Unto the End is a solemn adventure game handcrafted by developer 2 Ton Studios and published by Big Sugar.
It follows a man who falls into a chasm while on a hunting expedition. Alone, and with limited resources, he must journey through an unforgiving world filled with deadly traps, warring clans, and terrible beasts to make it home to his family once more.
Before I bought this game, I thought you’d basically be playing as any Harrison Ford character from the late 90’s to early 2000’s.
I mean, the trailer that I watched was non-stop swordfights and monster beheadings. So, I thought it was going to be an action-packed fantasy adventure where I was going to kill an entire kingdom to be reunited with my family.
So imagine my surprise when I booted up the game and it offered me a warning:
Unto The End is a defense-first combat experience. You play an average warrior trying to get back home to your family.
You’re less powerful than every creature you meet. You can drop your sword, run out of supplies, and bleed to death.
Fighting is demanding and deliberate, but not your only option. Success is about being observant and staying calm.
My initial reaction was “What the hell? Where is my action-packed thrill ride?”
But I decided to take their advice, setting aside my expectations to see what they had to offer.
I’m really glad that I listened to the warning. Sure, Unto The End wasn’t what I thought I was getting, but it turned out to be just as good, if not better.
The Better Part of Valor
One of the interesting things about Unto The End is that you don’t have to stab everything that moves. In fact, most of the time it’s better to avoid fighting if possible. The warning at the beginning says that “success is about being observant and staying calm” This is absolutely true.
Basically, you need to read the situation before deciding what to do. Unfortunately, you don’t always get a lot of time to make your decision before it’s made for you. So, you really do need to quickly and calmly assess the situation and decide if you’re going to sheath your sword or not.
I’ll give one example: I happened upon a humanoid creature kneeling on a snowy plane. As soon as I approached, it fled and hid behind a much larger humanoid creature. The larger creature eyed me warily but stayed between me and the smaller creature.
This one was pretty simple. It was a parent protecting its child. I put away my sword and offered one of my healing leaves to show that I wasn’t a threat, and they gave me some sticks and let me pass.
Great. Combat avoided.
However, there were other ways to approach this.
I could have chopped them up without remorse, and taken the stick by force. Or I could have tried to run past them, but that probably would have provoked an attack from the parent.
What makes this game so interesting is that any of the above options are viable.
What makes this game a little frustrating is that it’s hard to know what you can and cannot do. Very little hand-holding is done, so you basically have to figure out everything for yourself. The first time I accidentally offered an Item from my inventory to an NPC I just started screaming at the screen because…
Avoiding combat when possible is good, but not always achievable. Sometimes monsters just want your organs, and the only way to stop them is with your sword. Which is why it’s good that the combat in Unto The End is some of the best (read: rewarding/frustrating) I’ve encountered in a 2D side-scrolling game.
The best part about combat is that it’s simple. There are only a handful of moves, and you have all of them from the very start of the game, so don’t count on any stronger attacks to save you down the line.
Your moves are:
- High attack
- Low attack
- High block
- Low block
- Dodge roll
- Knife throw / Close stab
- Shoulder check
When you realize that your moveset is so limited, you might feel discouraged.
But there is an abundance of nuance crammed into this combat system, and it can be quite powerful.
The worst part about combat is how brutally hard it can be.
The warning at the beginning of the game called combat “deliberate” which is the absolute truth. Despite only getting a fraction of a second to see if the enemy is attacking high or low, you need to make sure you block accordingly, or you’re likely to die. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If you attack with reckless abandon, your swings start to get sluggish. And if you dodge roll at the wrong moment, you might drop your sword, both of which can lead to a swift death.
While a point-and-click adventure game this is not, it actually functions a lot like one in execution.
When you’re not deep in the throes of mortal combat with a troll, or fighting a tribe of C.H.U.D, the majority of the game is actually spent exploring desolate caverns and crossing snow covered plains. However, every once and a while you will need to get an item to continue forward.
There are usually two ways to get the item.
Fortunately the destination is the same either way.
The first option is to chop-chop the guy who’s holding it.
The second is to embrace the game’s other, more subtle elements. You might find a place off the beaten path where you can use an Item you’ve been carrying around for a while. In using that item, you might discover another item that can be used to garner safe passage through an area that might have otherwise been hostile.
The only hard thing about finding and using these additional items and tactics is that there is no dialog in the game (or at least none that you can understand), so most of the point-and-click elements boil down to trying every Item everywhere…
… which, now that I think about it, is how point-and-click games work anyway.
Unto The End of the Unto The End Review
Overall, Unto The End was a breath of fresh air. It didn’t have any explosions or overly complicated themes. It was the story of a man (with an excellent beard) trying to make his way home to his family. While its combat was both simple and incredibly hard, I think I’ll remember it more for the lonely atmosphere and the decision to put an emphasis on mindfulness.
Oh, I’ll also remember it for being real short. It’s only like four hours long, if that, so it certainly doesn’t overstay its welcome. It was also like twenty-five dollars for those four hours, so the price-to-gameplay ratio was not great.
I’m giving Unto The End a contemplative 8/10. It may not have been a 40 hour experience, and it eschewed things like leveling systems, dialog trees, and overly complicated menu systems, but it still managed to be an amazing contained experience, and I think a lot of AAA developers could take a page from the 2 Ton Studios book.