No Refunds: “Unto the End”

A clangy cross between the gameplay of Dark Souls and the visual aesthetic of Flashback, the Viking-like Unto the End is a brooding, deliberate game that I have absolutely no interest in.

This isn’t a bad game, but it’s a sparse and derivative one, with no real way to distinguish itself or draw any but the most hardcore of players into its world. You are simply a red-headed warrior, sent off with a lock of your wife’s hair to . . . do something? Something that requires you to go into a series of dark caverns and slay monsters for keys?

It’s not as if I didn’t try to play by Unto the End‘s rules so much as I just didn’t understand them.

I’ve never really understood why impenetrability is deemed an asset for games, especially in a linear title like this one. I enjoyed, at first, realizing that not all creatures were hostile, and that you could, in fact trade your four key crafting components. Until, that is, I realized that I was just trading in a loop. My herbs became bones, my bones became leather, my leather became sticks, and back again. I had no idea how many I’d get, or what I’d need, which was more or less the theme of the entire game. As a result, I abandoned most of the game’s already limited mechanics, brute-forcing my way through encounters that were designed to be carefully studied and parried through but which were more often than not just frustratingly slow showdowns.

It’s not as if I didn’t try to play by Unto the End‘s rules so much as I just didn’t understand them. At first, I kept rolling around an angry Yeti’s feet, trying to figure out the right timing with which to stabby-stab him to death. A half-hour later, I simply fled his slightly larger cousin, a wendigo-like behemoth that kept trying to bludgeon me with a deer’s corpse. The game had failed to communicate whether there were unique items I was passing up, or if the struggle was just for generic crafting gear, irrelevant since if I wasn’t fighting, I had no need to upgrade my armor or brew health tonics.

It also didn’t help that the game kept repeating itself. Perhaps there’s some twist a bit later, but the first two hours I spent were spelunking through identically dark caverns and snowy fields, hacking away at the same blurry grey cryptids. The only adjustments necessary were based on how many of them swarmed me at once, or which weapons they used, none of which was relevant if I could just run along to the next objective.

Unto the End also suffers from a glaring dissonance: it demands that you pay close attention to enemies so that you can defend them appropriately by blocking up or down, rolling away, or ducking. But it plunges most of these encounters into poorly lit areas, and fills them with multiple foes at a time. I was already in search of a reason to keep pushing on in the first place; now I was also trying to find a reason to focus on the combat.

After two hours and one minute, exactly, I happily quit. Nothing beyond my own stubborn ego had compelled me this far, and nothing was going to lure me back.

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