Sundered’s Environmental Storytelling
As you make your way through a desert, a sandstorm overtakes you. Darkness is encroaching and the world seems to be forcing you towards draw your last breath; never wanting you to discover the purpose of your Odyssey. It’s almost a beautiful death, thanks to the hand-drawn style of Sundered, but alas your fate isn’t death. At least not up here in the first environment, which is this mysterious desert where the visibility is very low. Suddenly, very distinct shapes light the background. Structures and symbols beyond your comprehension and sight offer you solace but also intrigue. Before you’re able to reach it, titanic arms emerge from below, pulling you down to the depths. It’s very ominous, and quite frankly generally creepy.
The first and only thing to speak in Sundered is an ethereal voice, and the origin of it seems bizarre. The voice comes off as corrupted, and twisted. This begins to allow differing thoughts to be made, and from there it gives you a clear directive. You must find these Valkyrie Shrines in order to retrieve the purple-hued crystals, Elder Shards. This objective seems quite easy, but in reality it isn’t; and it’s from that point by which the story becomes more mysterious.
Valkyrie Shrines are hulking, elegant statues, and seem to be made out of marble. It’s a typical metroidvania, where players have to break it to gain access to the ability inside of it. Upon gaining your first ability, the ethereal voice begins to speak, in which it tells you a story about how these Valkyries came here to find the history of the old world. No one could know what would happen next. After obtaining the first ability, one of the areas you’ll visit is this shutdown military base. Reeking of future and failure, the area affords the player a sense of what happened to the mysterious Valkyries.
Once further inside of the base, you’re able to turn on the power, which activates the security system as if an intruder was present. This encounter in Sundered holds nothing back in making you feel like a trespasser, and making you a little uneasy on your quest. By completing this task, players are able to make more progress in exploring the areas around the first base, which allows you to really get a sense of what the Valkyries were doing down here. Not only were they trying to uncover the history of this region, but they found a source of power and were going to exile this presence from the world. Upon entering an area known as The Furnace, a mysterious voice tells you how the Valkyries came down here to expel it and gather the Elder Shards.
From this point forward the voice goes silent, and you get a sense of what your primary objective is: to gather and harness the power of the Elder Shards – despite the fact that they seem corrupted. And the only way to get these shards is to do battle and destroy these minibosses. Once you get the first shard, the voice seems relieved that you did it’s bidding. From there, you’re able to get another ability while the voice saying how good it is that you are progressing. While you are exploring, you may wander into a cavern which gives off a psychedelic vibe. Sundered has this gradient of colors and some crystal formations popping into the foreground in which there are these orbs which can be hit and this triggers the voice to talk again. It tells how you about this religion and how the Valkyries came to disrupt that.
The game is laced with moments in which both the environment and voice communicates two different objectives. Unfortunately, the narrator does not appear to be in sync with the environments, making the game feel like a struggle. It allows for you think about what you are doing in the world more. The tagline for the game reinforces the thought, “Resist or Embrace.” Every time the voice says something that seems to allude to the environment’s history, it seems to be not true. As a matter of fact, this appears to be the opposite of what the voice says. So while you may think you’re harmlessly wandering empty machine halls, you are in fact an intruder and who’s disrupting the systems at play. When the system is upset, it wordlessly sends an onslaught of enemies to finish you. This allows for the player to think very carefully about what they are actually doing in the game, even without the option to opt out.