Review – Unto the End (Switch)

I’ve been exceedingly impressed by the amount small indie studios developing some of my favorite games lately: Celeste, Cuphead, Untitled Goose Game, Hades, Fall Guys, and just my last review, The Falconeer. All of these titles made by anywhere from a single person to a very small team. Here we are with another small studio, 2 Ton Studios, a husband and wife team launching their passion project. Can Unto the End join the leagues of some of our favorite indies? Or will fail to make a home in our hearts?

Unto the End doesn’t have much of a setup nor does it try and hold your hand at all. In fact, a lot of actions will require the player to experiment. There is a short opening scene where you’re leaving your home, but are stopped by your wife and son who offer you departing gifts. There isn’t a clear reason why you’re leaving, but shortly after your departure you break through ice and fall into a cavern. This begins your dangerous adventure to make your way back to your family.

Unto the End Story

Your wife’s locket of hair brings a moment of peace.

Armed with a sword and some basic armor, you’ll need to explore and gather supplies in order to stay alive and upgrade your armor. Unto the End is a brutal and unforgiving game, and it warns you clearly when you start. You won’t get an in-depth tutorial besides a combat tutorial that is provided through meditating and recalling sparring sessions with your wife. Outside of this basic introduction, you’ll need to make the effort to learn and master its full range of moves.

The combat requires you to watch your enemies closely and keep your reflex sharp. You are able to block high and low, duck, and roll defensively. Offensive requires you to wait for openings. Blocking multiple attacks will stagger an opponent and you can only counter with the opposite attack that you just blocked. For example, if the enemy is staggered after a high attack, you must counter with a low attack. You will also be able to craft a dagger that is throwable, as well as use a shoulder bash move. It will take a while to get a hang of all of this and you will die a lot.

Unto the End Combat

Be aware and look for opportunities of friendly fire.

This brings me into the survival aspects. Dying is common place, but luckily Unto the End offers frequent checkpoints, that is, if you’re uninjured. During fights you’ll naturally get beat up and likely escape barely living. If you’re bleeding out, the game will not auto checkpoint. Luckily there are multiple ways to heal, but you’ll still need to be careful. Crafting a potion from healing herbs and suturing your wounds at a bonfire will bring you back to full life. However, there will be stretches where you have already used a potion and there is no access to a bonfire. Eating herbs will slow the bleeding, but it will not open checkpoints back up.

Platforming and exploring paths is vital here as it will open up opportunities for certain items and interactions with NPCs. One of my favorite aspects of Unto the End are the moments you get to interact with the NPCs. There are times where you’ll come across NPCs that do not want to fight you or just want to trade. You’ll need to make keen observations from the environments or the character to decide which object to show or offer in a trade. The correct item can grant you something valuable, whereas the wrong item can end in a brutal fight. There can be a bit of a trial and error aspect here that can become frustrating, but it’s worth it.

Unto the end Offerings

Be careful of the items you present or offer.

One thing I noticed that may turn some away is the sudden difficulty spikes. Yes, combat will get easier the more you try and get a hang of it. However, there are some main fights that feel extra punishing. Especially the end boss. I wanted to rage quit a couple times, but after the thirtieth or so try, I finally killed him. There we also times where I feel like the hit detection or the hit boxes were off as well as some moves that track the player for too long. Its all about learning the timing of certain attacks. Although, when a ground smash is halfway down and the enemy still turns around, even after I rolled by, it can be annoying.

Visually, Unto the End has a very simplistic look and a lot of it is located within dark caverns, lit only by your torch. There are times where light bleeds through from a crack in the top or from torches and lanterns from enemies where you get to appreciate the detail. After getting used to the dark, you’ll eventually break out into the bright white snowy mountains and it blinds you for a moment. Blood soaked snow from battles are contrasted well and there is great use of the foregrounds and backgrounds to add depth.

Beasts

There will be beasts that can end you quickly.

Sound design may be the weakest part of Unto the End, but the quiet tone is deliberate here. I felt like I was stranded in a dark cave with monster lurking. The quiet enhanced the sense of fearing the unknown, so when there was sounds of a rock breaking or trap springing or enemy lurking, it put you on edge. There aren’t any big musical tracks here, just some ambient tones to pair with the feeling of claustrophobia. This is a great example of the saying “less is more”. This being a more intimate experience lends well to the more subdued sound design.

Unto the End is a clear labor of love from 2 Ton Studios and they created something great here. The mix of different styles and systems paired with the unforgiving nature is refreshing. Too many games want to hold your hand, but the natural way this game gets you to interact with things is a welcome change. I do wish it was a bit longer, but there were items I missed from failed trades and even a different ending to unlock. I’m sensing another playthrough in my near future.

Graphics: 9.0

Simplistic visuals that lend beautifully to this grim and dark adventure. A lot of the game happens within dark caverns, but the moments you get to breach outside are beautiful. Regardless, all of it is well detailed.

Gameplay: 9.0

Unto the End is a mixed bag of ideas from precise sword combat and platforming to survival and crafting. All of these together with its no hand-holding and unforgiving systems make for gripping gameplay.

Sound: 8.0

Sound design may be the least impressive part of Unto the End due to it being pretty tame all around. There is no voice acting or large rousing music. However, what is here is smartly used to portray an unknowing danger and claustrophobia. A great example of “less is more”.

Fun Factor: 8.5

Even though the story setup is pretty thin, I was invested from the beginning to get this man back to his family. The mix of gameplay systems that demand more from the player without being overbearing is refreshing. There are some hit detection issues and pretty tough difficulty spikes, but this an adventure worth taking.

Final Verdict: 8.5

Unto the End is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, PC, and Google Stadia. Playable on Xbox Series X|S and PlayStation 5 through backwards compatibility.

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.

A copy of Unto the End was provided by the publisher.