A snowy winter landscape, elf-like creatures, and a humble father braving all odds to get back home to his family. If the December release date wasn’t already enough of a clue, I’d say 2 Ton Studios’ Unto the End was a Christmas game. And it’s a pretty darn good one at that.
Unto the End is a side-scrolling adventure game where every combat encounter is a deadly scenario. It matters not whether you’re up against a gigantic troll or just a pair of low-ranking goblins, each one has the potential to kill you in as little as a single hit. As a result of how flimsy your character is, dodging, parrying and a smart use of timing are key to surviving the game’s harsh environment that is constantly finding ways to kill you.
Each new encounter becomes as memorable as the last, as you’re left fumbling around trying to manage multiple foes attacking you all at once while also ensuring you’ve still got the upper hand at being able to counter their every move.
Unto the End piles so much weight into its combat which adds to how delicate your character feels. Enemy blocks can temporarily stun you, while gently grazes can knock you down – or even disarm you – leaving you open to a critical hit. It makes you think twice about every move you plan to make, ensuring you can control the situation with a series of carefully orchestrated attack patterns. Many enemies give away what kind of attack they’re going to use beforehand, allowing you just enough time to prepare a suitable counterattack and push the weight of combat back onto them.
This intensity is amplified through Unto the End’s contrasting environments, which take you deep down into dark labyrinthine caverns which twist and loop around, similar in design to a Metroidvania, and also periodically bring you up the cold surface in a series of linear gauntlet events where you need to fight through whatever hazards the game throws at you. This paces the game really well, having you able to enjoy the game’s moody atmosphere through its quiet dungeon segments before throwing you into more chaotic sequences up in the snowy wilderness.
But despite the fewer number of enemies in these caves, these areas also come with their own hazards. There are gigantic pits to fall down and tight spaces to squeeze into, limiting you to your platforming skills as you try to work out the route that brings you back out of the underground. Lighting is also crucial here, having you collect materials to craft a torch to help guide your way, which you drop any time you get into a fight. This once again places you in a strategic mindset of wanting to drop it in a suitable spot so you’re able to see the enemies you’re fighting.
As for the rest of the game’s puzzles, many of them are really clever. While I’m not too fond of searching for keys for locked doors, there are moments where you’re able to get past certain enemies without fighting by using non-aggressive tactics like offering them an item they might need such as a healing item or a sacred sculpture. These encounters are good because it encourages you to explore the optional areas to find items that don’t immediately seem important, but could get you out of a dangerous scenario much later.
There’s no doubt about it that Unto the End is a hard game, and I mean it’s really hard. Learning the tactics and moveset of the enemies can be a repetitive task, often killing you at least a dozen times before you’re able to master the moves required to vanquish a group of them. Sure, it’s very rewarding to be able to do this and feel a great sense of pride and accomplishment when you get through an area unscathed, and we often hear these arguments for why a game like Dark Souls doesn’t have difficulty levels, but Unto the End recognises the accessibility issue of this and makes accommodations for those who are put off by its high difficulty curve. 2 Ton Studios has added in the option to adjust the flow of combat, slowing it down to balance the quick movement of enemy attacks with your own reaction speed. With this optional mode activated you get a wider window to attack your enemy and more time to react to their own.
Even with this in mind, Unto the End still presents a massive challenge which could be a barrier for some. I wouldn’t recommend the game for anyone who prefers a casual experience, but I think anyone who tries it can at least appreciate what 2 Ton Studios has done with it. It’s an exhausting combat experience that picks the right moments to be poignant and gratifying.
Tested on PC
Also available on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, Google Stadia
Developer 2 Ton Studios
Publisher Big Sugar
Disclosure a copy of Unto the End was provided by Big Sugar