It might be a bit strange, but I’ve started to really dislike action RPGs. Not because they’re not perfectly good and enjoyable games, but because they ruin my life. I literally can’t play a MMORPG for more than a month, because I end up playing them for 10-12 hours a day. And what about offline action RPGs? Well, there was Diablo 2 and its excellent expansion. That game took up ridiculous amounts of my time for an entire year. Not too long ago Encore released the game Sacred; a game that borrows a fair amount of Diablo 2’s proven game mechanics. Even so I wouldn’t call Sacred a Diablo 2 clone, because the setting and story differ by a lot, and it has some neat ideas that haven’t been used much before.
Sacred takes place in a land by the name of Ancarnia, inhabited by various kind, and not so kind races. Even though the humans have built cities and formed some sort of a civilization there’s plenty of unease. Imps, orcs and whatever else can be found as soon as you reach the town or city gates. The king doesn’t have much life left in him, and the prince has so far not done much to make the situation better. In a way, that’s where you come in.
The game begins with a cinematic sequence where some nasty people manage to summon a particularly nasty demon-like monster – you know the kind that barbeques and eats anything smaller than itself. Who knows, maybe you’ll bump into each other sometime?
Like in any proper action RPG you start by customizing your character. There are six classes to choose from; the Gladiator, the Seraphim, the Wood Elf, the Dark Elf, the Battle Mage, and the Vampiress. The gladiator is your typical meat-shield; a tall warrior who can wield the heaviest of weapons and armor. He’s not fond of shooting arrows or using magic, but can be devastating in close-combat. The seraphim is in a way a mix between a martial artist and a magician. He can use fairly weapons, but does the most damage by using elemental spells, which can also heal, protect, and so on. The wood elf uses ranged attacks, while the dark elf is more of an assassin. The battle mage uses primarily offensive skills, as you may’ve expected. And finally you have the character that might be the most original; the vampiress, a female who prefers to use longswords. But you know vampires – they’re only really effective during the night, at which point our lady can turn into a ferocious creature that mauls enemies with her claws.
When you’ve made up your mind about what character you want to play as you do a short tutorial, which introduces most of the interface. Each class has a somewhat different tutorial they all eventually end up with you heading towards a nearby city to enlist. Early in the game you’re practically broke, carry rather pathetic items, and know a very limited number of spells. But all that’ll change as you invest hours upon hour butchering foes. Sacred is actually a pretty open-ended game. Even though there are certain quests that further the story there are also about 200 sub-quests that you can do by for instance chatting with the people you find in the towns and cities. These can be a very useful source of experience, which you’ll definitely need to face the tougher foes. Like in just about every RPG you earn experience points by killing monsters. Your character starts at level 1, and by earning an ever-increasing number of experience points you level up. Every character has a certain amount of points in attributes like strength, dexterity and so on. When you level up these will be increased by a little bit, but you also get to choose a few of your own. The key is to understand what your character benefits the most from, and then increasing the stats based on that. Not balancing the stat points can become a problem in the long run, but that’s something you can usually foresee when playing the game.
Sacred also has a pretty impressive level of customization in your character’s skills and abilities. As opposed to the branching skill-tree in Diablo 2 you have combat schools, which are actually items you pick up off the battlefield, and then put into your ability list by right-clicking. These can be improved by right-clicking more of the same ones. Additionally, once every 10 or so levels you decide between basic combat schools to improve. For instance if you play a seraphim these may choose between fire magic, earth magic, horse-back riding, and so on. These pretty much define what skills and abilities you’ll be using until the next time you choose a path. Doing it this way seemed a bit odd to me at first, but when you factor in that people may be playing this game up to ridiculous levels you do need to slowly introduce more options to the player. Combinations of abilities can also be made at a wizard. They certainly use a lot of mana, but can be a good last resort when you’re ambushed by enemies.
When you think about it there aren’t a lot of role-playing games where you could buy a horse and ride around. In Sacred you can, and it’s also pretty neat. Horses have stats just like you do, but can be killed fairly quickly, so it can be smart to leave them behind before you start butchering foes.
But what about the items? Anyone who played a lot of Diablo 2 knows very well that the items were a big reason for whatever addiction they may’ve had. Sacred has random drops and all, but it seems to lack those cool unique Ã¼ber items of Diablo 2. Even though many of the weapons have magical abilities that raise stats and so on it still leaves a lot to be wanted. However, some of the weapons have a number of sockets, which let you boost the weapon’s powers by the help of a blacksmith. By doing this you usually get better items than you can purchase off vendors.
Well it doesn’t sound too bad so far right? Unfortunately there are a few things that ruined the experience a bit for me. For starters; Sacred may have a lot of quests, but some are also bugged, or even broken. All the quests you accept are more or less explained in your journal, and waypoints are put on your map to help you find the way. Well the explanation isn’t always all that useful, the waypoints aren’t always enabled, and the scripted events don’t always start. You may for instance be asked to help someone get to a certain location, but it’s not always that he or she realizes you’re there. By running around in circles for a few minutes you usually start the event, but it’s still pretty amazingly annoying when all you want to do is to visit the vendor with the money you were promised.
Next up is the interface. Diablo 2 was great in this way because all the hotkeys were easy to use, and didn’t make you micro manage much at all. In Sacred it’s definitely not as streamlined, which is a bit of a shame considering that this is an action RPG, and not exactly a turn-based RPG where you have all the time in the world to manage skills or whatever else. At the bottom of the screen you can place a certain number of weapons, spells and combinations of spells. As you level up you get more of these slots, but in my opinion it would’ve been better to have all the slots available from the start. Why? Well if you only have two or three spells-slots and have four or five spells you wanted to use, then you’re out of luck, because to change it you have to pull up the menu and drag the icon over. This works okay when you’re out of sight from lurking enemies, but can be a problem when you’re chased by enemies and REALLY need to use the healing spell.
There also seems to be some problem with the game not always recognizing you clicking on an enemy to initiate an attack. This might not sound like much of a problem, but it’s one of the main mechanics that absolutely must work perfectly every time – and it doesn’t. Sure you can click again, but you still notice it every time.
Next is the difficulty, which suffice to say, varies. At least during the first portion of the game you’ll fight mostly weak monsters, but if you run low on health potions and need to run, and then start having more monsters chase you there’s not much saving you. The guards by the towns and cities aren’t overly clever, so you learn to try and fight as small groups as possible whenever possible. Even if you do that the game can get quite hard at times, even with the best items the vendor has to offer, and your stat points well distributed. What level you are can have quite a lot to say, which means that if you can’t get past some point you may have to look for other monsters to kill, so that you eventually level up. More work could clearly have been put into balancing the monsters, and possibly also some of the classes.
In terms of graphics the game looks quite good. Sacred uses 3d rendering instead of 2d sprites, and it does it well. The characters are very nicely detailed, and you can zoom in and out as you want. The environments are also quite nicely presented, so with tons of special effects from spells and whatnot you have a pretty solid looking game.
In the audio department Sacred also does pretty well, but mainly in the sound effects and voice acting department. The sheer amount of sound effects and spoken dialogue is quite impressive, and the musical score isn’t too shabby either.
In the multiplayer department you also have reasonably cool options. You can play cooperatively with friends, doing your best to save Ancarnia from vile beasts. You can play on both a LAN and online. The interface is pretty similar to battle.net, so you shouldn’t have much of a problem navigating it. PvP is also possibly, and fun, as long as you don’t run into PK’ers. There isn’t too much lag, and whatever is there is usually tolerable.
Sacred could’ve been really, really good. It’s a solid game in most regards, but it could’ve used substantial polish in some ways. The game looks very good in most ways, has a lot of sound effects and spoken dialogue. Its musical score is also good, but it’s mainly in the gameplay department it fails. Sacred lacks the flow and streamlined nature of games like Diablo 2, Dungeon Siege and Neverwinter Nights, which is unfortunate.
Those who manage to look past the gameplay-related imperfections should have a whole lot of fun ahead, considering the huge number of sub-quests, and the various forms of multiplayer.