Sacred 3 has been a long time coming. In fact, discounting arcade brawler, Sacred: Citadel, fans haven’t stepped foot in the enchanting world of Ancaria for over half a decade, since the launch of series predecessor, Sacred 2: Fallen Angel. Needless to say, back then things were very different. With Blizzard powerhouse, Diablo III, still a few years off, many fans started to look elsewhere for their dungeon-crawling fix, many stumbling upon Sacred 2.
Though it may not have been met with universal acclaim, Sacred 2 became somewhat of a cult hit among both PC and console gamers. Unfortunately, the surprise surge in popularity wasn’t enough to save developer Ascaron. The German studio was subsequently forced to close down, the Sacred franchise eventually ending up with Deep Silver, the same publisher that recently snapped up Homefront as well as Saints Row and other former THQ properties.
With the RPG landscape having shifted considerably over the past several years, Sacred 3 isn’t exactly the sequel many fans will have been hoping for. In short, new developer Keen Games has attempted to modernise the series, streamlining its existing template while also trying to make co-operative play its core focus. In other words Sacred has been severed from its hardcore PC roots though just enough remains to lure fans back for a new adventure.
Much of Sacred 3’s simplification (or to be more cynical, “dumbing down”) is apparent straight off the bat. Instead of adhering to classic role-playing conventions, the sequel forgoes character creation, presenting you with four pre-built heroes. Each has their own unique weapon and skillset, while also conforming to exhausted fantasy stereotypes. From brutish tribal warrior, Marak, to the valkyrie-like Claire, they are all viable characters in both solo and co-op with only minor adjustments to your playstyle.
The next casualty in Sacred 3 is the series’ open-world focus. Instead of giving players a vast network of regions to explore freely, Keen Games’ has streamlined the game’s structure, making each area its own five to forty minute level. Hubs such as towns and settlements where players can buy goods have also been substituted, replaced by an efficient yet soulless menu. The idea behind this change in formula is no doubt to reduce downtime, keeping players constantly focused on the action, and though it certainly succeeds in that respect, Sacred 3 detaches itself from one of role-playing genre’s defining elements: exploration. When you looking at games such as Mass Effect, Fallout, and Skyrim, you’ll find that some of the best moments in any of these come from playing through side quests or scouting out hidden areas.
In Sacred 3, however, there is no straying from the beaten path. Though stages do have nooks and crannies to find, they are shallow compared to the rabbit holes genre fans have come to expect. Sadly, this simplified approach to design also spills into other parts of the game, with both crafting and loot nowhere to be seen. For those who adored Sacred 2, these may be hard obstacles to overcome, yet Sacred 3 does redeem itself in some other ways.
The core gameplay, for instance, is tight and responsive, its action-heavy focus giving players plenty to do as they move from A to B. Aside from attacking and pushing enemies away, you’ll also be able to deploy two character-specific abilities which can be switched out between stages. Though Keen Games’ could have easily extended this to four powers, two provides just enough variation to keep things interesting, and so does the variety of enemies on show. From common cannon fodder to tank-like defenders and mini-bosses, Sacred 3 is always trying to spice up its combat encounters, cycling in new enemy-types when old ones become too predictable.
One thing Sacred 3 does preserve is the presence of gold and experience points. Constantly awarded for slaying foes and completing missions, these are used to level up your character and improve their equipment. Some of these upgrades, especially for weapons, even have skill tree branches, showing the sequel hasn’t completely cut itself off from the Ascaron originals.
As mentioned before, online co-op has been Sacred 3’s most publicised feature and is best described using the game’s very own tagline: “Victory is ours. Glory is mine.” You see, unlike some cooperative games that require teamwork and player interaction, Sacred 3 has you compete with one another as you blitz your way through the campaign missions. It may sound awesome on paper but, in truth, this concept is executed poorly.
Whenever playing with others, Sacred 3 turns into a mindless slaughterfest, especially on lower difficulty settings. Instead of helping to contribute towards main objectives, you’ll naturally find yourselves scouring every corner of the map just to give you a point boost over your comrades. This crazy lust for score-chasing also impacts on what limited exploration Sacred 3 has to offer, dragging players away from diversions and back onto the main path. It’s counter-intuitive and, if I’m completely honest, adds nothing positive to the overall gameplay experience.
With over a dozen meaty campaign missions to play and plenty of mini challenges, there’s a wealth of content awaiting players in Sacred 3. If you can overlook some of the game’s flaws then you’re definitely going to get your money’s worth. Visually, the game stands head and shoulders above its predecessors with only temporary drops in frame rate when large hordes of enemies pour onto the screen.
As for the audio and narrative in Sacred 3, the game takes a major step back. Though music and sound effects are fine, the voicework is atrocious and stems from some really poor writing. Instead of adopting a serious tone or one that is lightly traced with occasional moments of humour, Sacred 3 goes all out, cramming the game with flat puns wherever it can. There’s one character in particular, Aria, who will crack a bad joke only to apologise for it seconds later. Every single time. Dialogue is also peppered with words and exclamations like “noob”, “overkill”, and “sexy”.
Although fans will appreciate Deep Silver bringing the series back from the dead, some will no doubt find themselves alienated by the amount of omissions and alterations found in Sacred 3. With that said, it’s still a competent game, even if a little too shallow for fans of the genre.
Version tested: PlayStation 3