You will learn to detest the word "obliterated". This dramatic yet depressingly apt term has been given the job of informing you that you've just died, and it precedes yet more words that you'll also come to hate. For example, the statement, "Alas, you have lost 7480 salt forever" will see that you clasp your head in your angry, sweaty hands as you come to terms with the loss. Games that take inspiration from the Souls series are slowly coming to the fore, and Salt and Sanctuary proudly presents itself as one such imitator, albeit under the guise of a 2D, hand-drawn, artsy indie game.
Do not let Ska Studios fool you, however. Its latest title may well appear less brutal at first glance, but it's by no means an easy ride. It's a vast, intertwined, hard action RPG, with a labyrinthine Metroidvania world to explore. The map unfolds in a similar way to From Software's influential series, with manifold doors (often locked) hiding items, secret areas, NPCs to engage with, and even the odd optional boss battle. Be hopeful that you don't stumble into one of those under prepared.
You begin the game aboard a ship, transporting a princess across the sea as part of a plan to bring about peace in this war-torn land. Disaster strikes, of course, when the vessel is attacked by a monstrous creature named the Unspeakable Deep, which is virtually impossible to defeat. Once the beast lays waste to your fledgling hero, you wake to find yourself alone on a misty beach. A stranger advises that you should seek sanctuary, and a few messages in bottles later, you're left to blindly discover the haunts and history of this intimidating island.
There are multiple nods to the Souls games here that any fan will be able to pick out immediately. The sanctuaries are your safe havens and save points, your only refuge from the bleak and deadly dungeons and ruins. One new idea prevails here, however, in that you can make Offerings, which unlock shopkeepers and other NPCs to reside in your sanctuary. For example, offering a Stone Merchant will unlock a shop in which to trade your gold for all sorts of goodies. You can even unlock the ability to play in co-op if you offer up a Stone Sellsword – we'll get back to this.
If – sorry, when – you die, you're dragged back to your last sanctuary and a percentage of your gold is taken, along with all of your salt. Salt is primarily used to level up, but is also important for upgrading your weaponry and armour, so you'll want to keep hold of it if you can. But inevitably, death will come, and the enemy that obliterated you will be carrying your lost salt, so it's not too difficult getting it back – unless they're miles away from your last sanctuary. Reviving yourself at these points also brings back any defeated enemies, so dying means facing all of them again if you want that salt back. It can feel unfair at times, with some cheap low-level baddies often dog piling you in large numbers.
Of course, it isn't unfair, really – it's merely a matter of learning your adversary's attacks and tells. The combat is swift, punchy, and satisfyingly brutal, with a good amount of strategic depth and variety in the weaponry to keep things interesting. You'll want to make great use of the block and parry, as it often doesn't pay to go too heavily on the offensive. Your stamina bar means that you'll constantly need to manage yourself, being careful not to spend too much on evading and then having none left to attack. There's real method to the action, then, and you're given room for two loadouts, offering you enough flexibility to mix up your play styles if and when you need to.
A quick glance at the skill tree will show you just how diverse the combat options are. It's a literal and dauntingly large tree, but you can see early on the character builds you can form; anything from your typical knight and his trusty sword and shield to a dagger-wielding cleric, who can make use of prayers to gain an advantage in battle. You can mix and match skills and stat upgrades as much as you like, and there's a huge quantity of weaponry and armour to find, so you won't be short of ideas when it comes to developing your character.
In fact, we'd advise that you create two or more characters if you want to see everything that Salt and Sanctuary has to offer, but that isn't the only reason. You can play the entirety of the game in local co-op, so long as you have another character to assign to a second player. This will make enemies tougher, but playing with a friend means that you can combine the abilities of two characters to take down the monstrosities that await you. It also makes the game far more fun, as playing solo can become stressful if you get stuck, and the lonely, bleak atmosphere can become a little heavy.
Do not underestimate Salt and Sanctuary: it'll chew you up and spit you back out, drawing from From Software's modern action RPG blueprints and translating the hard-as-nails gameplay to two dimensions. It demands your attention, never holds your hand, and rewards your patience and skill. Some players will find the lack of information too obtuse and difficulty too harsh, and a few cheap enemies and well-hidden traps will certainly frustrate. For those willing to go the distance, however, this is an intricate and fulfilling game just waiting to be conquered. As far as Souls wannabes go, this is one that's certainly worth its salt.
Great review, @Quintumply. The game sounds fantastic, but I really dislike the art style.
I wanna buy this, but, ya know, most of the indies I wanna buy end up being PS Plus freebies a month or two later... So I'll just wait a little bit.
Super review @Quintumply, but I'm afraid I have to agree with @get2sammyb - the art style really puts me off. Sounds quite fun(?) otherwise.
Am I right in thinking this is coming to Vita also?
@Dodoo It was. Whether it still is I'll need to investigate.
Sounds good, nice review, bring on the Vita version!
This game look's awsome, I was watching a friend play it last night via share play and it really look's brilliant. it has everything a soul's game has and is very Bloodborne like i'm getting it for sure at £15 it's a steal, off to buy it now
@get2sammyb @ShogunRok Thanks guys The art style is something I didn't touch on a whole lot, but it certainly seems to have a mixed reaction. I think it can be a real looker at times, but the muted colour palette can sometimes make things hard to see, such as tripwires and ladders. It's not too much of a problem, but it could've easily been made a little easier to read.
@JesWood13 In all honesty, for the price it is right now, you're getting a decent amount of game, and if you're a fan of this kind of game, it's a no-brainer. I'd highly recommend it, especially to Souls/Bloodborne fans.
@Dodoo They're still making the Vita version (and PC) but there's no set date yet. I think a Vita version will be really cool, especially if it incorporates Cross Save!
I've played about 5 hours. I really like it. I'd give it a go if you're a souls fan.
@get2sammyb - Is it the hand drawn cartooney-ness that Ska Studios use that's putting you off? I can't find a screen cap of someone doing it on google, but would it help if you knew that Ska liberally showers the screen in gouts of the claret stuff if you successfully riposte an enemy you've parried?
I watched some gameplay the other day and I love the art direction of this game, the gameplay looked okay, learning that it's pretty hardcore has semi put me off as I may as well just play a Souls game instead, it'll be on my radar.
Brilliant review, praying we get this on psplus.
@Quintumply Cool, think I'll wait on news for the Vita release then!
@get2sammyb Really? I really liked it.
One of the best games of the year so far and a game that screams that it wants to be played on the Vita. Thankfully it'll come to Vita later and since it's cross-buy and cross- save I can pick up where I left for free later.
To think it's just a husband and wife who made this game, beautiful! I am spending more and more money on "indies" lately, I preordered 3 of the games that are currently 10% off already, and I'm feeling much better handing these people over my money than these big companies. So no waiting for this to come to Plus or to be discounted, I'll wait for the Division to drop in price; Ska studios deserves every last penny they're asking for!
I really want this now but I've got enough on my plate. Will wait for a sale
Wonder if someone has shared this article with the "it's like dark souls" twitter yet...
Getting it on the vita. Hopefully we won't have to wait too long.
I mean, if Dark Souls 3 wasn't right around the corner I might have got this, but I'd rather just save my money. Also agree about the art style, kinda off-putting.
This game is fantastic. I'm having such a great time with it. It's even making me push Division to the back burner for now.
I've no issue with the art style at all, but I can't square buying this with DS2 yet to be finished. @Quintumply roughly how long is this? If I can get through it in a weekend then I might be tempted.
@Johnnycide There are around 20 bosses. I'd say it's not as long as the likes of Dark Souls but it's still a very involving, slow-burning game with a lot of mystery. I'd say around 20 hours, but it really depends on how you like to play this sort of thing.
@Quintumply More like 60+ hour's i've been at it for about 8-9 hour's and only on the 3rd boss I do like to take my time with game's like this though. I have gone for a strictly melee build though, my friend's rolled a mage and is finding it easier, I seem to spending all my skill point's in endurance so I can wear the level 2 heavy armour. Lot's of farming to be done to progress and much much MUCH salt needed to level up after around level's 25ish. This is an AAA game in disguise absolutely loving it.
@xMEADx Ah sorry, that's me thinking with my reviewer cap on! If you're blitzing through the game at some pace, 20ish hours. But as you say, if you're taking your time with it, you could take 50, 60, whatever. Again, depends on your personal approach.
Apologies for the slightly muddled answer, @Johnnycide!
@quintumpy No need to apologise sir, I don't think I could complete this game in 20 hour's even if I blitzed it but you are the pro here and you certainly have the skill's to pay the bill's! Great review btw.
Interesting looking game and great review! May have to pick this one up soon! @Quintumply What were your biggest detractors about the game? You touched on occasional cheaply-hidden traps and the standard challenge that comes with a Souls game, but was there anything else that put you off to it? What made the game an 8 to you and not a 9?
Lawl over 19 hour's in and i'm on boss number 6! (when I find it) huge game and there's ton's of loot which is all very very usefull with a skill tree that has a bazzilion choice's, load's of exploring and secrets to be found with multitudes of different way's to play this game. @GravelordXD thumbstick unfortunatley which doesn't really bother me but that's a gripe some people i've spoken to have with it (but they still love it) and I believe from reading ze comment's it'll be cross buy with vita.
@FlaygletheBagel Thanks! And good question.
It got an 8 due to a few minor things, really. I think that, while the art style can be quite handsome in places, some enemies and obstacles can blend in a bit too well with the background, making for some nasty surprises on the odd occasion. So they could've made things a little more prominent.
I also ended up getting lost a couple of times, and it's quite easy to blunder into a nasty bad guy where you thought a sanctuary would be.
Sometimes it can be extremely difficult to tell what an enemy is about to do, and when you're facing four or five baddies at the same time, it can be nigh-on impossible to defend. I guess this boils down to the Souls level of challenge, but when you're dying in the same spot over and over, it can get fairly tiresome.
Hope this answers your question
@GraveLordXD D-pad is used for scrolling through items you have equipped, and you hold Down to light a torch.
I loved the Dishwasher and I LOVE the Souls series so I'm definitely getting this game ASAP
@GraveLordXD thumbstick or d-pad really depends on the game, if the devs utilize it well you don't need to resort to the d-pad. Having played the previous games these guys made I actually preferred the thumbstick.
Really great game. Wasn't sure if I would like it because i'm not a fan of the souls games but i've been having a blast
This seems like more fun than the Souls series to me, I'm finally gonna buy it and give it a go.
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