The release of Demon’s Souls in 2009 has become a very clear dividing line in video game history. Its success spawned a new genre that has sparked the imaginations of many a developer, including the folks behind Shattered – Tale of the Forgotten King. Successfully Kickstarted in December 2016, this game came out of Early Access on Steam in February 2021 — a testament to developer Redlock Studio‘s dedication to finishing the journey. I’ve got very limited experience with the genre, but something about this game made me feel like it might be a good time to change that.
In Shattered – Tale of the Forgotten King, you play as a nameless “Wanderer,” traveling a world that has been torn apart during an effort to overthrow a God-king…or something. There’s very little story to be had during most of the game, and what you get is intentionally mysterious. Unfortunately, the story comes so infrequently and in such small bites that the mystery never gets much resolution unless you keep notes for yourself outside of the game or have a much better memory for unconnected names and details than I do.
As is appropriate for the genre, this game is all about exploration and carefully timing sword swings and quick dodges to avoid taking too much damage. When you die, you respawn back at a potentially distant save point without your accrued experience. If you can find your way back to whoever killed you and return the favor without dying again along the way, you get that experience back and can use it to improve your stats later on. It’s a straightforward enough concept that even an inexperienced player like me was able to understand it.
Unfortunately, carrying out the concept is often easier said than done. For example, you can parry attacks instead of dodging them, but I was only ever able to get the timing right once or twice in a few hours, so at some point I had to give up and simply make sure I was the best at dodging. You are also presented with a number of enemies who can kill you from a distance, but you don’t really have any way to fight back. There is a magic system, but I couldn’t find a way to use it against foes outside of sword range. Magic is also much slower and weaker than your sword, and it uses a mana meter that only recharges when you save, which also respawns all enemies, so there is no real incentive to explore that side of the game.
Exploring the world is also a mixed bag. I always like to scour the corners of a game world, looking for side areas and seeing if the game will reward me for doing so. During Shattered‘s first few hours, I was happy and impressed at how much it rewarded my curiosity — just about every weird little spot I could get to seemed to have some sort of resource to collect at the end. But as my time in this world continued, I started to realize that I wasn’t getting special rewards for finding those hidden trails; rather, it was something I was required to do. The details vary from area to area, but they all have a set of keys or switches that you must find in order to proceed, and some of them are frustratingly difficult to uncover.
I spent at least half of my time in this game retracing my footsteps, trying to defeat enemies I had already defeated many times before and unsuccessfully trying to find my way to somewhere new or back to the spot where I had been killed the last time. There are no area maps, so the only thing I had to help me was my memory of the hidden paths I was traversing in a very complex world while trying to not get killed — it was much more frustrating than fun. There are unlockable shortcuts, but in some places, there are so many paths that they become an impenetrable maze.
The one upside of exploring this world over and over is that it is gorgeous. There is a large overworld connecting a handful of equally large “dungeons,” all of which are very different from each other, and most of which include at least one spot where you can just stop and look down over an amazing landscape. Enemies are frequent in the dungeons, but the overworld is mostly devoid of opponents, save points, or information about what you should be doing. You simply slog through the directionless landscape, hoping to find a path to something that looks like somewhere you should be going.
The overworld is also a very quiet place, only punctuated by the sounds of your occasional combat, but the dungeons all have good music that fits the locations well. Although there may not be a lot of different pieces on the soundtrack, I’d still happily listen to it despite my frustrations with the gameplay.
I really wanted to like Shattered – Tale of the Forgotten King, and there are definitely aspects of this game that are praiseworthy, but it wore me down through the constant repetition of fighting the same enemies with the same tactics and the frequent feeling of not knowing where exactly I was or where I was supposed to go. I’m sure there’s more to discover than I did by the time I found my way to a bad ending and the closing credits, but I don’t think I’ll be able to bring myself to dive back in and uncover it.