Having acquired the IP for Sacred from the now defunct Ascaron in 2009, Deep Silver have worked on a two pronged attempt to revitalise the franchise with Sacred Citadel and Sacred 3 both set for 2013. Developers Keen Games have the bigger task on their hands, taking on the core series where the last title came out to some rather mixed reviews. Maybe that’s exactly what the game needs, a fresh developer to push onwards and upwards.
As I said in the Sacred Citadel preview, that game acts as a prequel to events in Sacred 3, introducing the Grimmocs as the new foes with Lord Zane Ashen as the arch-nemesis for your heroes. His goal? To capture the Heart of Ancaria, an object of immense power that can bend the world to his will.
The plot isn’t likely to take gaming storytelling to new heights, but Keen have a few ideas as to where they do want to try and take the experience. In particular they are exploring the so called “end game” content after you’ve finished the main story, something which even caught out Blizzard with Diablo 3 recently, leaving fans angered by how boring questing for improved weapons was getting a few hundred hours in.[drop2]
So rather than just having bigger and better weapons to be found, which merely affect the stats and damage points flying off enemies, here they want to keep people coming back by having the weapons change how the action unfolds with combos and power ups. It ties into their idea of ‘combat arts’, where different weapons and powers combine together for more granular differences in style of play, even within a particular branch of a character class’ evolution.
This is naturally going to be amplified further when you team up with co-op partners who have their own particular character development path. The co-op has been embedded very heavily into the title, with up to four players in a drop-in/drop-out infrastructure helping people get together with little fuss, and encouraging players to work closely in teams with their powers and attacks.
Work well together and use co-op specific moves, and you’ll be rewarded with buffs and access to flashier special moves to take out enemies. You’re not the only ones that can work as a team though, and another area which they hope to improve upon is the enemy AI.
Borrowing from the squad mechanics which are often seen in shooters and strategy games, groups of different types of enemies that you come across will be working together in sensible ways, rather than rushing right at you.
For example, I saw the hero come up against a large group of Grimmocs, a mixture of the standard rush attack variety and others with large shields that throw grenades. Whilst the standard Grimmocs came straight at the player, the ranged ones would actively stay a certain distance away, hiding behind their huge shields to protect them very effectively from a head on assault.
Each enemy class will have its own specific job and you’ll have to apply a bit of thought as to how you handle some of them. A Grimmoc Shaman that backs up the standard troops via healing and boosts has to be separated from the group, because if he’s killed too close to other enemies they’ll become enraged, boosting their stats for a period of time and attacking much more ferociously.[drop]Handily, environmental elements can be used to help you take down enemies in each area, such as explosives disrupting the cohesion of the group. A lot of this element of the gameplay is angled towards co-operative gameplay once more. One player could keep the shielded enemies occupied whilst their partner comes to attack from behind, or working together to draw a shaman away from the group which he is supporting.
Away from the combat, the world is quite beautifully realised. It’s not as stylised as Citadel, but it’s still rather eye catching in its looks. Beneath the looks are levels that are laced with secrets and explorable paths, many of which will be locked away to specific character classes. So if you’re the kind of player who wants to look in every nook and cranny, it will either have you replaying the game as a different character or, you guessed it, teaming up with friends.
There are some great sounding ideas in Sacred 3, with co-op at its core, cunning AI and the end game being more about learning to play at your best rather than hunting for ever higher stats. As with the last game the only thing that can hold it back is in terms of execution. On the plus side, Deep Silver know what went wrong last time and hopefully won’t let this title fall into the same trap.