The central pillar of Unto the End is the hand-crafted, nuanced combat system. Developer 2 Ton Studios has dubbed it a “read-react” form of combat with tough, intelligent enemies and attempted to capture the essence of being in a fight, then delivering that feeling to the player. If the studio can deliver the combat system it promises then it could offer fresh competition to 3D combat games.
More often than not, action-adventure, melee-focused games that feature deep, engaging combat usually get compared to Dark Souls in one way or another. Unto the End is no different. Whilst the game is in 2D and therefore can not utilise the 3D combat-circle system where the player can lock onto a target and them circle around them, the title does share the Souls-like punishing, brutal combat. Unto the End, however, offers clear distinctions, namely that the player is the hero, not the character. 2 Ton Studios has emphasised further this with the thoughtfully created minimalism art design; the hero and human characters do not have facial features. The studio has chosen to let the combat speak for itself, confidently omitting to design the protagonist with extravagant armour because he is merely a vessel for the player.
2 Ton Studios co-director Stephen Danton noted that a popular approach from game developers is to focus on making fights look aesthetically pleasing, but at the cost of feel. He added that the issue with this is that players watch beautiful free-flowing combat scenes while pressing the odd button. However, that type gameplay makes the hero the star of the game, not the player. For example, games such as the Batman: Arkham series, Marvel’s Spider-Man, God of War, and Ryse: Son of Rome all have some of the most stunning free-flow combat in modern times, but all require relatively low-maintenance button-pressing to continue the flow of enemies dropping to the ground.
Instead, Danton recently told OnlySP that he “wanted combat to be about you. Your measure of risk and reward, moment to moment decisions, keeping cool under pressure, staying aware of your surroundings while focusing on the threat right in front of you.”
The title’s hand-crafted combat has been designed to capture the feeling of being in a fight and give it the respect it deserves. For 2 Ton Studios, that meant finding a balance between skillful inputs and great-looking action. Additionally, the studio recognised that controllers can not capture the considerate movements of the human body, but also had to design a system that did not require supernatural finger dexterity either. Therefore, by focusing on capturing the intensity of melee combat, the studio forces players to step into the role of a master sword-wielder. Defeating enemies will be truly down to players’ skills at the battle.
Furthermore, Unto the End‘s 2D view allows 360-degree vision over the battlefield at all times, meaning players can effectively read and react to high and low attacks, whilst also judging left-right distance. 3D combat games suffer from issues with the player’s field of view blocking what is behind them unless they physically turn around. Of course, while such a system is far more realistic, it reduces the number of possible stimuli a player can see at any one time. In Unto the End, however, players will need to monitor enemies all around them at all times—a system heavily inspired by legendary veteran Shigeru Miyamoto.
Additionally, the side-on view allows players to evaluate the world and leverage terrain, especially when navigating through environmental puzzles. Unto the End‘s gameplay features a stream of puzzles that are mostly solved via combat encounters but reward players for expansive thinking and which skills they choose. The title also features practical solutions to challenges. Not all enemies must be eliminated to progress through the story; some can be befriended, and for others, the best option is to flee.
Unto the End has altered my perception about what 2D combat games can offer. I have always perhaps ignorantly believed that 3D, action-adventure combat games were inherently better due to the free-flow combat moves as well as the combat-circle, and first- and third-person camera angles offer more realistic combat sequences. However, 2 Ton Studios has developed a unique IP complete with intelligent AI and intriguing environmental puzzles. I am excited to get my hands on this 2D adventure, and I hope that it awakens a newfound love for 2D combat games.