Few gamers will look at Sacred and think: "Wow, this looks unusual!" Its isometric 2D viewpoint, point-and-click combat and scuttling gangs of orcs, goblins and trolls gives it the kind of familiarity usually reserved for close family members and that jaz mag you've kept since you were 14. But after a few hours' play, you begin to realise that breaking genre boundaries is not the point of this combat-heavy RPG. Instead, it wants to take what we already love, enlarge it, refine it and then let us gorge upon it once more. It's Diablo with better visuals and more freedom of exploration. It's Divine Divinity with more interesting character classes and a streamlined interface. Or at least it will be if it turns out as it should.
Wanting to get to the action, we'll dispense with the plot in an instance: a dark mage is trying to summon a demon to devour the world of Ancaria (yes, that old chestnut). Your first choice along the road to thwarting this psychotic conjuror is to choose a character class, the first of a Pandora's box-full of familiar choices for the RPG fan. While you've got your tried-and-tested warrior, magician and wood elf archer, Sacred offers a few nice variations of its own here. Take a look at the box opposite for more on this.
Once you've settled on your hero, it's out into the big wide world, with your trigger finger on your trusty mouse button, ready to dispatch the many creatures that will be set against you. The environment is presented from a 2D viewpoint that can be zoomed, but not panned or rotated.
The visuals are pristine and nicely detailed, from little frolicking bunnies to arrows sticking out of the side of your foe's armour. On the high-res mode (which you should be able to run if you've got a 64MB graphics card), things look particularly sharp, with rustling leaves, shimmering water and lifelike weather changing subtly in front of you.
What soon impresses is how densely populated this land is - both with life and adventure. Though you have an overriding quest line you have to follow, the game boasts around 200 side-quests for the more intrepid adventurer. Every town, village, hamlet and farmstead seems to have a tale of woe that needs righting. Venture off the path even a little and you can almost be guaranteed of stumbling across a goblin lair, a slave-traders' hideout or an enchantress's tower. And since 75 per cent of the massive gameworld is open to exploration from the start, you're never going to be short of something to do in the land of Ancaria.
As you wander through the more friendly areas of the land, you'll encounter the usual collection of merchants and ironsmiths to offload your booty to, as well as a few unexpected traders such as horse-dealer. Unlike most games in the genre, Sacred enables you to saddle up and travel - as well as fight - from the back of a trusty steed. And one look at the size of the gameworld will tell you that this is a good idea, as travel between towns when not using magical teleportation gates can be torturously slow on foot.
Gotta Have A System
The combat system is where a game of this nature lives and dies, and once again, as well as a slew of dependable features from other games, Sacred manages to pull a few new tricks out of its sleeves.
Basically, it's a 'point the mouse at the enemy and click to attack' number. However, changing between different types of weapon or special attack is much easier than in similar games, encouraging a more tactical approach. So instead of just wading in to a bunch of enemies as the Gladiator, you might use your Throw Weapon skill together with a Hard Hit special power to take out the orc shaman at range. This means by the time the throng of axemen reach you, they're shorn of their magical support. Using the game's combo system, spells, attacks and special skills can be mapped on to a single interface button, enabling you to unleash a deadly mix of abilities with one trusty click. This means a wizard can spit fireballs at the same time as firing arrows from his crossbow in a deadly hail of magical and conventional attacks.
So far, we're having fun with the nearcomplete code we've got, even if it does feel a tad familiar. At best, Sacred is going to be a refreshing addition to a well-trodden genre; at worst, a derivative trawl down memory lane - only time will tell. That, and our review next issue.
Sacred Plays Totally Differently Depending On Your J Character Class. So What Are Your Choices?
You can ruin a game like this if you choose the wrong character class at the outset. If you're not keen on relentlessly hacking opponents limb-from-limb with a battleaxe, then don't go for the Gladiator. And if you don't appreciate having to sit back, always relying on your bow, don't select the Wood Elf.
There are six characters in all, each with a whole bunch of unique powers and abilities. As well as the two already mentioned, there's the sword-wielding, magicusing Battlemage, the angelic Seraphim and the ninja-like Dark Elf. But our favourite has to be the Vampiress - by day a charismatic knight, by night a bloodthirsty countess of the undead. True to Hammer House Of Horror form, when she's in bloodsucking manifestation, she can summon wolves to aid her and suck the life out of enemies with her cruel Blood Bite ability. A whole lot of fun.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
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.