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Quality versus quantity - it's a debate we've had here at ZONE many times. (Yes, we are that pathetic.) On the one hand we have those who prefer a game to offer the most intense experience possible, polished like a paratrooper's toecap, even if the damn thing can be comfortably completed in a weekend. And on the other we have those who aren't satisfied unless they've been given value for money in the form of hour upon hour of gameplay, vast worlds to explore and massive tasks to complete.
Sacred comes down firmly on the quantity side of the debate. It's a combat-heavy RPG that offers a vast gameworld for you to explore and a giant's jockstrap full of quests to complete. On the surface, it's a fairly modest piece of design, taking all its cues from the hack 'n' slash genre perfected by Diablo and its ilk. But what it may lack in polish, it tries to make up for in sheer scale.
Assault And Pepper
As sure as goblins shit in caves, your first choice, as in any formulaic fantasy RPG, is to select a character class. A little thought is well spent here, as playing through the game as the brutal, hand-to-hand specialist Gladiator is very different from peppering folk with arrows from a distance as the Wood Elf. And there are much more unusual characters on offer here, one being the Vampiress. This (blood)lusty lady has a whole different set of skills available once night has fallen -summoning wolves, sucking life energy, that kind of thing.
Once into the world, it won't take you long to get the basics. Click the left mouse button to move, use or attack, and click the right to fire off a magic or special ability. Hotkeys can be used to switch between weapons and magic abilities, as well as to guzzle down potions.
A quick tutorial makes sure you're up to speed with all this, and then you're on your own, off on the first leg of your manybranched quest. True to form, the scenario is not one that will leave you confused. An evil force is threatening the world, and wouldn't you know it, only you can stop it. This generally means speaking to someone, having that someone point you in the way of someone else and heading off in search of this second someone - who will no doubt have someone else in mind for you to have a word with. You get a little bit of text at each juncture, but nothing that would keep Tolkien up at night, and the central quest seems little more than an excuse to make sure you visit all corners of the lovingly created gameworld.
Along the way however, one of Sacred's strong suits comes into play - the sheer amount of side-quests. Every other farmstead, sheltered glade or remote villa seems to have someone loitering around with a job needing doing, and while these quests are often quite banal - wander off, kill a bunch of monsters, wander back again - they do give you some sense of freedom.
Sacred's take on fantasy is also nice and stereotypical, and sure to please the average Conan aficionado. There are beautiful, buxom warrior maidens wearing metal thongs and suspenders. The monsters could have been copied straight out of an old D&D manual, and all your familiar goblins, orcs, trolls and dragons are in full effect.
Since almost everything revolves around you slaughtering monsters, the combat system is paramount. Aspiring to incorporate tactical nuances, Sacred gives you a number of weapon slots and magical power slots. By assigning different combinations of weapons and powers to each, you can easily swap from using a sword and shield to a bow, and from your lightning spell to some healing magic. The idea is that you can quickly adapt to a situation, or adopt new tactics?with a switch of weapons and abilities.
Unfortunately, this doesn't quite come off. At the end of the day, you tend to rely on your most powerful weapon and a couple of powers exclusively. And essentially, like most games in this genre, fighting is just a matter of holding down the left button to slash at your foes, all the while keeping an eye on your health bar and your magical energy replenishment, ready to fire off another spell or down a healing potion when the moment is right.
Still, the game does look pretty good when the blades are flashing. Your spells invoke all manner of heavenly energies, spewing magical fire, calling down lashing lightning and blasting winds at your foes. The high-res visuals manage to conjure up plenty of minuscule gore - look closely and heads are lopped off, blood gushing from between the shoulders and limbs are severed with similarly graphic consequences. It's just a shame that these little details are somewhat lost, when you and 20 foes are crammed into an area in the centre of the screen not much bigger than your mouse cursor.
Although Sacred confines your viewpoint to an old-skool isometric perspective with no flexibility in angle or rotation, it manages to summon up a set of visuals that are particularly easy on the eye. The environments are insanely detailed, each with its own distinctive feel, whether it be the footprints you leave behind in the sands of the deserts, the rain that lashes down in the forests or the bats that flap about in the catacombs. And if your graphics card permits, the resolution reaches spectacular levels, meaning that even when zoomed in on the closest level, the minutiae in the scenery remains clear.
Despite these intricate visuals and environments however, Sacred doesn't convince that the world you're in is in any sense alive. For 24 hours a day, the traders and blacksmiths are still standing out front, ready for business. Some of them even allow their children to play outside through the night, which we find particularly irresponsible. Enter any house, shop or even a Lord's chambers and you can rifle through any chests or boxes, nicking whatever you find and no-one will blink an eyelid. Out in the wilds, the beasts and monsters hang around in groups, like gangs of odd-looking estate kids, loitering on street corners with nothing better to do.
In their desire to pack everything with detail, the designers have also included a dazzling array of statistics; both for you, your opponents and even the items you find lying around. This may appeal to the serious number-crunchers, but when a sword has 16 or even 20 different numeric parameters, deciding what the hell it's good for can be a tad difficult.
We've all seen what Sacred has to offer in the many similar games that have gone before, not least the Diablo titles. But that doesn't stop it from being an enjoyable, extensive fighting fantasy romp. We'd like to say that it's something akin to a Diablo 3, but the truth is it doesn't advance the genre anywhere near enough, rehashing it instead and serving up more of the same. But if you're hungry for a top-up of sword-swinging, this will be welcome news.
Got Myself A Walking, Talking, Living Troll
The main letdown in Sacred is how flat and lifeless the world feels, despite the gorgeously detailed high-res visuals. The townsfolk and peasants all wander around but don't actually do anything. The monsters hang out a lot, but don't seem to have homes to go to, or places to store their treasure. A little effort to make this place seem a little more lived-in would have worked wonders.
Having farmers who tend their crops as well as wander about aimlessly wouldn't have gone amiss. Having guards to stop you pillaging anything you can get your hands on, and monsters who do something other than just wander round in circles waiting for you to kill them would have helped. And having wolves and bears that don't drop the big bag of gold they've been carrying when they die wouldn't have harmed the believability cause, either.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP