Sacred 3 Review
I’m an explorer in uncharted territory. Not often does my ship of gaming fancy sail into dungeon crawling waters, excluding a brief excursion with Torchlight, until I washed up on the shores of Sacred 3. There’s been some controversy surrounding its departure from Sacred 2, with fans of the series outraged at its cutting away of features in previous entries, but as a new player, which might just be the crucial factor, it’s not the complete abomination people are claiming.
Today’s fantasy world is Antaria, threatened by Emperor Zane at the head of his Ashen Empire army. The world is introduced through a slideshow of stylish hand drawn, layered pop-up book style images that paint an effective picture of the world, setting the stage for some rollicking monster slaying. Unfortunately, the tone immediately becomes muddled as the tongue-in-cheek narration begins, with attempted comic asides that fall decidedly flat. In fact, much of the dialogue sounds as if it was written by someone aspiring to be the next Joss Whedon; hip, snappy and almost always self aware, but tripping at the first hurdle by not being entertaining. Dragon Age and Divinity show how a game can be spiced up by a helping of comedic dialogue, or Conker’s Bad Fur Day if you’re going for all out laughs, but here the witty dialogue just feels forced. The tale behind Sacred 3 might be riveting, but any enthusiasm to follow it was beaten out of me. Shame.
Persevere or skip through the cutscenes however, and the gameplay could make it worthwhile. Sacred 3 is a top-down hack ‘n’ slash game, throwing hordes of enemies at the player at once. Enemies are easily identified; small ones can be mowed down but are thrown in en masse, large ones with shields have to be stunned etc. It gives the game a great pick up and play feel, and even a non-gaming friend was able to pick it up and understand how to play almost instantly. Move sets vary between character classes, but controlling each remains largely the same; attack, stun, dodge and special mana-draining moves. There’s a lot of fun to be had keeping the horde at bay, dodging blows from mini-bosses and unleashing spells at just the right moment, although the game never really moves past this. There’s a focus on co-op and, thankfully, the PC version actually features local co-op, so scores big points in that regard. Individual levels are split into parts, requiring all players to enter a glowing circle before the next part will open up (think Left 4 Dead’s safe rooms minus the loading screens), which means players are encouraged to advance together. Oddly for a game featuring levels that requires players to stick together, there’s very little in the way of interacting with others players. You can revive them and, well, that’s about it. There’s no items to trade or loot to discuss, so joining online games feel a little fruitless. Also, as a side effect of the co-op focus, pause doesn’t actually pause the game, even in single player, in case you wanted some Dark Souls in your Sacred 3. The core gameplay is fun certainly, but there’s a not a whole lot of depth in any regard, and those skipping co-op won’t miss out at all.
At the end of each level the player is able to level up, unlock new skills and upgrade equipment. Everything is bought using the same gold currency, which I thought might lead to having to make tough decisions later in the game. Not so. Skills and powers can only be upgraded upon reaching a certain level, which sounds fine in theory. Where Sacred 3 gets it wrong is how often something is unlocked to upgrade. Almost every level up was accompanied by disappointment upon discovering I still hadn’t unlocked anything worth buying, since unlocking new upgrades for an item or skill can be 10 levels apart or more. Coupled with this is an almost arbitrary unlocking of equipment, which feels as if the game has finally decided enough time has ticked over for a new weapon to be thrown the players way. Personally, I find Diablo’s and even Borderlands’ abundance of loot overwhelming, but unlocking one after two and a half hours of play is too far in the other direction. Not to mention these new weapons will go completely unused. Unlocked weapons are comparable to the starting one, and that’s before upgrading. Why swap to a new level one spear when the current one has had oodles of your time and gold poured into it? The whole upgrade and skill customization menu seems redundant, adding complexity to a system that doesn’t have the flexibility to reward it.
I mentioned in the opening paragraph that I was a new player to the series, which meant Sacred 3 could get away with dumbing down its gameplay and I would be none the wiser. What it can’t get away with is grating dialogue, arbitrarily restricted upgrade systems and the feeling that it costs a lot more than it’s worth. There’s fun to be had in the hectic brawls the game throws you into, but what else is there? Some pleasant changes of scenery? I genuinely had fun at the game’s outset, but Sacred 3 failed to entice me into coming back. There was potential, but it was fumbled at almost every turn.