Creeping slowly and stealthily under the shadows of many contemporary upcoming games, Sacred never really generated much media hype prior to its release. What we have on our hands here, folks, is an action RPG coming from European development team at Ascaron Entertainment. Sacred uses the all too familiar design pattern long-establish by Blizzard's original Diablo. Basically, you have your average heroic fantasy tale, an ultimate evil unleashed by a dim-witted wizard, tons of monsters to mow down, and plenty of quests. More than anything else, this game focuses on character development and classic hack'n'slash gameplay. Still, you will find a bit more than that, so I'd advise you to read on.
Coming up with a decent and innovative fantasy-style storytelling is definitely a difficult task these days. So, in all honesty, it would be deceitful to claim Sacred entails an exciting plot. Players are presented a rather basic and straightforward fantasy-themed storyline. The introduction sequence offers precious little to let you know exactly what the hell is going on. An evil wizard Shaddar summons an ancient evil and unleashes its devastating powers upon the Kingdom of Ancaria. Someone, naturally, has to put a stop to the chaos and disarray engulfing the unfortunate inhabitants of Ancaria. The first couple of quests won't reveal much of the story either, I'm afraid. In other words, it's actually pointless to seek some deeper meaning in the narrative since it remains somewhat scarce and incomplete throughout most of the game. But, believe it or not, the omission of a profound tale never appeared to bother me much during gameplay, given that all my attention was directed towards tearing monsters apart and leveling up my character. There were also some surprising moments of humor in the game. Opening graves and crypts, for instance, prompts amusing lines like, "In memory of all the monsters we have killed for experience points." The developers weren't too lazy to throw in a little something for Lord of the Rings fans. A certain stone ruin marked the following words: "Et Earello Endorenna utulien..." - for those of you who watched Return of the King, this is the beginning of the verse Aragorn sang at the end of the movie. This has nothing to do with the game, but it's still a nice and fun touch for all fantasy fans.
At the beginning all you have to do is select one of the six available characters: a robust sandal-wearing Gladiator, a mysterious Battle mage, a sharp-witted and sinister Dark Elf, a light-hearted and valiant Wood Elf, a charismatic Seraphim, the tempting Vampiress, and the dark yet sultry Daemon. Each class concentrates on a unique combat style, either through magic and ranged attacks, or via melee attacks. The Gladiator, Battlemage, Dark Elf, and Wood Elf, offer a pretty standard range of abilities and skills we've already experienced in games like Neverwinter Nights, Diablo, Dungeon Siege, and so on. The Seraphim, Vampiress, and Daemon however, involve a few pleasing novelties combined with classic RPG character advancement. Although I was pleased with the statistics and overall appearance of all races, I somehow felt drawn towards the incredibly alluring Vampiress (what can I say, I just cannot contain my bloodlust anymore). Also, I got a bit fed up with spells, bows, and throwing knives, so this was just right... for me anyways. I'm sure all of you will find what you're looking for in other character classes, since they're all quite suitable for various styles of play.
I think most RPG fans would be interested to know more about the regions of Sacred. The most commendable aspect of the game is the elimination of loading areas. Up to 70 % of the existing world map is accessible at the beginning of the campaign which comes as most appreciated gameplay element and allows players to choose multiple paths towards their primary destination. Another helpful addition is the world map which specifies exactly where your character can locate blacksmiths, merchants, etc. Additionally, each initiated quest is highlighted on the map, so there's no chance of getting lost even if you wanted to. There are many helpful additions to the gameplay. Each town, for example, features a chest in the center where low-level characters may lay down extra items which can be used later on during the game. If you find a ring, sword, or any other item you don't have enough experience to handle, just store it in one town and then pick it up in the next when you've leveled up the character. The journey between the towns should give you enough experience points so you can upgrade to the next level.
Using the interface and inventory system should be a piece of cake for any gamer. Everything ran smoothly - upgrading general skills and specific combat abilities can be done quite easily, which also goes for exchanging items, upgrading weapons and armor, etc. As for the controls, about 80% of the game boils down to mouse-clicking (well, as you'd expect it from any Diablo style RPG).
Apart from solving quests and slashing your way through swarms of goblins, orcs, gargoyles, thieves, assassins, and other baddies, the game will have you concentrating on using the most out of your character's capabilities. Beefing up armor and weapons is not the only thing you get to do. There's also an intuitively designed combat system at work, involving special moves, combos, and so on. Another appropriate moment in combat is the addition of horseback riding. Characters can purchase various breeds of horses which in turn helps them get around a lot quicker and gives them leverage during combat (provided they advanced the right skill).
Visually, Sacred boasts a pleasing mix of 2D landscapes and fully modeled 3D characters and creatures. Even though the backdrops appear slightly outdated, especially when you zoom in, there's a pleasing amount of nicely drawn out details, such as trees, flowerbeds, bushes, and so on. Water surfaces look cool as well, and there's a whole choice of impressive and colorful spells to see. The camera allows you to zoom in on the action at any given time... even then the models appeared to show a meticulous approach in design and animation.
The game's audio is quite good. Gamers will be immersed the whole time thanks to a jumble of realistic ambient noises and a range of sweet tunes. The voiceovers are okay, but there's really not much to involve you there I'm afraid. Everything else seems to be in place.
If you decide to purchase this game, you won't regret it. There are no breakthroughs in terms of general design involved, but the open-ended gameplay and an admirably lengthy single-player campaign is enough to the fancy of any gamer. If we disregard the relatively weak plotline, this is really an enjoyable RPG experience with enough content and replayability to keep you occupied for days. Plus, this is one of those rare games I feel the incentive to play again after I'm done with the review...
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