Keen Games did what now?
The earlier Sacred games from Ascaron Entertainment managed to gather quite the following thanks to the fairly epic dungeon crawling RPG gameplay that marked the games as quite successful amongst certain gamers. However, Ascaron Entertainment are no more and Deep Silver have taken the Sacred franchise to developers Keen Games for the latest entry in the series, and it is perhaps not what the fans would expect. Still, let’s head back to Ancaria in Sacred 3.
While the setting may be the same, there are plenty of things that have changed in this new Sacred game, not least of which is the ability to create your very own hero at the beginning of the game. Players now get to choose from four pre-made characters, each with their own back story and play type. Choice may have been removed from the player in this respect, but the characters available offer enough individuality to give the player a chance to play them as their own.
The four characters – Claire the Seraphim Paladin, Marak the Safiri Warrior, Alithea the Ancarian Lancer and Vajra the KhuKuri Archer – begin the game with the standard attacks and two power attacks that will cost energy to use. The player will find themselves beginning the game fighting off multiple enemies as they work their way through the first level from an isometric point of view.
This is another place where the game differs drastically from the previous titles – There is very little by way of exploration in the largely linear levels. Players will work their way from the beginning of the level, as dictated by where they are zapped to from the map screen, until they reach the end when they will inevitably face a boss of some type. There may be paths that lead off in one direction or another, along which the player can wander in the search for treasure, but they inevitably lead to unimpressive rewards. Once the boss has been defeated, the player will then be zapped back to the map screen to move to the next level, barring any cut scenes.
While this may be in vast contrast to the previous game, with its emphasis on exploration, it makes more sense when you consider that Sacred 3 is more of a hack ‘n slash game than any kind of dungeon crawler. The obvious lack of dropped loot by enemies is another clue to the genre shift in Sacred 3. Players will not be gathering masses of interesting, powerful weapons from their fallen enemies, but rather just gold and experience.
The experience will allow the player to level up their character, unlocking various upgrades including new weapons and new power attacks (known as Combat Arts). Of the Combat Arts, only two can be taken into the level, so players will quickly have to choose between the ones that they have unlocked. Further choice is offered with the Weapon Spirits that are found along the way, which themselves can be upgraded, which can buff the player. Otherwise, choice is mostly removed as the upgrades are unlocked at certain levels and the player has to pay for them with gold, making progression almost as linear as the levels themselves.
The story that strings all of this hack ‘n slash together is fairly standard stuff. The evil Emperor Zane has stolen the Heart of Ancaria, an incredibly important artifact, and a team of powerful warriors has been assembled to stop him and bring it back. The execution, however, is something else entirely…
Rather than taking a serious tone, Sacred 3 has chosen to make light of the plight befalling Ancaria with regular bouts of humour and cheesy one-liners. From each of the playable characters, the psychic companion who talks her way through the missions, to the bosses (whose names are often silly in themselves), everyone seems to think that they are funny in Sacred 3. For the most part, this constant barrage of quips is entertaining and gives the game a certain character. However, on more than one occasion I was forced to groan out loud and came close to simply turning the game off.
Visually, of course the game looks better than its predecessor. However, it still doesn’t quite manage to match up with the current standard for retail games. It is bright and colourful, which itself is in contrast to the wholesale slaughter happening on screen, but fits nicely with the light-hearted banter that the characters keep spouting.
Perhaps the most exciting feature in Sacred 3, and the most well advertised, is the online and local co-op. Up to four players can drop in and drop out of a game fairly easily, with the game adjusting the difficulty to suit the number of players in the level. Playing locally with a friend is, as would be expected, great fun. When the number of players rises to four, things can get a little chaotic, especially as the game becomes quite competitive with an overall winner for each level announced.
Sacred 3 is a different beast to the previous title. For players who were looking forward to more of the same, it may well be a disappointment. But for those looking for some hack ‘n slash arcade action, alone or with friends, there is a lot to like in Sacred 3. It may not be what everyone wanted from a sequel, but it is still pretty good fun.