venerable. Danger can come at any time, making observation key to noticing and avoiding traps. Staying alert is also necessary to collect limited supplies needed to make medicine, repair armor, or remake tools. Even key items are hidden. While some objects may go overlooked, the sounds are impossible to miss. The sound design does an excellent job at setting the tone that balances between tense and calm. There are battles and threats throughout, but anyone who has ever explored a cave alone or walked through a landscape smothered in snow knows about the dead-quiet calm that can be felt in those areas. Unto the End does a good job of simulating these feelings with both visuals and sound.

Navigating this environment is a hefty, strong man. You can feel his strength and weight in his movements. This makes him feel alive, but also vulnerable. Combat must be executed with intention and precision. Unto the End begins with a message to the player. A warning about the game. In it, it states that, “combat is deliberate” and I wholeheartedly agree with this. What it doesn’t mention is that man, is it hard.

I want to preface this section of the review with some background before you start commenting, “just get gud.” I have played and enjoyed other 2D platformers and adventure games that could be described as challenging and yet I still loved those. Hollow Knight, Celeste, and Hyperlight Drifter are some of my favorites that offered well-crafted, often frustrating, but doable and overall enjoyable challenges.

Unfortunately, Unto the End’s fighting mechanic did not leave me with the same satisfaction. In Unto the End, there are various movements that can be used—overhead swing, a lower thrust, throwing a knife, blocking above and below, ducking, and rolling. With these starting options I felt a bit overwhelmed at the beginning and overall did not enjoy the combat as time went on. I put the game down many times, too frustrated to go on. My biggest criticism of the combat can be put on the difficulty of reading enemies. On one hand, the idea to make the hero small on the screen in a dark environment really adds to the feeling of loneliness and vulnerability, but when then fighting enemies, it can be difficult to quickly read their intention and deflect their attacks. Darkness was another issue. I played the game in handheld mode and almost always had the brightness on maximum, yet still felt I couldn’t see as well as I wanted. Maybe I just have bad eyesight, but this added extra frustration to the already difficult combat.

What I appreciate about the combat is the believability. Along with the aforementioned weight, attacks must be done after observation with precision and consideration. There is tension. Actions need intention and any encounter could be deadly. Unlike games with exaggerated movements, easy healing, and weak enemies (which can totally be fun in their own right—I’m looking at you, Hyrule Warriors), Unto the End’s specific portrayal of combat is perfect at creating a convincing depiction of one man’s journey through dangerous environments, filled with enemies and almost empty of supplies, to find his way home. I am sure there are those who would love the challenge of Unto the End, but it just wasn’t for me.

Other ways in which the game adds believability are the ways you can die. Supplies are limited, you can lose your sword, knife, or torch and not have materials to make replacements. Healing herbs are also limited. You can bleed to death. Because of this combined with the combat difficulty, I appreciate that the game adds in ways to avoid combat, even if they’re sparse. Being observant and investigatory is not only imperative at times, it can reap rewards. They aren’t exceptionally creative, as there are moments in the game when presenting an object you found or trading supplies for key items can lead to the avoidance of battling it out. But this happens only if the right object is offered, which is often tricky to figure out. The incorrect choice can lead to yet another way the hero can be killed.

Just like Odysseus in The Odyssey, Unto the End shows what a lone man is willing to struggle through to make it home. You can’t just hack and slash your way through problems. Skill, wit, and patience can be even more important than brute strength. For some this may be a huge draw, for others a deterrent. Unto the End does a great job at capturing the struggle of survival and returning home, but is the struggle worth it? There isn’t a huge epic within Unto the End. There is no dialogue and the story is simple. The actual game in length is fairly short, but the repeated deaths due to brutal combat significantly lengthens the experience, if you even finish it. The story’s depth comes from the player’s emotions as they struggle to master the gameplay mirroring the hero’s struggle to make it home. But not everyone plays a video game to feel that kind of frustration. I sure don’t and though there were aspects to like about Unto the End, the combat was overall what ruined the experience for me.

Nintendojo was provided a copy of this game for review by a third party, though that does not affect our recommendation. For every review, Nintendojo uses a standard criteria.

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