Unto the End starts with a warning, informing us that the game is “different”. We can “lose [our] sword, run out of supplies, and bleed to death”. Finally, “Reading, reacting, and staying calm are vital”. Let me tell you now, they are not exaggerating. Whether that is a good thing will be for you to decide ultimately, but just heed this warning before going in.
I’ll steer clear of the expected comparison (you know the one), though in all honesty it’s probably pretty apt when talking about Unto the End. This game is hard. Like, kick you in the bollocks while you’re hands are tied behind your back hard. As they allude to in that last section of the warning, this isn;t a game to go in swing your sword around all willy nilly. Even the opening fight against a single enemy kicked my ass many, many times before I got the hang of things. I’d recommend using the tutorial in the inventory menu immediately, though to be fair even after this I still struggle like all hell.
This isn’t a game of health bars, XP, combos, or even sword clashing duels. Unto the End is a game of pace, of picking your moments, and of trying over, and over, and over. Our burly warrior can take a few hits, but there’s more going on than it may seem; sure a few light cuts might not put him down, but a single blow to the head – or pierce to the chest – will put him down straight away. He’s at least got a bit of manoeuvrability to him, being able to dodge roll past enemies, but he’s also just as likely to roll into them, in the process dropping his sword (though the most ‘action’ moment in the game is when we roll over our dropped weapon and pick it up at the same time. That’s pretty cool).
We need to stay still though really to get a good read on where the enemy attack is coming from. We can block high and low, duck down, or barge them in addition to the roll, and knowing which to use – and, crucially, when – is the core loop of combat here. A feint move can also be used to try and trick the enemies (fake a high shot then quickly go low instead). All well and good you might think, but the short window we have to react is unforgiving, and even one non-fatal hit can spell doom as we either struggle to get back to our feet before the killing blow, or it did enough damage to cause heavy bleeding, meaning our hero will need to stop to gather himself, often just at the wrong moment.
Thankfully there is a generous checkpointing system that means we never really have to go back further than just before where we died, but it also still feels like it takes too long to get there. Upon death it slowly fades to black before popping us back to life, with even the short distance back to the fight feeling a bit too long thanks to his slow movement speed. I can’t count the number of times I slowly made my way back to the fight only to get one-hit killed and have to see the same slow fade out yet again. Again with the honesty, I very nearly gave up at the second fight I came across in game for this very reason. I soon discovered that I could go the other way on the map though, and finally was able to make some progress (through many, many more deaths albeit).
It is possible to skip some fights by simply running past them, though that also feels like we’re missing the point of the game. There is some light platforming and exploration (that also isn’t afraid to kill us without warning), but it’s clearly each fight that is supposed to be the core of the experience. Those with patience and, frankly, better reactions than me may end up battling more, but I took the cowards way out whenever I could.
And yet, I keep coming back to it. I think the atmosphere created with what are fairly simple visuals and audio is brillaint, and even though it’s hard there’s something satisfying about the combat; it feels rewarding to finally best a monster, even if we get killed almost immediately afterwards. There’s enough depth to the combat too that I’ve no doubt others will find different tactics to deal with enemies I struggled with, and taking on more than one foe at a time really can get the heart racing – especially as they can hurt each other too, so trying to utilise this in to our combat arsenal makes for some interesting fights.
Unto the End doesn’t mess about, and that will likely divide opinion on it. I don’t think I’ll eve see the end as it’s just too much of a challenge for me, but I absolutely can see the care and work that has gone into making it, and how well put together it is. If you’re into that other game then this 2D side scroller should be on your radar. Just be prepared to have a proper run of things.Become a Patron!
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.