Sacred 2: Fallen Angel is a loot grind, no doubt about it. In that sense, this isn't a game that's going to offer anything compelling in terms of narrative or quest structure. Its aim is to offer a gigantic world for you to run around, whack stuff with weapons and spells, grab the loot it drops, and repeat. Developer Ascaron Entertainment's sequel definitely delivers on those elements, and offers up six interesting character classes to build and customize however you see fit. So if you're looking for a good old-fashioned loot grind to play by yourself or, better yet, with others online, this'll satisfy, though you can expect a number of technical problems both minor and major.
If you've played Blizzard's Diablo, Iron Lore's Titan Quest, or Ascaron's 2004 original Sacred, for that matter, the setup here shouldn't be surprising. You click mouse buttons to attack foes, hack away at their power bars, quaff potions like a madman against hard-hitting boss characters, and greedily scoop up all the cash and loot the fallen spill onto the battlefield. Sacred 2 does manage to distinguish itself in a few ways from the other types of high-fantasy, hack-and-slash action RPGs out there, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.
First you've got the game world, Ancaria, which is impressively massive. Though the locations you travel through, from forested Elven areas to jungles, desert plains, and dragon caves laced with rivers of magma, aren't particularly novel, the world is nicely detailed. Yet mixed into this seemingly standard high-fantasy universe filled with orcs, kobolds, lizardmen, evil wizards and monstrous, fiery demon bosses, you get this strange magical substance, called T-Energy, that gives rise to some of the more interesting bits of the fiction. You'll be walking across a field of trees and swaying green grass and suddenly see a pipeline jutting from the earth carrying this glowing blue energy that's the source of conflict in Ancaria.
In some cases this only affects appearances, so instead of fighting a giant beetle you fight a giant beetle with glowing blue limbs, but it also accounts for the dog-headed cyborg Temple Guardian character class. This guy, perhaps modeled on a combination of the Egyptian god Anubis and Donald Sutherland from Virus, runs around Ancaria with a laser blaster. Honestly, this seems a little odd, because everyone else is tossing around magic or smacking each other with medieval weaponry, yet here's the Temple Guardian with his laser gun who, for some reason, still feels the need to carry around old-tech bladed weaponry.
His personality differs from the rest of the field as well. For main quest missions he'll call out sarcastic responses with a Mooninte from Aqua Teen Hunger Force vocal cadence to the quests given to him by NPCs, and in the field he'll randomly exclaim absurd phrases that work to break down the fourth wall. For instance, don't be surprised to hear him say things like, "Look, a number over your head," referring to the genre-standard damage totals that appear as you whack at foes, or "Another step closer to level-up" after killing an enemy, or humming a ridiculous song to himself if you leave him idle too long. It's definitely a refreshing change after playing something that feels more traditional, like the Dryad or Seraphim.
The Temple Guardian's quirky personality aside, each class gets some interesting ways to level up and customize how they work. There's the standard statistic-boosting level up where more strength bumps up the damage you do, and more dexterity affects damage and defense ratings. While you'll be managing hit points, you don't have to deal with mana or magic points of any kind. Instead, you'll make customization decisions to decrease the cooldown timers of your abilities, called combat arts. As you move through the world you'll find runes to learn new combat arts, and can power up each individual combat art's level and spend skill points to add other special effects. You can also sell combinations of the runes to vendors and buy different ones. On top of that, combat arts can be combined into combo templates to chain attacks together, which turns out to be useful as the game only lets you slot a specific number of active combat arts at a time.
So clearly there are a lot of methods for diversifying how your particular character performs in battle and the game offers a range of useful and diverse skills, from the Shadow Warrior's ability to summon spectral soldiers to the Temple Guardian's devastating archimedes beam. And on top of all that you get to choose god powers when first creating your character, which can have incredibly powerful effects, though have much longer cooldowns than any of your combat arts. Altogether, it's an interesting system that should keep people busy and provide an incentive to level the six classes in different ways to enjoy the various play styles.
When taking these classes out into the large, open world you'll find there are very few load times, but will also find little that's surprising about the overall structure. The main quest can be aptly described as rambling and unfocused. Though the NPC text boxes along the main quest line are fully voiced, they're not voiced particularly well. Before long you'll be whipping through towns and collecting side quests with little regard to what's written in the text logs, because a large number of them are "X went missing, please retrieve Y things from Z types of enemies!" or some derivation thereof. That being said, a few of the quests are more interesting, like one to retrieve the lost instruments of the game's licensed band, the German metal group Blind Guardian, so they can play a show in Ancaria. You might also discover strange underground chess boards, a mission to test chemicals on a pumpkin that winds up causing a garden to explode with gore, and other types of easter eggs that will reward the more intrepid gamers or those willing to read the quest descriptions.
The narrative ennui you'll undoubtedly experience with the game means it's definitely best played online, something Ascaron gives you plenty of opportunity to do through its own servers, over LAN, in player-versus-player or player-versus-environment-type servers, and with up to 16 players running around the game world. If playing with others isn't your thing, however, and you're not someone who gets obsessive with collecting better and better pieces of equipment, you're probably going to lose interest long before you see all the game has to offer in its light and dark variations on the main quest. It's definitely a game best played with friends so you can fight, trade, and level up together, since without that social element the game feels more like a complex slot machine than anything else. Of course that could describe any hack-and-slash, but some, like Diablo II, do a better job of covering their roots.
There are, however, a wealth of items of varying qualities and bonuses and distinct in-game models, and there are lots
of normal and elite enemies to kill. Eventually you'll also uncover class-specific mounts on the appropriately named "Isle of Mounts" that allow each class to dramatically power up. The Temple Guardian, for instance, gets a Mobiculum, a giant wheeled machine that lets him attack like normal and maintain buffs, but also benefit from increased movement speed and health. It's a solid incentive to draw you along through the game, and when you do get the mount, serves as one of those moments when you truly feel like you've significantly powered up your character.
Then there's the game's interface, which in some cases works well and serves to make the game more enjoyable, but can also cause frustration. For the positives, there's a nice auto-loot function that with the touch of a key picks up everything near you, and you can set parameters as to what kind of loot will get snagged. You can active warp gates and check points around the game world to allow for fast, easy travel, and in multiplayer you can warp to party members' locations so you don't waste too much time trying to meet up. All quest goals are displayed on your main map that you can activate by clicking on, at which point an arrow will direct you toward the proper locations, and a handy Tab-activated mini-map will help to navigate the sometimes labyrinthine terrain.
Despite that level of convenience, you'll still run into problems. Some quests attach an NPC follower to your party, and there doesn't appear to be any way to dismiss them unless you complete the appropriate quest. Of course you could always complete the proper quests, but it would have been welcome to include a disband option. NPC AI is another issue, as NPCs or summons tagging along will, if they're the type that attacks, run all over the place and trigger any number of foes to attack. And there's pretty much nothing you can do about it. If you're in a zone around your character's level you should be fine, but trying to tackle higher-level content with these kinds of issues can be problematic. Calling mounts also seems finicky. They'll sometimes show up as soon as you hit the appropriate button, but at other times they'll get stuck in doorways and force you to save and quit out of your game then reload to resolve the issue.
Bugs also have a definite presence in the game world. The overhead map would occasionally be rendered illegible, forcing us to restart our game. Targeting enemies can be frustratingly imprecise, particularly when bits of the environment and friendly NPCs get in the way. Companion AI members would, for some reason, float several feet above the game world, sometimes they'd disappear, sound effects would play with no corresponding action, and there was the larger issue of the game crashing. While playing on two different rigs, we experienced random crashes and from checking out the official forums it appears we're not the only ones. It's nothing that ruins the game, but it is an inconvenience that could potentially affect you. Ascaron has been releasing patches so far, so it's likely these types of issues could be resolved soon, but for now the game's in a pretty buggy state.
The game also has some performance issues, meaning it's just not all that optimized. On a machine we used to play Far Cry 2 at a smooth clip on high graphical settings, Sacred 2 was chugging on medium settings, which isn't exactly a good sign. Provided you've got a fairly powerful rig, though, you'll be able to run it alright, and be treated to shimmering, shifting water effects, nicely detailed character armor and enemy models, some interesting architecture, decent spell effects, and nice animations. The world terrain is also quite varied, with cliffs and chasms all over. While it makes for a more natural-looking world, it also creates navigation problems. Even with your mini-map, it's still possible to lose your way when tying to track a distant objective and wind up in situations requiring extensive backtracking.
Sound design is overall pretty solid. Otherworldly buzzes and crackles accompany magical spells, weapons clink and crash when they make contact, and whistle when they miss. You get a nice array of ambient sounds like animal calls, the rippling of water and the wind through the grass, as well as music appropriate for each section of Ancaria. The remarks made by enemies during battle, and the temple guardian's sarcasm, help keep things entertaining. The quality of the voice-acting can be pretty poor at times.
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