Sacred 2: Fallen Angel

June 11, 2009

Like most good sequels, Sacred 2 pulls double-duty, revealing that it has incorporated positive aspects from past iterations while delivering entirely new gameplay ideas. Crafting the perfect follow-up title is definitely no easy task – after all, there’s always something that could be tweaked or improved from the original, but the key is in knowing where to stop fiddling and when to let the game become its own unique design. Ascaron Entertainment, Sacred 2’s UK-based development team has put together a remarkably enjoyable sequel that neatly captures that “one-more-level” mindset so crucial to action-based role-playing games. Let’s take a look at why each version is purchase-worthy and also where Ascaron may have dropped the ball a bit.

Any action/RPG hybrid, such as Diablo 1 & 2 (the true fathers of the genre) or more recently, the under-appreciated Titan Quest, need to score well in three key areas to really succeed in their genre: story/setting, interface (including camera & player character controls, and Inventory/Quest management), and combat. Too often these types of games focus on one element to the detriment of others. Thankfully, Sacred 2, on both platforms, successfully nails the run-up, routine, and the dismount with only a modicum of wobbling along the way.

Perhaps the most obvious observation for long-time Sacred fans is that this game is graphically leaps and bounds ahead of its older brother and any other action/RPG for that matter. The higher resolutions on the PC give it a slight edge over the 360 version but you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how attractive the game is on the Xbox even when viewed in Standard-definition. Chalk this up to extremely competent use of colored lighting, detailed outdoor scenery (including wildlife, swaying leaves and grass, footprints in the sand, etc…), and really cool architectural designs. Particularly cool are the weapon special status animations. For example, if a sword is imbued with flame damage it may sport a fiery corona blazing along the blade’s shaft. Also, anything worn immediately appears on your character for your viewing pleasure (or chagrin). The game’s equivalent of extra abilities or spells, known as “Combat Arts”, are wonderfully realized graphically; they’re both colorful and unique, offering distinctly different visual cues and animations for each of the game’s six character classes – Seraphim (angelic medium-ranged magic and melee specialists), High Elves (haughty wizards), Inquisitors (evil sorcerers), Dryads (tree-hugging ranged warriors), Shadow Warriors (undead close-range fighters), and Temple Guardians (long and short-range robot fighters).

While setting and story won’t drag a great game down as quickly as a bad interface, they’re still key elements that enhance and refine the overall role-playing experience (limited as it may be in an action-based environment). In this regard, Sacred 2 falls a wee bit flat – particularly for those seeking realistic or clever dialogue and scripting with their adventures. Voice-acting is spotty in some places but great in others while an unfortunate number of quests appear to have drawn their inspiration from the MMORPG template (fetch 10 rat hides, 20 bat wings, etc…). However, for every paint-by-numbers mission, there are an equal amount of creative and somewhat intriguing quests – especially note-worthy are the class-based quests which flesh out character development. The main storyline revolves around the use and abuse of T-Energy, the simplistically named energy that permeates much of Ancaria and while lively enough, didn’t feel as interesting as the character-specific quest storylines.

The third and possibly most important pillar of Action/RPG game design is the User Interface. Players spend copious amounts of game-time interacting with their inventories and the game’s inhabitants; in order to keep things copacetic, developers need to have a snappy, useful, and feature-filled interface. Sacred 2 offers precisely that, for the most part.

Camera control can be tethered to a player (occasionally causing some wonkiness during battles inside interior locations) or set to Free Mode, allowing you to adjust it on the fly (which helped avoid the aforementioned wonkiness). Inventory management on PC is enhanced by an auto-sort button (both horizontally and vertically) and, perhaps more intriguingly, both versions provide a cash-in now button that allows you to sell loot even when you’re nowhere near a Trade Merchant, albeit for a lesser price. This helps alleviate loot angst when your inventory is filling up but you can’t be bothered to interrupt your current questing just to make a run back to the nearest Merchant in town. It’s a thoughtful feature and one that more games should offer. The interface also allows you to swap between weapons, spell combos (called Combat Arts), Resistances (via RuneStones), Buffs, and Potions, granting more slots as you level-up on the PC version.

The 360 version suffers a bit in this respect as the developers were limited to the button sets rather than an entire keyboard/mouse combo but it still works pretty well. You’re can link actions to the X,Y,A, and B buttons, the Gamepad, or an Alternate set of X,Y,A, and B buttons via the shoulder triggers. It’s functional but less effective overall and more limited than the PC’s excellent interface, which clearly suits this game a bit more naturally. The 360’s inventory management screens are definitely clunky at worst and adequate at best.

One troublesome issue for 360 users is that on SDTV resolutions, the text can be rather difficult to discern, leading to no small amount of eye-strain. Of course, running on HDTV settings removes this issue entirely. One disappointment, endemic to both platforms, is the limited manual which isn’t quite as thorough as could be expected. It’s not a deal-breaker but you’ll occasionally wonder why or how something works (an item bonus, potion, or combat modifier, to name a few things) since the manual leaves you to your own devices at times. Most things are clearly explained in-game so it’s a fairly rare hassle but it bears mentioning.

Multiplayer is provided for both platforms with the trade-off between easy online functionality for 360 users via Xbox Live versus more options available for PC gamers. The 360 version offers co-op both online or in person on the same screen as well as PvP and normal multiplayer modes. The PC version doesn’t offer co-op on the same screen but it does offer basically everything else. I did run into some Firewall issues that prevented me from joining a friend on an Open Server (where your character is saved on your own PC) but we were able to hack-n-slash on the Closed Servers (where your character is saved on Ascaron’s servers for cheat-prevention purposes). PvP was more of a novelty experience than anything terribly life-changing, though it was nice to see it offered at least, for those who wanted it. For those tough-as-nails players, with a chip on their collective shoulders, there is a Hardcore mode where death is a one-time, permanent affair. Die in Hardcore mode and it’s time to roll-up a new character. Not everyone’s bag of tea, but again, nice to have the option at least. One other game-design oddity is that player characters, NPCs, and even tombstones, will occasionally break the fourth-wall and address the player him or herself. It’s totally tongue in cheek and in keeping with the game’s lively sense of humor (which also adds to Sacred 2’s fresh feel) but it’s a bit off-putting at first for those not expecting it. One final, impressive note, is that the game world is huge and the incredible variety and landscape sprawl really does lend something of an epic feel to your adventuring.

Strong sequels like Sacred 2 have that rare ability to remind us of fond gaming moments spent with their forefathers while pushing us forward into a fun new future. But what really makes Sacred 2 stand successfully as its own game, is how well each of the three key elements of good Action/RPG game design have been catered to and deftly layered into an enjoyably addictive, index finger-exhausting experience. It’s a game that already has me asking for a sequel, in fact.

Plays Like: Diablo or Titan Quest
ESRB: Mature – Violence, Blood & Gore
Pros: Pretty graphics, satisfying combat, cool loot, interesting and huge game-world.
Cons: Wimpy manual, can get repetitive in places, main story arc isn’t as awesome as it could have been, some tricky firewall & server issues with PC multi-player.

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.