You can see it when you compare System Shock to Bioshock, for instance. While Bioshock was advertised as a spiritual successor to the highly acclaimed System Shock 2, the game was incredibly shallow and simple compared to System Shock. Bioshock had as much to do with ‘RPG’ as I have with hair on my head. It was pretty and atmospheric – but shallow. Which is somewhat strange if you remember where the game took place (ba-dum-tish).
Fallout 3 is another such example. While Fallout 3 definitely ranks among my most favourite games ever, it also contained much less depth than the previous Fallout games, as well as less depth than its spiritual predecessor, The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. There simply weren’t as many paths to follow, not as many nooks and crannies to discover, no guilds to join, relatively few quests, and character development had elements taken away.
And here we have Sacred 2, a hack and slash RPG in its purest form. Refreshingly, no concessions have been made to make the game approachable or easy to use for 13-year-olds. Character development is complicated, weapon statistics read like Excel spreadsheets, and the different avenues for damage, ability, and armour development are plenty. Because of this, the game has more statistics and management windows than your average operating system, but somehow the developers still managed to make it all playable with the limited amount of buttons on the XBox 360 controller.
First, let’s get all the bad things of the game out of the way. Sadly, this will take a few paragraphs.
This being a role-playing game, you’d expect a story that sucks you in, and keeps you entertained and forces you to move on, because you’re interested in where it will lead you, how it will affect your character and the world around him or her. Sadly, I lost sight – and interest – in the main story of the game after about 25 seconds, mostly because of the horrible voice acting and the disjointed nature of the story; it seems to be jumping all over the place without a clear path to follow.
Side quests (of which there are ~600) are a bit of a hit-and-miss; some of them are genuinely funny and entertaining, while others are badly written and make little sense. The game also suffers from broken quests every now and then, which can be quite annoying. Luckily, the internet can usually inform you of ways to ‘fix’ broken quests.
For a traditional hack and slash game, it’s also insultingly easy – at least for me. I don’t know how much trouble the game is posing for other players, but I currently have more than 3000 health potions, so I don’t exactly feel threatened by my enemies – who are also quite easy to kill. The game hasn’t felt threatening from the moment I started playing it, and this certainly takes away a lot of the joy in playing an RPG – that crippling fear that the next dungeon will pose a genuine threat to your carefully developed character.
Oh and for the love of the gods, what’s up with all the rats? Throughout most of the game, I felt less like the loving and caring hero of the land, and more like an extremely overpowered but highly ineffective pest control company.
However, I think my biggest gripe with the game is the lack of a pause button. Yes, you actually read that right: Sacred 2 does not have a pause button. This probably stems from the fact that online co-op play is a major feature of the game, and pausing in multi-player games is always a bit problematic. Still, I turned off any connection to XBox live within the game, strictly focussing on the single-player experience (RPG = single player, for me, I’m weird). As such, I demand a pause button! It’s very tiring always having to find a friendly town or NPC to talk to before I can actually safely go to the loo or grab a drink.
While the enemies aren’t very dangerous while playing, standing around doing nothing while the enemies kill you will make you lose your survival bonus, while also leading to point loss for your attributes.
The loot reflex
Every person with an affinity for role playing games will recognise the loot reflex; it’s this almost instinctive urge to go around and explore every corner, closet, and chest in a room, because maybe, just maybe, that one room you though about skipping contains a +29 sword of retribution (as opposed to your current +28 sword of retribution).
Sacred 2 is a game designed entirely by and for people with very strong loot reflexes. The amount of loot in the game is literally insane; swords, armour, rings, talismans, potions, pendants, shields, poles, spears, throwing stars and daggers, energy pistols, magic staffs, clubs, axes, spells, and so on, and so forth. There is such a huge amount of loot in this game that you’ll just want to keep on moving to the next loot location or monster party just because there you might just finally find that last of the nine parts of the Niokaste armour set.
Character development is also a strong aspect of the game. Not only can you develop your attributes (strength, vitality, dexterity, etc.), but you can also learn new combat arts (special attacks and spells), and all of these total of 15 combat arts per character class can be modified individually. You can also string different combat arts together for more devastating attacks. Then there are character skills, of which there are quite a few (but you can only learn a limited set). These skills, too, can be individually developed and improved.
On top of that, you can modify weapons and armour that have gold, silver and/or bronze sockets in which you can forge stones, rings, talismans, or other things that will modify the defensive/offensive capabilities of those weapons and armour pieces – or even of your character as a whole by modifying skills or attributes. There are also five different damage types; fire, ice, magic, poison, and physical. Weapons can deal these types of damage (or can by modified to do so) and armour can protect you from specific types of damage (either by modifying individual pieces of armour, or by carrying relics). These damage types can be dealt in three different ways: regular damage, conversion damage, or my favourite: damage-over-time.
The end result of all this development and statistics business is that developing your character correctly can be a real chore, and most certainly can go wrong too. The game doesn’t have a respec NPC, and offers no option to rollback your choices – in other words, mess up, and you’re boned. Especially during the early stages of the game, when you don’t quite grasp yet how all the effects work together, this can be problematic. For instance, I had upgraded some of my combat arts a little too quickly, which meant they became rather useless: my low-level character could not handle the high-level arts, leading to very long regeneration times, rendering them useless in most combat situations.
The character classes are different from your standard set of classes found in many other fantasy role playing games. Especially the temple guardian, a Stargate-esque Anubis-like cyborg thing which doesn’t use regular weapons but modifiable arms – is completely different from what you would expect in games like this. The addition of mounts and class-specific mounts is also an interesting gameplay mechanic; these mounts (horses, tigers, whatever) have their own set of statistics which affect those of their riders.