Over the last several months, I’ve taken a look at a number of Metroidvania titles. At this point, I do feel like I may be repeating myself, but it is hard to differentiate yourself as a game developer in this genre, especially with indie games.
Elderand has some pretty great gameplay and world-building, but it falls short of becoming a title that rises above the competition. That’s not to say it isn’t a fun, complete, and compelling game. It has a lot going for it while also struggling to give me all that many many “wow” moments throughout my journey.
As an unnamed hero, you’re washed up on a remote island with no way to know what happened to you or your perished crew. After some light exposition, a few tutorial moments early on (jump, dash, basic combat), and a brief character customization screen, it’s time to battle the baddies.
It took quite some time for me to understand exactly what I was doing and why other than… I need to survive… because, well, video games. That’s totally fine in the grand scheme of things. Just give me an adventure, some brief storytelling, and have me hack and slash my way to victory.
While Elderand does largely take that path, it also takes the time to build depth for the world and introduces some interesting characters to accompany it. My issue with how it’s presented to the player is. Mostly, I found these through randomly located notes and characters I met several hours into my playthrough. On top of that, the writing is really well done! It’s a shame it took so long to get to the meat of the story and the high-quality writing, though.
Hack, Dash, and Cast
With all of that said, Elderand still plays very well and feels really tight throughout each and every battle. The game is difficult and it’s meant to be. It provides a challenge from the get-go with even the smallest and slowest-moving monsters packing a punch against your health bar. Potions are hard to come by, so be extra careful!
As the hero, you have the ability to carry two sets of weapon combinations that range from swords, large axes, wands and staffs, and many more. You can also combine some of these with shields and a secondary weapon like a bow and arrow, a throwing knife, projectile spells, and armour sets. There’s a lot there to unlock and experiment with, an aspect of the game I found to be very fun and rewarding.
The downside to this system in Elderand is how you acquire some of the weapons and items you’ll use. Most of what I found appeared to be random. Drops from enemies happened infrequently and when they did, I couldn’t find any rhyme or reason as to what triggered the discovery. Additionally, there’s a merchant in the game that sells potions as well as some of the aforementioned weapons. But it wasn’t until hours into my adventure that I realized this we the place to obtain the most effective loadout (at least within the first few areas or regions). I was waiting for cool drops, fun rewards, or boss-ending chests to toss me a new spell or item. Instead, I was left with smashes pots to loot gold and then travel back to a merchant several screens away.
Now, the combat itself is still quite fun. It’s fast and tight and requires some attention to detail I did not expect. I thoroughly enjoyed the boss battles in Elderand. I came across one at least once every hour of my playthrough. They all act in unique ways and never feel too long or too challenging. But that’s not always the case in the adventure between these encounters.
As I mentioned earlier, Elderand is a tough game. Part of the reason (intentionally or not), is that I constantly felt underpowered. That may be because I struggled with the item and weapon system from time to time, but I still felt like many enemies were just damage sponges that could sometimes take over a dozens hit before exploding into a few coins. Thankfully the combat itself is still fun to play, but the struggle against even the smallest enemy (sometimes a literal fly), can be frustratingly long.
There are some unlockable skills you learn throughout, but the first few are fairly basic (a double jump for example), and there aren’t many of them. Yes, this is all part of playing a Metroidvania game, but I just wish there was a larger arsenal to uncover.
Soulslike games are all about a risk/reward approach and Elderand shares that mentality. In some ways, this works for me, but it’s not a universal recipe for a good time in my books. Metroidvania all share similarities like fast travel, and a respawning system that provides real tension. The issue I found here is two-fold: fast travel isn’t unlocked until about 30-40% of the map is available, and the save points are often in inconvenient places that create several minutes of backtracking for even the simplest of tasks.
The map itself is designed well. Each area looks, sounds, and feels unique to the ones around it. Discovering what Elderand in terms of the presentation was a big upside. I enjoyed nearly all the character models, foreground and background design, and the way each weapon and item looked and sounded within the world.
Elderand is greater than the sum of its parts. I found myself trekking forward in order to save an island and its people, but many of the steps I took along the way felt flawed. I just didn’t feel like there was enough new and exciting jumping out at me.
Sadly, I can’t sit here and tell you that Elderand is a must-play and a Metroidvania title you can’t miss. There’s fun to be had if you can hack your way through some of the unfortunate design choices, but there are at least a handful of options out there that will give you a more interesting experience.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]
Reviewed on: PC