Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards Review
Review Context: I’ve played many action-RPGs like Diablo, Diablo II, Path of Exile, Torchlight, Torchlight II, Grim Dawn, Titanquest, and Victor Vran. I’ve never read The World of Aluna comic book series.
Date of Playthrough: May 24-25, 2021
PC Specs Game Played on:
OS: Windows 10 Pro 64-bit
Processor: Intel(R) Core(TM) i7-9700F CPU @ 3.00GHz
Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2060 SUPER
Disclosure: This review is based off of a review copy provided for free.
Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards, developed by Digitart Interactive and N-Fusion Interactive, is a game that originally caught my attention with its trailer a year ago due to the narrative element of its presentation. Set in Inca mythology, Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards features a female protagonist, Aluna, who wields ancient powers passed down from her mother, Pachamama. It’s never easy to create a new superhero with a backstory, but that’s what Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards sets out to. The game is based on The World of Aluna, a comic book series created by actress Paula Garces (Harold & Kumar series), who is also the voice of Aluna. The game is essentially an origin story introducing you to the character of Aluna, while also mixing in action-RPG gameplay. As someone with tremendous experience in the dungeon-crawling action-RPG genre, I was most interested in how the gameplay would work with a game like this.
What Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards does the best out of everything is the storytelling. I want to differentiate storytelling from the actual story because the story itself is not the most original framework of a story ever told, despite Inca mythology being the theme. Having said all of that, the storytelling in Aluna may be the best of any action-RPG to date, except maybe Diablo II. Most of the action-RPGs on the market focus gameplay over the story narrative, but this game does the reverse, with good voice acting, in-game cutscenes, a good enough soundtrack, and cinematics that combine comic strips with good narration to keep you engaged in the story. I can’t stress enough how great the storytelling is, which is why I was a bit disappointed in the type of story that was told, using a story formula we’ve experienced a billion times already. Even though the narrative element of the game is a bit of a greater focus than the action-RPG gameplay, the gameplay isn’t bad.
Veteran players of the action-RPG genre need to approach Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards much differently than other games in the genre because this is not the same kind of game. There really isn’t an endgame, and although you have options to build your character (Aluna), you’ll likely not feel motivated to dive back in again to build Aluna differently after finishing the story. What I really liked about this game is that the inventory system is simple, with a menu selection for each category of armor or weapon in a vertical menu instead of the ‘Tetris inventory’ setup veterans of the genre are used to. This allows players to stay engaged with the story without spending too much time on your items. This is by far one the smartest development decisions for this game. The loot that drops from enemies are automatically identified in your inventory, so no worries about ID scrolls. Despite the simplicity of the action-RPG elements, the game still keeps track of character stats very well, compares items, and even has a crafting system at the merchant to gamble for better items. The game tells you which items are better using comparisons to your equipped item, so I never really spent too much time fumbling with my items.
The leveling process is you get a skill point when Aluna levels to spend on the melee, ranged, or magic tree. You don’t have to stick to one tree, but for my playthrough I invested all in melee and catered all my loot decisions as such. You can mix and match if you so desire, but it may make the game a little tougher and cause you to be spread thin on skill points because there is no monster respawning to grind for more points. Although the game has many difficulty settings, including a “Story mode” setting where you don’t have to worry about equipment, skills, or stats, I played on “Normal” and found that my previous action-RPG knowledge was very necessary to get through certain parts of the game. Once you get an ability in the game there is no further leveling it up like other games in the genre because it automatically scales up with you and your damage (Diablo 3). Still, you’ll find yourself with many skills and only four slots to use at one time and two passive slots. Understanding which skills synergize the best with each other is going to make you survive better. Also because skills use energy, you’ll learn which skills chain together best, as each skills use energy and can guzzle your energy bar quickly There is also only one potion that is on a cooldown that you use, so no worries about buying too many potions or using it too many times. What I really liked about the loot is that the game has Legendary items that enhances skills. For example, I had a shield that multiplied a skill’s damage by four, so that incentivized me to keep using that skill rather than switching to something else.
I found the world design and general gameplay graphics to be just acceptable and on par with the graphic quality of Path of Exile in its early days, not great, but fine. My biggest issues with the game that can be fixed and balanced are some of the boss fights, with one of them having a major hitbox issue that made it extremely frustrating despite having dodge rolled out of the way by a large margin. In several of the boss fights there are more than one phase, but unfortunately the second phases start with Aluna in an unfair position, so much so that terrain blocks movement and you are immediately down on health just due to the positioning and little time to react after the in-game cutscene ends. The saving and checkpoint system is generally very friendly and relaxed, except the boss fights, where you need to complete all phases again if you die. This wouldn’t be quite as annoying if the second phase resuming issues didn’t exist, but additionally there is no in-game cutscene skipping (There is for the regular cutscenes.), so you have to keep watching and clicking through just to get to the fighting.
The game did feel at times hit and miss as far as balance and difficulty, with one level leading up to the boss hitting much harder, including the elite enemies being harder than the actual big bad boss at the end. Playing as melee, the ranged enemies were certainly the toughest to deal with, as running carelessly too close without dodge rolling would lead to death if you weren’t careful. Unfortunately, the boss fight at the end of the game was absurdly difficult, even on normal difficulty, with my Aluna decked out in complete Legendary gear specced as a melee tank prioritizing defense. As I alluded to earlier, the between phases parts of the boss fights are just not very well done and set you up to die almost immediately on resuming battle, so I had to swallow my pride and drop the difficulty to “Easy” to complete the story to do this review. On that note, the drop down from “Normal” to “Easy” was such a huge gulf that I’m shocked there is an even easier difficulty put in the game. The game difficulty needs balancing, so much so that I would only recommend gamers with action-ARPG experience play on normal, at least for now. This is coming from a veteran Path of Exile and Diablo II player. Someone without action-RPG experience will die very easily throughout the game if they aren’t quick using the potion or adept at dodge rolling with space bar.
Aluna: Sentinel of the Shards is not for everyone, and many veterans of the action-RPG genre may not find this to be their cup of tea, but this game is very unique and I’m glad to add this to my list of action-RPG gaming experiences. My playthrough ended up being between ten and eleven hours and once the New Game Plus option unlocked I unfortunately didn’t feel any urge to play again, but maybe in the future if issues are fixed and new content is added. Despite all of the flaws in the game, the character of Aluna does have a certain allure that when the story was over I felt like I wanted to learn more. This entry is essentially an origin story to introduce Aluna and if there is a sequel or a story DLC in the future I will definitely be eager to play those.
Similar Games Liked:
Path of Exile (PC)
Diablo II (PC)
Similar Games Disliked:
Diablo 3 (PC)