Sacred 2: Fallen Angel, while not what you’d call a big success, still managed to garner quite a following among a certain set of gamers, even in spite of a few rough edges. Those that did end up sinking hour after hour into the action role playing game really appreciated its massive open world, extensive loot system, and huge number of quests. Therefore, with the release of Sacred 3, there’s prime opportunity for publisher Deep Silver to build on the foundation laid by the earlier titles, even if original developer Ascaron Entertainment is firmly out of the picture.
Emperor Zane – leader of the Ashen Empire – is a nasty piece of work: not only has he stolen the Heart of Ancaria, but he’s also going to use the artifact's power to make himself a god. As the heart is linked to the wellbeing of the world around it, the only way that he can tap its reserves is by ordering his army to cause as much death and destruction as they can. With his forces creating havoc wherever they go, the Seraphim – protectors of Ancaria – realise that they can’t stop Zane alone, so call together four of the most powerful warriors in the land to put an end to the Emperor’s plans.
Tonally, this is an odd game, mixing the earnest approach that you usually see in this sort of fantasy setting, with frequent blasts of humour. This is mostly done using the interactions that your party has with Aria – the psychic who feeds them information during their missions – and these frequently amuse, despite the dubious achievement of slipping the word 'amazeballs' into the script. Even some dodgy voice acting can’t stop these attempts at humour working more often than not, and you’ll appreciate the character this brings to what could otherwise have been a very dry fantasy tale.
Things kick off with you selecting which of the four heroes that you want to take control of, with a choice of Warrior, Archer, Paladin, or Lancer open to you. Each have the sorts of strengths and weaknesses that you may expect from these fantasy archetypes, but all are capable of dealing with all comers single-handedly. Once you’ve settled upon your choice and selected a difficulty level, you’re dropped into the game’s opening section, to defend the city of Halios from a mercenary attack.
Controlling your champion from a fixed, isometric point of view, you’ll start to hack your way through the horde of enemies blocking your way, and all initially appears to be as you’d expect from a Sacred game. It’s not until you realise that there’s no loot being dropped – only gold – that you’ll begin to ponder whether the game that you might be expecting is actually the one that you’re going to get.
When you complete the tutorial battles and find yourself presented with a world map that shows a number of stages scattered across it, you’ll soon realise that two hallmarks of the series – loot and an open world – are absolutely nowhere to be found in this third iteration. As a result, each of the stages play out in a very similar way as you fight your way through waves of enemies, before eventually squaring off against a particularly formidable opponent. Things are mixed up occasionally with the inclusion of traps and environmental hazards that keep you on the move during combat, but by and large, it’s a linear hack and slash affair with no exploration at all.
While the structure may not be particularly exciting, the combat does encourage you to make full use of your hero’s particular abilities; standing still and mashing the attack button will only get you so far, and as the battles get increasingly hectic, you’ll be dead in no time if you don’t mix up your tactics. You’ll constantly need to be aware of what the enemies around you are doing, keeping an eye out for icons appearing over their heads that signal that you can knockdown their defences, or interrupt their attack with a well timed bash. This becomes a key consideration, especially on higher difficulties, when failing to disrupt a particular attack will lead to your health being significantly depleted.
On top of each class’ basic attack, they’ve also got eight combat arts abilities which are divided into two categories: light and heavy. You can customise these skills to suit your style of play, but you’re only able to take one ability from each category into battle with you. Whether it’s springing forward to make a damaging area of effect attack or using a blast of energy to push your foes away, each of these skills are fun to use and certainly help even the odds in battle, forming a key part of your arsenal for the fights ahead.
However, it’s quite disappointing that you can only equip two combat arts at a time, as it would have been great to be able to switch them on the fly, allowing you to string together more creative combos. As a result, it doesn’t take long before you fall into a routine of using a couple of favourites over and over, as there’s little incentive for experimentation.
As your avatar gains experience, you’ll begin unlocking upgrades that can be purchased with the gold that you’ve accumulated. These can enhance every aspect of your hero, from your combat arts, all the way down to your dodge move, but these ultimately end up being another disappointment. Rather than letting you put your own stamp on your character with a wide selection of options, they unlock in quite a linear manner, and even when the game offers opportunities to pick between two skills, you’ll still end up with a hero very similar to other players using the same class.
On the upside, if you’re a fan of cooperative play, then this game has you covered, offering both online and offline four player co-op. This can be accessed straight from the level select screen, and is easy to jump into should the fancy take you. The only downside to this is that when everyone’s on screen firing off their abilities, it can make it difficult to keep track of just what you’re doing. That said, teaming up to take on Zane’s army can be incredibly enjoyable, especially once you’ve unlocked the deity difficulty. On this higher setting, enemies scale to your character’s level, and it offers some really challenging battles, where victory will depend on your entire team being at the top of their game.
Even though it’s pretty average from a visual perspective – with occasional bouts of slowdown – the title does offer a nice variety of backdrops to your battles, sending you to every corner of Ancaria, to fight in mountain ranges, verdant forests, and besieged cities. There are a few attempts to jazz up the presentation by working in camera movements to show off the scenery, which, while reminiscent of God of War, fall short of the grandeur that they are attempting to evoke.
Sacred 3 is likely to be a huge let down for fans of the series. By ditching the open world quest structure and loot system, this sequel has been robbed of the experience that franchise evangelists fell in love with. That said, if you put aside the initial disappointment to consider what the game actually is, you’ll find a decent action RPG, which offers a great co-op experience to boot. While the enjoyable combat isn’t enough to overcome the linear stages and shallow systems, it will keep you engaged long enough to put a stop to Zane’s plans of world domination – even if you only do it once.