As with any section of the media industry, the gaming industry thrives on churning out similar ideas – less risk and more profit – what’s not to like, right?
Shattered – The Tale of the Forgotten King is very much a souls-like (or perhaps more appropriately souls-lite) game that tries to follow in the footsteps of the big boys – but ends up trying to run before it can walk.
In my experience souls-like games provoke a reaction akin to Marmite – you either love them or hate them. For me it’s like looking at a venerated piece of art in a museum – I know it’s well-loved, and I can tell that it’s well-crafted, but the tortuous and repetitive gameplay seems more of a test of patience or a math equation than something that actually provides any satisfaction.
Before I completely fall down that rabbit role, there are two aspects of said games that do tend to be of respectable quality – and this rings true here as well – in Shattered‘s story and visuals.
The narrative is one of slow discovery, picked up in riddles and rhymes in conversations with NPCs, detailing a previously thriving reality that has been utterly annihilated by destructive forces following the disappearance of the universe’s omnipotent King. The game likes to keep you oblivious to the details though with leading theories that question your relationship with time and space.
The sparsely populated world and its large, gothic and textureless architecture and circular design combine well with the hollow and echoing soundtrack to convey the isolating atmosphere and narrative.
It’s as hard to describe as it is to understand, but imagine the dire circumstances of Nier Automata, Tim Burton-esque character designs and the mumbo jumbo from the white room in The Matrix Reloaded and you’ll start to get a picture of what Shattered feels like. Not bad company by any means.
Sadly, this is only half the picture, however, as problems start to arise when the game aims to emulate the more accomplished in the genre.
The biggest issue with Shattered is that veers slightly from one of the main pillars of a souls-like – the journey is not the main attraction, it is simply building you up to the destination – the grandstand enemies. This focus is on tailoring the gameplay around a developing skill set that can provide useful against the next boss, and where the world and story are given a backseat to this self-enhancing and evolving gameplay loop, but Shattered‘s first moments are very similar to its last, revealing its barebones attacking system with only 3 modes of attack – a quick combo of three slashes, a heavier combo of the same number and an energy blast.
With so few moves available you’d think they would have specific purposes, but as the last two are – in large part – useless, you might end up playing this game for 10-20 hours only to use the same three slash attack on the same unintelligent enemies – not exactly my idea of fun.
With undynamic and predictable gameplay, no matter how difficult the game is or ‘grand’ the enemies are Shattered was never going to be able to capitalize on the format’s own strengths. A new sword is gained with every defeated boss, but its effectiveness is nullified by the fact that your most effective weapon is your speed, which is best utilized by dodging to create openings to attack, and therefore, the best weapon in your arsenal is whichever hits the enemy the most times before you need to dodge again.
It also wouldn’t be much a souls-like without a parry and stealth attack, but their implementation – especially the latter – is poor, and stealth attacks will happen without a prompt, slowing down the action when you least expect it.
As someone who loves interactive and detailed worlds with intriguing characters, the insistence on restricted and robotic interaction with a beautiful but empty world seems so wasteful to me. This is as true for each individual area – which are just structures host to collections of locked doors and the same respawning zombie-like enemies – as it is the game’s open map which is not only unnecessary as the game has a home hub area with a portal, but it’s also responsible for the worst of the game’s significant frame rate drops.
This level of implementation or actuation of the game’s features is a theme one should probably brace for. As while the moment-to-moment action is less than likely to excite, and the realization that each new area is essentially the same as the last is likely to disappoint, it’s actually the game’s performance that is most likely to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.
You might be able to forgive when you are returned all the way back to your previous save point after mistiming a jump in the spotty 3D platforming sections, and you might just be able to forget watching a huge boss fall through the level for no reason when you defeat it, but errors losing hours of progress, which is the worst possible thing for a difficult game that intentionally spaces out its save points is frustrating enough to throw your controller out the window and is a deal-breaker for me.
With a combination of bugs, a poor attempt at copycat gameplay, and an incomprehensible story, this souls-lite experience might not be quite what you are expecting. So, while the bugs that had me constantly on edge might be eventually addressed, it still leaves Shattered at odds with itself, unable to piece itself together.
Note – A patch has been recently released, which may have resolved some of the prior mentioned issues.