It feels like Ascaron Entertainment tried to stuff a bear through an airplane window with Sacred 2: Fallen Angel. This Diablo-style action-RPG was released for PC late last year, offering players a range of enjoyable character classes, skill combinations, a gigantic world to explore, and lots of things to kill and collect. Its story and quest structures were fractured and for the most part derivative, and generally not the reason to pick up a copy. But the simple style of click-to-kill gameplay worked well enough to satisfy gamers looking to click, slaughter, loot , and repeat either solo or online with others. Now with the console version, it seems the game hasn't weathered the transition process all that well. Though the core mechanics are still solid, the rest emerges as an awkward, ugly, and inconvenient product still weakened by bugs, though seemingly less than were present in the PC version.
In case you've never played Diablo and aren't familiar with this particular genre, it's a simple thing, really. You can move the camera around if you wish, but it's easiest to keep it at a near overhead perspective. Ascaron built a gigantic world for you to play in, and basically what you do is run around, kill things, and take their stuff. From time to time you'll come across a town where you can outfit your gear, power up your skills, and take on new quests, but then it's right back out into the field to fight more baddies, who often swarm in large groups. A sense of growing power can be derived from slaughtering fields of foes, thereby helping to bolster your lethal abilities as well as netting you money and better gear, which in turn makes you a more effective killer. And it goes on that like, which can be great, simple fun. For those more obsessed with exactly how much punishment is absorbed and dealt it's also possible to switch on damage numbers so that a storm of floating stats accompanies each strike and spell.
As one of six character classes you can move through the gigantic fictional realm of Ancaria in light or dark campaigns, beat up all kinds of fantasy creatures from dragon whelps to giant beetles, quaff obscene amounts of potions, amass a huge assortment of gear and fine-tune your character's skill set to a preferred style of play. Each class' abilities, called combat arts, can be assigned to face buttons, and by holding the triggers you can access additional sets. This aspect of the interface makes it fairly simple to dig through a number of skills, something made easier once you start taking advantage of the combo presets that allow multiple combat arts to be linked into one button press.
The combat is something Sacred 2 manages to pull off quite well, giving players an enjoyable range of abilities like one-shot direct-damage moves, ranged area of effect damage, channeled damage over time, a variety of heals and drains, summons and a number of status effect skills, and many others to keep fights interesting, which is important considering how focused on combat the game is. The flimsy plot, which leads you along throughout the game world's forests, volcanic islands, swamps, and deserts, is rarely coherent or really worth paying attention to, and was seemingly implemented to point the way forward more than provide entertainment, build character, or to substantially enrich the experience.
Hop off the main quest train and you'll find an abundance of side quests, some of which can have wacky goals and a screwball kind of humor about them, but more often than not boil down to fairly standard fetch, escort, and kill styles of tasks. Again, the main reason you'd be playing this game is for the loot and to fiddle with the character development system, not to become emotionally invested in the world's fiction or enthralled by its characters.
The solution settled on by Ascaron for the console interface, while functional, is far from ideal. And keep in mind this is coming from a reviewer
who played the PC version extensively and was already familiar with the odd methods of upgrading and modifying combat arts for use in battle. Anyone starting up this game for the first time is likely going to have more of an issue learning the ins and outs of how everything's related, not only because of several of the game's awkward systems but also how this version of the interface complicates them further. Though it's running on a console, it still feels very much like a PC game that's been broken down and inelegantly reconstituted in a manner that doesn't particularly fit the platform.
Whether you're puzzling over the lack of information presented in the rune combination vendor window or the sheer amount of button presses required to access particular bits of your inventory or character statistics, you're not going to have a pleasant experience wading through each menu. While the level of customization for your class is welcome, the interface in this version serves as an unfortunate impediment for players looking to experience what's otherwise a moderately entertaining open world hack and slash.
One issue that's still persistent in this version is how occasionally bothersome it is to actually navigate the game's terrain. A sprawling overhead map can be brought up at any time to browse quest markers or teleport to activated warp gates. It's still difficult to determine an exact route to a quest location. For example, if you've just spent 20 minutes slashing through hordes of baddies along a the edge of a forest only to discover the inroad you thought existed to a quest location was actually blocked by a cliff, well, time to backtrack. It's not a huge issue, but it is something that could have been ironed out here.
Really the best reason to play this game is to adventure with others, as discussions about trading items, character builds, and which dungeons or fields to clear next are far more interesting than anything regarding the fiction and story. The console of whoever starts up a campaign works as the server, allowing up to four to join via Xbox Live and two locally. With multiple difficulty settings and the ability to set up campaign, free play, or player versus player style game types, there are certainly quite a few options for players to engage in the online gameplay, it's just a matter of whether you're willing to put up with the game's issues to really care about its long-term appeal.
Visually the game isn't that sharp, lacking detail environmental and character textures which really diminishes the excitement of equipping new gear or wandering into unexplored territory. The framerate suffers occasionally, though the fact that you can run around the world with minimal load times is appreciated. That kind of freedom does have its hiccups, as in towns you'll run into a lot of jittery bits of loading and pop-in. Shadows and textures on the ground tend to flicker and there's a bank of fog that obscures your surrounding environment to try and keep performance reasonable. Graphics aren't everything, of course, but it certainly helps to have attractive or at least artistically distinctive visuals with a game meant to be played for potentially hundreds of hours.
Sound is a much stronger element, with each class frequently making comments during battle, a nice array of sword slashes and spell effects to enhance the thrill of a fight, and pleasant overworld music. Unfortunately the voice acting isn't all that well done, making Ascaron's Ancaria and its T-Energy even less believable.
Encountered in the Xbox 360 version were a few oddball issues that negatively affected the play experience. The game crashed a few times, for one thing. Companion AI is still hyperactive, meaning followers will run into the wilderness and aggro large groups of monsters even if you're just trying to stick to a path. A lot of the times you can just run away, but it can still be a nuisance. One particular problem I experienced had to do with character movement, where sometimes the hero would randomly start wandering off after an attack command was inputted. While this isn't much of problem against single enemies or small groups, as you start encountering huge enemy swarms it can be pretty frustrating, especially when combined with rabid AI companions attracting the attention of every enemy in the area.
A more serious issue was the corruption of my game save file, which happened after a crash and required a trip into the Xbox Dashboard to delete the save file and restart. And by restart, I mean clean restart, as in all my progress was wiped across multiple characters. While it's impossible to say how widespread an issue like this may be at this point, it's something you should be aware of before making a purchase decision. In case you hadn't heard, Ascaron recently went into administration
. We've been told by a representative that post-launch support can still be expected.
©2009-05-05, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved