Platform(s): Arcade, Game Boy Advance, GameCube, Nintendo DS, PC, PSOne, PSP, PlayStation 2, PlayStation 3, Wii, Xbox, Xbox 360
Genre: Adventure


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PC Review - 'Sacred'

by Ben Zackheim on April 30, 2004 @ 2:17 a.m. PDT

Genre: RPG
Publisher: Encore
Developer: Ascaron
Release Date: March 23, 2004


Sometimes a game comes along that clicks with you. It’s like one of those relationships that just doesn’t make any sense. James Carville and Mary Matlin, Lyle Lovett and Julia Roberts, Bill Clinton and Monica Lewisnky. And now, trumping them all, is a gamer-who-once-hated-Diablo-type-games and Sacred. My transition started with Divine Divinity, the great game with an awful name, but Sacred is even better. I can’t explain it. But I’ll do my best.

To start, I can’t remember what my wife looks like. Furthermore, I’ve forgotten to feed the cats so many times they haven’t made eye contact with me in a week. Worst of all I haven’t touched UT2004 since Sacred hit my hard drive. Its combination of pretty graphics, nice mood music, huge world and deep combat system is enough to make an RPG fan out of me.

You start the game by building your character, of course. You have a choice of six types – Gladiator, Seraphim, Battle Mage (yeah!), Wood Elf, Dark Elf and Vampiress. After a couple of quests you gather enough experience points to begin to craft your character. The game offers six character properties including the standards -- strength, endurance, dexterity, physical regeneration, magic regeneration and charisma. As you gain levels in the game you have more upgrade options.

The skill set is definitely one of the deepest aspect to the game, with 26 types to choose from. Not all skills are available to all character classes, of course, but there’s still plenty of tweaking to do! You start with two skills and can add six more over the course of the game. This is a very well designed aspect of the game. The developers have chosen perfect levels for the player to choose additional skill sets. As you progress through the story and are faced with new challenges you are forced to use more tools to advance. Ascaron (the developer) put a lot of thought into when the opportunity to craft your character should come up. I found myself reaching a point of slight frustration with my arsenal when all of a sudden I’d reach a level where a new skill could be added.

The weapon choices are plentiful but nothing too special. Swords and two-handed swords, ranged weapons like crossbows along with sabers, axes and spears. The depth of choice within these areas is where you’ll be impressed. There are some weapons on your journey that will be upgradeable. You can take them to the smith and he’ll add magical items to them, making them more powerful and more valuable. While there’s nothing new in this category, Ascaron has done a professional job at building a vast selection and top-notch weapon balance.

Sacred really shines when you consider the Combat Arts. These are your special powers that will pull your butt from the hellfire more often than any worldly weapon in your pack. I chose a Battle Mage to play the game (mostly because that’s what I am in real life). Battle Mages have access to such gems as Phase Shift (teleportation), Petrification (turn enemies to stone), Circle of Fear (which buys you healing time in a fight) and Water Form (turn to water to avoid damage). One of the main aspects of Sacred that keeps you playing for “just one more minute” are the 15-20 combat arts available to each class over the course of the game. They’re fun to use, easy to use and cool to watch. And to make them even better you can combine them for Combo attacks that are a sight to see. You can combine up to four arts in one move which makes you one bad mutha. You’ll need the combos when you come across the dragons (which take up half the play screen!) and hordes of strong opponents. You gather combat arts over the course of the game from the corpses of your enemy. Most of them will be unusable to your class but you can trade them in with the Combat Master for useful spells. The Combat Master is a Gandalf-type who can be found in every major town in the game. Trade is a big part of Sacred. There are so many items lying around that it can be a little overwhelming to keep track of what you have and what you want. But an ample inventory screen, a multitude of merchants, and a storage box all help you manage your goods.

The bad guys in the game are a net positive, even though there’s nothing new here. The Giants and Dragons are the most impressive. I’ll look back fondly on my 45 minute battle with my first dragon for years to come ( I brought it up as dinner conversation the other night and discovered my friends have no appreciation for how tough it is to beat a dragon!). You also get your standard undead, goblins and huge creatures of the forest to battle with. Nothing sets them apart from other RPGs except for some funny voices. I was impressed by the number of goblins the game will throw at you at one time. If you run into the right area you can find yourself up against 15-20 baddies at one time. Not an easy task. But fun, especially when you have the spells to handle it.

Sacred can be very tough. As I mentioned I would reach levels of frustration at certain points. Instead of being hot-headed I decided to go around and take on some easier foes, gain experience points and head back when I was strong enough. The world of Sacred is huge and well laid out with easy goblins strewn about for your enjoyment. But be careful of the surprise orc who can take you out with one blow. The world is so huge in fact that after 20 hours of play I still hadn’t discovered it all. It’s filled with hidden areas where treasures and upgrades can be found. Ancient cemeteries in the middle of a dense forest, broken shrines with magical statues, underground caves packed to the hilt with centaur, dragons nestled in hidden valleys. There’s too much to get into here. But trust me. There’s always a surprise just around the corner. My hunger for finding the next secret area became an obsession (okay, okay, it still is). The map design is that good.

Combat itself is flawed but catchy. It’s certainly good enough to keep you coming back for more. (Note: the pre-patched version of the game had some serious combat flaws that made the game quite frustrating but many of the problems have been fixed). The sheer number of moves available for you to make at any given time is astounding. As you gain experience there are more weapons and spells available to you at the touch of a button (presented as hot buttons at the bottom of the screen). Time and again I’d have to scout an area for threats and realign my combat arts and weapon cache to account for the type of enemy I was about to face. Unfortunately, path-finding can be a chore -- especially in the heat of battle. It’s tough to focus your pointer on one evil wizard when there are a dozen henchmen surrounding him. You can zoom in to make it a bit easier but that’s not always convenient when you’re using both hands just to stay alive. Some patches have already come out that address this issue but there’s still some work to do. The fact that Ascaron is working on it is comforting.

You’ll find yourself going from quest to quest in Sacred, all while an epic story of war and political intrigue surrounds you. Though the story is deep I felt detached from it most of the time. I found it more fun to wander around and find some damsel in distress. The game does a decent job of directing you through the epic 4 chapter story. The story is told mostly through interaction with NPCs and the writing is solid, giving you ample reason to participate (nothing will douse my mood worse than a ton of spelling errors). But Sacred does a great job of balancing the huge world at your disposal and the central story. Only a couple of the story elements are time-based leaving you free to do as you please. I think the game would have been much less successful if they had forced the player to participate in the story. As it stands Sacred feels more open and vast because of its design.

One weakness of the game is the flat NPC interaction. There are thousands of the buggers wandering around but speaking with them only occasionally yields an interesting tidbit. Most people call you a hero, while others will give you some insight into current events or ancient lore. But for the most part I didn’t feel a need to check with every NPC in the same way I felt the need to kill all the bad guys.

Other flaws include general pathfinding. I wish I could point my guy to anywhere on the screen and have him go there. But often he gets stuck on a pixel. When you’re on horseback the problem seems to get worse. I’m hoping a patch will take care of this flaw. I also would have liked to see more NPC allies in the game. It was always nice to have someone along for the ride but most of the game is spent on your own. Granted the NPC allies weren’t brimming with personality but they added an element of tactics to the game that I would have liked to see more of. Lastly, hotkeys are not assignable. The game treats them like upgrades so you are at the game’s mercy if you want to streamline your combat techniques. Though I got used to this “feature” I know many in the gaming community are upset about it.

I love a game that never needs to be uninstalled from my hard drive. If it’s replayable ad infinitum it scores major points with me. The replayability of Sacred is astonishing. Playing a different character type will yield story and especially gameplay changes that make it worth a second, third and fourth try. I plan on taking on the gladiator next. The multiplayer aspect of the game might one day add to Sacred’s overall value. You can play through the story quest with friends or you can do a deathmatch-type battle. But at this point the Sacred community is sparse and the gameplay is buggy. It’s nice of them to add the feature but I think Sacred is strong enough, even without online play. I never thought I’d say that -- but Sacred is that good.

In the final analysis, Sacred is a hit. Its massive world, open-ended feel, deep arsenal, vast array of quests, epic story, good graphics/sound and addictive combat adds up to a game worth buying. It lacks some polish but the developers seem hard at work on rectifying that. My guess is that when they finally release the last patch you’ll be looking at a sleeper classic. Don’t let that scare you though. The game is worth getting right now. Buy it, say goodbye to your family and load it up!

Score : 8.5/10

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