Destructoid Review: Sacred 2

As someone who spent a significant portion of his middle school and high school years playing hack-and-slash games (two in particular – can you guess which ones?), I was pretty excited to get my hands on Sacred 2. It’s been a while since any hack and slasher caught my interest, and having missed the first iteration of the game, I was curious to see what Ascaron was able to do with the genre.

Of course, I wanted the answer to the one big question that is on the mind of all fans of the genre when a new hack and slash comes out. It’s not a particularly fair question, or even one that we should necessarily BE asking, but nonetheless it’s the question that always gets asked.

“How does this game compare to Diablo”?

Hit the jump to find out.

Sacred 2 (PC [reviewed], PS3, Xbox 360)
Developed by Ascaron
Published by CDV Software Entertainment, Deep Silver

Released on November 11, 2008 (US)

I’ll just come out and say it now – Sacred 2 is a fairly standard Diablo clone with a few minor tweaks and adjustments that don’t drastically alter the standard formula we’ve all come to know and love. In a nutshell, the story of Sacred 2 revolves around a battle for T-Energy, a mysterious glowing blue substance that is corrupting the world of Ancaria, and depending on which campaign you choose, you’ll hack and slash your way through the world to accomplish the many, many quests the game has available.

When creating your character, you have your choice of six classes: Seraphim, Shadow Warrior, High Elf, Dryad, Temple Guardian, and Inquisitor. For the most part, the classes are your basic combinations of ranged vs. melee attacks and magic vs. physical attacks. The High Elf lacks any kind of meaningful melee or weapon attack and instead specializes in long-ranged elemental magic attacks. The Temple Guardian is a bizarre humanoid-cyborg-dog with a laser gun that can also hold his own in melee combat. The Shadow Warrior has few ranged attacks and relies on his weapon for close-combat. While the design and look of each class is fairly unique, the way each plays isn’t anything new.

Once you’ve chosen your character, you then choose either the Light or Dark campaign (Unless you are a Seraphim or an Inquisitor – then you only have one option). Both campaigns take place in the same areas, but the quests you’ll be doing differ based on the path you’ve chosen. The Light campaign seeks to stop the spread of the T-Energy and works to help the populace along the way; the Dark campaign seeks to use the T-Energy to further their own goals while engaging in some good old-fashioned destruction and pillaging.

The next step is to choose one of six gods to worship, with each granting a special ability called “Divine Gifts”. These abilities have a long cooldown timer, but can help turn the tide of a battle in your favor. Some abilities will heal you, some will summon creatures to help aid you, and some will boost your defenses.

Finally, you choose your difficulty level. There are the three standard difficulties: Bronze, Silver, and Gold. (Initially, only Bronze and Silver are playable.) There’s also the standard Hardcore Mode option, which only gives you one life – if you die, your character is gone forever.

Once you’re actually in the game world, the game plays like a typical hack and slash. Physical attacks on your left mouse button, abilities on the right, hordes of enemies, and lots and lots of clicking. While killing monsters and gaining experience is, of course, a core part of the game, Sacred 2 puts a bit of a unique spin on the way you improve and customize your character.

When you level up, two things happen. You get a couple points to place in the standard RPG attributes (strength, endurance, dexterity, etc.), and you get a few points to put into skills. However, unlike most hack and slash games, you do not put points directly into your combat abilities. There are four sets of skills in the game: your aspects, weapon skills, armor skills, and support skills. Aspects are sort of like masteries for each of your three combat ability trees and allow you to unlock bonuses for your combat abilities, weapons and armor skills unsurprisingly give you bonuses when using certain types of weapons and armor, and support skills range from the ability to ride mounts to decreasing the amount of time you have to wait for your Divine Gift to cooldown. While each class has a number of skills to choose from, you can only select a total of 10, so you must choose wisely.

To learn and improve your actual combat abilities, you pick up and use special runes. Each rune you find will increase its corresponding skill by one, and other character classes’ runes can be traded for runes you can actually use. While you only start with one ability, you very quickly find the other runes you need in the starting zone, and it’s not long before you have at least one point in all of your abilities. With all of the runes available for purchase, you never have to worry about missing out on an ability because character customization in Sacred 2 mostly revolves around the 10 skills you choose, and how you assign points to them.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about how Sacred 2 actually plays.

The first thing you’ll notice on starting up the game is that the world is detailed, expansive, and colorful. Sacred 2 looks quite good, and the environments are lush and varied. There are some minor flickering problems with shadows, but overall the game looks clean. Be warned though, you need a fairly decent computer to run this game. The recommended specs are a 2.0 dualcore and a GeForce 8800 GTS or a Radeon HD 3870, but when I played it on an 8800 I would get occasional slowdown while running on high settings. The minimum specs are much more forgiving, but be prepared for a pretty serious graphical hit if you try to run on medium or low settings.

Another area where Sacred 2 succeeds is the sheer size of the game. The maps are huge, with tons of locations to visit and explore, and there are tons of quests to occupy your time. In the first zone alone, I spent about 8-10 hours just doing sidequests, and when I left the area I still had a number of quests that were unfinished. Combine this with the ability to level your character into the 200s and the ever-present search for bigger and better weapons and armor and you have a massive game with hundreds of hours of potential playtime.

In terms of the gameplay itself, Sacred 2 is a solid hack and slash game. As I mentioned earlier, it’s clearly a Diablo clone, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sacred 2 isn’t particularly innovative or groundbreaking; rather, its taken the genre as it exists now and slapped a shiny coat of polish over it. Think something like Diablo 2.75 (Mythos was Diablo 2.5 and Titan Quest was 2.25).

Unfortunately, while Sacred 2 is an entertaining game, it comes with a fair amount of problems, design flaws, and outright bugs.

Within 10 minutes of playing, I was already pissed at the camera. Rather than a typical ¾ isometric view that many hack and slash games use, Sacred 2 does something closer to a literal top-down view, which really limits your visual radius. While you can zoom in and out and rotate the camera, you can’t change the angle. This made my first attempt as playing a High Elf rather frustrating – she relies on ranged magic, but you can’t really see that far in front of you. Additionally, expect to be regularly attacked by enemies that are 2-3 screens away that you can’t see at all. I also found that the camera liked to move directly behind/into trees, which completely obstructed my view (usually right in the middle of battle). You eventually get used to it, but it’s a hassle and could definitely have been handled better.

I was also confused by the tone of the game. Fourth wall breaking is very common, and it doesn’t really fit with the way the rest of the game is presented. My Shadow Warrior would often yell “Another nameless NPC killed!” during battle, and there are many statues, graves, signs, and instances of dialog and voice acting sprinkled with lame real world jokes and references to the internet. When done well, this can be hilarious, but unfortunately Sacred 2’s attempts fall flat, and most of the “humor” just comes off as wildly out of place and unnecessary, particularly since most of the game remains in character and grounded in the game world.

On the topic of dialogue, I should also point out that a lot of it doesn’t make sense. I was greeted by most of the NPCs in the game with a disdainful “You DARE to speak to me?!”, and then they would cheerfully thank me for completing a quest or would beg for my help. I once had my character complain that I should raise his physical defense because he had just been hit for 1 damage by a rat. While the voice acting itself is fine, the writing leaves a lot to be desired.

One particular part of the game that I disliked, but others may enjoy, is the way the game scales. Similar to Oblivion, every time you level up all of the enemies in the world immediately level up along with you. 99% of the enemies you fight will be the same level as you; occasionally you will run into a monster one or two levels higher or lower than you. While this adds to the challenge of the game and prevents you from getting so powerful that you become unstoppable, I found it annoying when I would have to backtrack to a cave for the third time to complete a new quest and it would take me just as long to clear the cave of rats as it did when I was 8 levels lower.

The previous complaints, however, pale in comparison to the huge amount of bugs in the game. None of them completely break it, but they are extremely frustrating and should have been fixed before the game came out, or at least in the subsequent patches.

The AI for your minions is absolutely horrendous. Most minions move slower than you do, and will constantly be falling behind and then teleporting forward to your location. Unfortunately, they often will be engaged with monsters far behind you, so they will continually warp to your location, start walking backwards to fight their target, and then warp towards you again in an endless cycle. I also had one of my minions glitch out and become so big that he filled the screen, but he was unable to attack anything. When they work, minions and helpers are extremely useful, but unfortunately they are so buggy that you’re better off using a different skill that’s more reliable.

Another serious bug that still hasn’t been fixed is the vanishing map. I’m not 100% sure what triggers it, but it seems that upon completing a quest, your main map will disappear and stay gone until you restart the game. The minimap is fine, but pushing ‘M’ to bring up the big map only brings up the quest marker overlay, but not the map itself. Without the full map, it is extremely difficult to get around, and you will find yourself hitting tons of dead ends, wandering up to the edge of cliffs you can’t climb down, and following the wrong roads. Apparently this is a known issue, but it still hasn’t been fixed in the last two patches.

Additionally, another bug I recently uncovered when trying to install the game on my gaming PC at home was that, if you don’t install Sacred 2 to the default directory on your C drive, the game becomes unpatchable.  Since I keep all my games on my RAID drive, this was pretty irritating.  As far as I found from forum searches, the only way to fix it was to remove the game entirely and reinstall it into the default.

Unfortunately, I don’t have anything to say about the multiplayer because I was unable to play it. After updating to the latest patch, I found that my login suddenly didn’t work before. A quick trip to the forums confirmed that for a large number of people, the most recent patch messed up their online logins and passwords. The ‘Forgot your Password’ button just redirects you to the Sacred 2 homepage, as the password recovery isn’t implemented yet. The only way to get your password reset is a call to customer service, which is no one’s idea of an easy or convenient solution. (While I’m talking about the latest patch, I should also note that when I first fired up the game after the patching to see if the minimap bug was fixed, I promptly got stuck in a tree during combat and had to restart.)

There are many other smaller bugs, but the ones I just mentioned are easily the most problematic. However, while noticeable and somewhat annoying, none of the problems and bugs are completely gamebreaking, and you eventually get used to them. Additionally, they all can theoretically be patched out, and it seems that Ascaron at the very least is aware of their existence, so I’m hoping that within a few weeks a lot of them will be gone. If you can look past these flaws and technical problems, when it comes down to it Sacred 2 is actually quite a bit of fun to play.

Overall, if you’re a fan of hack and slash games and are looking for something to play until Diablo III comes out, Sacred 2 is definitely worth checking out, particularly if/when the game is patched. If these kinds of games aren’t your cup of tea, there’s nothing new here that will change your mind or your opinion of the genre. If it weren’t for all the bugs, Sacred 2 would get a better score, but as it stands now it needs some significant patching to reach its full entertainment potential.

Score: 6 – Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)

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