Unto The End Review — Feel The Loneliness of A Brutal Journey
Unto The End is a hardcore, lifelike action-adventure that offers a brutally challenging experience in a dark world.
Nothing is more enjoyable than playing a game that you didn’t expect to be good enough to enter your personal “Best Games of the Year” list. Of course, on the other hand, nothing is harder than persuading other people into playing it. Especially when it’s an indie game with little marketing that’s fighting for attention against a certain big-budget RPG. In that way, Unto The End is like a valuable, small gem that you wouldn’t be able to find unless you put all the big names aside and look for what you’ve missed in the late months of 2020.
When we talk about realistic games, the first things that come to mind are photorealistic visuals and other cutting-edge technologies within the industry that make games look almost live-action. But that’s only one of the available ways – and probably the most expensive one – to make a game feel lifelike. When it comes to 2D games, we don’t usually expect to see that realism. However, Unto The End is probably the closest experience I’ve ever had in a 2D game to real life. And it has nothing to do with the visuals. It’s all about gameplay.
Red Dead Redemption 2 was arguably one of the very few realistic games of the last generation of consoles that tried to bring realism to the gameplay as well. Of course, the game had incredibly beautiful visuals, but there were some details in the gameplay that had a bigger impact on the game’s realism. Just remember the looting animation where Arthur had to bend down and search the pockets of the corpses’ clothes as one of that game’s many examples of more lifelike gameplay.
Taking realism into the gameplay often has a significant influence on the audience for several reasons. One is that players don’t usually see that in most of the other games. It’s usually a novel approach to design. Another is that gameplay is the biggest way that players can interact with a game. Thus, it leaves a more persistent impact on them.
As declared by a brief note at the beginning of the game, Unto The End is a different and challenging experience, unlike most of the 2D games that you might’ve played. If you take any form of damage in the game you will start bleeding. If you don’t find a camp to heal yourself your movement will get slower and slower until you eventually die. The game uses a Souls-like system where you have to find various bonfires/camps along the way to be able to heal yourself, create some mobile medicines, upgrade your armor, and train your combat skills.
The game’s realism isn’t just related to bleeding. Enemies and traps are not the only threats that can damage you in the game. Diving towards a rocky wall, for example, will end up in a head wound that needs treating.
Even combat has its own lifelike properties. This isn’t an action game in the vein of Bayonetta or Devil May Cry. Your movement in combat has to be measured or you’ll quickly meet your end. Further, your character is human. There might be times where they drop their sword in the middle of battle, forcing you to quickly react so that you can get a parry off in time. It’s a more methodical style of combat, but it furthers that lifelike approach.
Injecting realism into the game in such a way will have an obvious result: A difficult and challenging experience. Level design in Unto The End reminds me of FromSoftware’s Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Unto The End is quite a brief experience but the game uses a boss-fight system, where every combat scene represents a different enemy with a distinct style of attacking and defending. Each boss has their own weaknesses that you’ll eventually figure out after failing again and again. Something Sekiro players are very familiar with.
Unto The End is not all about fighting though. Sometimes you can simply flee instead, and you wouldn’t really miss much by doing so. The problem is optional battles are not usually rewarding since your sword is not upgradeable. Plus, most of the rest of your arsenal are limited-use items. So, fleeing from some battles means you can save those for more important encounters. The worst part is you can’t learn to craft anything new in the course of your adventure. Most of the time, your character’s progression in the game is felt through mastering the existing combat skills and learning the weak points of each enemy.
That being said, sometimes the best way to continue your journey without harming yourself or anyone else is to interact with the NPCs and trade items. With this, you can simply avoid some difficult fights and gain some items that will come in handy in some serious situations. Your actions can change the fate of NPCs and turn a hostile giant into a friendly outsider.
Story-wise, there is no dialogue in Unto The End. As the father of a family, you leave your homeland for a deadly journey in the frozen wilderness. But the game starts from a snowy mountain, and later in the game, you realize that all the things you’ve played were actually the way back home. So, you never know what was the journey for, but there are two different endings to the game. Personally, the dark one is my favorite.
It always feels great to be back at home after facing lots of horrible creatures and going through dozens of dangerous situations, but what if you’re so late? What if you come back and realize all your resistance was in vain? It’s painful that you see all your efforts are worth nothing at the end of the day. And that’s something influential, even when you don’t know all the details of the story.
Another thing that helps Unto The End to feel like a cold, dark, and real adventure is the developers‘ effort in cutting the use of HUD as much as possible in the game. There’s no map, no waypoints, no missions, and no objectives. It’s just you and a cold and snowy mountain. You’re the only one that has to figure out the way back home.
If you try to explore the various locations of the map, you will be rewarded with herbs, bones, sticks, and some other useful stuff. However, this is a harsh environment, especially if you don’t have a torch to guide your way. Heck, the game even uses this to up the combat difficulty. You can drop your torch in the midst of battle, making it nearly impossible to see your enemies. But I can’t complain about those mechanics too much as they all help to make an immersive experience.
Visually, Unto The End is one of the best-looking titles of this year for me. The game features an incredible lighting system that makes it feel haunting and scary when you walk through dark tunnels and dungeons. The audio design is also at its peak. You can hear a haunting humming that intensifies whenever you are near to a new danger. On the other hand, when you are on the surface, you can feel the difference only by the sounds.
My main problem with Unto The End is the fact that it’s a very short experience. Right when I really felt like I was progressing well, the game ended. It was a bit disappointing for me. Just as I was ready for more new challenges, I saw the credits appearing on the screen. Plus, previous trailers for the game showed some locations, enemies, and scenes that are not available in the current product. Obviously, things can change during development, but it is disappointing to see all of that content cut.
Unto The End is a must-play for all the Souls-Borne fans who wouldn’t miss anything in that FromSoftware vein. More importantly, it could be an excellent gateway title for players who haven’t played a Souls-like game. Winning combat in Unto The End is a matter of being smart rather than having powerful weapons or a high-level character. For me, using my own skills to conquer my enemies was the cherry on top of an exceptional title.