Here's a question for you to ponder: is Soulslike a helpful genre classification anymore? With such a wide variety in approach and aesthetic, you'd think these games would have escaped the shadow of their progenitor. Unfortunately, the Dark Souls-slash-From Software gameplay loop is so distinctive that it's impossible to resist comparisons. Explore expansive environments, battle difficult enemies, rest periodically at checkpoints to replenish health items and unlock shortcuts to more easily resume exploration. It's a familiar pavane at this point, so what does developer Clever Beans' new open-world Soulslike Shattered - Tale of the Forgotten King bring to the mix?
Shattered takes place amidst the embers of a dying world. You are a wanderer who has lost their memory, and you must seek the titular forgotten King in order to discover the truth of your origin and what happened to the world around you. So far, so Hollow Knight, but Shattered has a few tricks up its sleeve to differentiate it from its peers. For one, it's not just a Soulslike. It places a heavy emphasis on platforming, so you'll need to observe the world and exploit its verticality to help you get around. It also has a Zelda-style hub world from which many of the dungeons and optional locations can be reached. Will these innovations be enough to help it carve out its own identity?
Shattered's Storytelling Is Fragmented And Uninteresting
Let's start with the narrative. An open-world - especially one in a Soulslike, a genre traditionally rich in storytelling detail - is nothing without a compelling tale to anchor it. Sadly, Shattered can't serve one of these up. As is standard for the genre, it's got a convoluted, elliptical story. You'll learn small details about the world from its inhabitants, lore fragments scattered throughout the dungeons, and the ubiquitous item descriptions. It's possible that going over Shattered's world with a fine-toothed comb will yield treasure, but I never felt connected to its story or the world it was trying to build.
Part of that is because it's given to interminable purple prose. All of Shattered's characters have the same manner of speech, and its item descriptions are simultaneously overwritten and undernourished. I felt no connection to the figures I was fighting as bosses, nor to the elements of the world I was discovering. Occasionally, a thrilling background detail - a crucified burning figure in a town square, or several slumped-over scholars gathered around a sphere - would give me hope. Unfortunately, I never felt like these details were adequately explored or explained, even in a genre known for its ambiguity.
There's a depressing feeling of "make it up as you go along" to Shattered.
There's nothing wrong with wanting to keep things on the ambiguous side. However, when playing Dark Souls or Hollow Knight - strong examples of the genre - one gets the feeling their creators know more about the world than they're letting on. There's a depressing feeling of "make it up as you go along" to Shattered, one that means world and story elements never coalesce into even a fragmented picture of what's actually going on. Quickly, I became disconnected, simply moving from area to area with no interest in why I was there or what I needed to achieve in the narrative.
There's Nothing In Shattered's Open World
It's a shame because, at first glance, Shattered's open-world is beguiling and breathtaking. The Ancient Lands is a Legend of Zelda-style hub packed full of landmarks promising exciting exploration experiences. What's more, there's no minimap and no objective markers, so you'll need to orienteer and figure out routes for yourself. By way of guidance, there are three or four pillars of light shooting into the sky, leading you naturally to explore those places first. Along the way, of course, you'll be stopped by terrain and enemies, so it's never a simple as-the-crow-flies route to your destination.
Unfortunately, a good open-world needs something to discover, and it's there that Shattered falls down. A fast-travel item makes zipping between locations quick and easy, but you won't want to do so, because there's rarely any reason to revisit locations. That would be fine, but it doesn't feel particularly rewarding to find new locations either. All too often, you'll wander down a particular path that looks promising, only to find literally nothing at the end of it. Shattered's open world doesn't feel like it's been crafted with the due care and attention that a map of this size and scope needs.
It doesn't help that vast swathes of the open world in Shattered are simply...empty. Other than the major locations on the map, there really is nothing to find or do. The open world starts to feel like a stopgap between areas rather than a worthwhile diversion in and of itself. This begs the question as to why Shattered couldn't simply have been a semi-open world game a la Dark Souls or a stage-based affair with a central hub. A good open world game rewards exploration and makes wandering feel compelling, but Shattered - Tale of the Forgotten King fails to do both thanks to shoddy, unfinished-feeling world design.
Combat In Shattered Is Floaty And Repetitive
So if the exploration is a bust and the narrative isn't engaging enough, it falls to Shattered's combat to salvage the experience. Sadly, there isn't much mileage in this aspect either. Superficially, Shattered's combat resembles Dark Souls. It's a stamina management-based system in which you must look for opponent tells and exploit them to deal damage. That means the usual Soulslike pavane: watch the sword swings, wait until they end, and move in for the kill. Shattered is initially let down by a weird, floaty physics engine that makes combat feel ungrounded and loose. Nothing has the weight and heft that this kind of combat requires.
I stopped counting the bugs I bumped into when they began to number over a hundred.
The limits of Shattered's ambition, however, reveal themselves most obviously in the weak enemy design. I counted around six unique enemy types in this game, excluding bosses. That's generous, too, because I'm counting several identical humanoid enemies with different weapons as distinct enemies, when in reality, they all felt extremely similar. Both enemies and bosses in Shattered - Tale of the Forgotten King tend to boil down to "big guy with a sword". While there are sometimes variations on that theme, only one or two encounters truly felt unique and interesting. You'll simply be swinging your sword through the same old hordes in every single dungeon.
Weapon and combat variety is another issue in Shattered. Every single weapon you can obtain is a sword, and while some may attack faster and do less damage (or vice versa), all of the weapons feel identical. There's a little more variation on display with the secondary Ether powers, which include a shield, a projectile, and a damage buff. Unfortunately, since all of the combat encounters felt identical, I found little reason to deviate from the standard "starting sword plus projectile" build. Experimentation is useless if you don't give players a situation in which experimentation is rewarded, and once again, Shattered falls flat in this regard.
Shattered's Bugs Are Relentless
Ambition is admirable in an indie game, but the execution is what it'll be remembered for. Here, Shattered is almost laughably unfinished. I stopped counting the bugs I bumped into when they began to number over a hundred. Sometimes, the bugs were relatively harmless and didn't impede my progress too much. At other times, they were the sole reason I died; a particularly nasty one stopped me from doing damage to enemies, although they could still hit me. Countless other issues abound; enemies clip through surfaces, move in strange ways, or flat out disappear. To call it "immersion-shattering" would be an understatement.
Despite the fact that Shattered - Tale of the Forgotten King has been in Early Access for more than a year and a half, its core issue is that it feels completely unfinished. Its world, locations, boss fights, and lore all feel like a good start, but none of these aspects are fleshed-out or well-realized enough to be called complete. As it stands, Shattered is a rather pretty world and an interesting concept in search of a full game in which they don't feature. Bizarrely enough for something that's spent this long germinating, Shattered feels rushed and half-baked.
Shattered - Tale of the Forgotten King | Final Thoughts
Shattered is a tragic paean to wasted potential. Every aspect of this experience feels like it needed more time in development, and if it had been afforded that time, Clever Beans' game could have been great. Unfortunately, it's too buggy, broken, and downright boring to recommend. If you're a Soulslike fan, you'll baulk at the incredibly limited enemy design and confusing, unrewarding exploration. Open-world game fans will feel let down by the lack of things to find in Shattered's admittedly pretty expanse. All in all, despite some intriguing ideas and a few standout moments, Shattered - Tale of the Forgotten King doesn't deserve to be remembered.
TechRaptor reviewed Shattered - Tale of the Forgotten King on PC via Steam using a code provided by the publisher.
- Beautiful Visuals
- Initially Rewarding Exploration
- Unbelievably Buggy
- Empty Open World
- Limited, Boring Enemy Design
- Confusing, Badly-Written Story