The Diablo's Advocate.
Note to self: Holy crap, I’m reviewing a PC title. *faint*
[image1]As some of you may know, I gravitate towards console titles either due to hardware constraints (that is, my non-gaming laptop that I’m writing this review on) or my childhood conditioning of playing in front of the TV instead of a monitor. But there was once a time when I was hooked on Diablo and Diablo II, slaying beasts while I carefully eyed my red health orb with a finger ready to strike the hotkey for potions… and being grounded by my mother for missing the school bus one to many times while I dreamt of gold pieces spewing out of monsters.
And I didn’t know I had been missing that feeling. Somehow, playing Baldur’s Gate on the Playstation 2 instead of the PC, while still solid using the controller scheme, just didn’t match the experience of the keyboard and the mouse. Of course, I didn’t know it then, since I was too busy hacking and slashing goblins to pieces. But then at a cdv Entertainment event in San Francisco, I went to the back room, sat down to play Sacred 2, and by the time the event ended, I realized that I had not left my spot. And I was hungry.
Similar to its predecessor, Sacred 2 blends the bloody hackfest of a Diablo II with the addictive leveling-up mentality of a World of Warcraft. It’s not innovative in any substantial way, but it's in no way a blatant rip-off, either. Though this MMO-styled RPG is not polished by any means, with bugs and glitches scattered throughout every nook and cranny, you almost don’t care since it’s just mindless fun… for the most part. The attempt to pair the tight focus of an RPG with the vast scope of an MMO often spreads its story too thin, dampening its purpose, and ultimately, the player’s motivation to continue through to the end.
Given the ability in other MMOs to create a character from among a host of classes and with many different attributes and appearances, the character selection in Sacred 2 is slightly disappointing. There are only six characters, ranging from the angelic Seraphim to the nefarious
absolutely not a Sith Lord Inquistor, typical of the general classes that you find in RPGs. You have the choice to take a character through the light or dark campaign, select from among two difficulty levels plus a hardcore death-means-death mode, and choose the character’s deity from among a pantheon of six gods, but the creation is still limited, particularly in terms of gender.
[image2]It makes sense that the Seraphim are an all-female race as it follows the Sacred canon, but there’s little reason why most of the other races - High Elf, Shadow Warrior, Dryad, and Temple Guardian - are restricted to a specific gender. Perhaps more disconcerting is that the women (High Elf and Dryad) represent “good” and “nature” while men (Shadow Warrior and Temple Guardian) represent “darkness” and “technology”. It’s a rather disparaging, old-world view of gender – dare I say it – discrimination: Not all women are nature-loving Amazons and not all men are skulking, nigh-sinister warriors.
Stepping out into the world of Ancaria, your first reaction will likely be a raise of an eyebrow. You might expect that such a budget title would be sparse in detail and interest but every area is well-crafted and spacious (and not in the Craigslist-housing-ad’s meaningless use of “spacious”). You will traverse through many lands - forests, sand dunes, rocky bluffs, dragon islands, and jungles, just to name a few - and once you’re done with the first act, you’ll be amazed at how much there is left to explore. You’ll likely open the map (that is, if it doesn’t glitch out and refuses to appear at all), only to find that 10% (likely less) of the world has been colored in.
But regrettably, that’s both awe-inspiring and sigh-inducing. Apart from patches of slowdown and framerate hiccups, simply put, there aren’t enough portals. Waypoints and the like are meant to save you time so that you don’t have drag yourself from place to place, but both of these conveniences are mostly ignored in favor of the thrilling adventure known as your feet. You’ll frequently find yourself in the far reaches of the land, sending kobolds and orcs to their grave, only to realize that you have to walk all the way back to some town for five minutes just to sell your loot or advance a few quests. You can hand over a whopping pile of gold for a mount to speed things along, but you can’t use any abilities while you’re on the horse and it’s still not as fast as teleportation.
Fortunately, you’ll encounter hordes of enemies to murder wherever you go. No, really, I’m not joking. They’re everywhere. Like two steps away from every town entrance, everywhere. Like me and my posse of raiders are just going to hang out here by this happy family of farmers as they plant seeds and whack wheat, everywhere. It’s a miracle that society exists in Ancaria, though that miracle is noticeably you. Enemies don’t really care about razing towns to the ground, which they could easily do if they put their minds to it, but they're too distracted by the large, invisible “Kick me!” sign on your back.
[image3]But if you’re the type that enjoys leveling up, that’s not really a problem. Where Sacred 2 shines most is in the basics – killing enemies, foraging, gaining experience, selecting an array of spells and abilities, and killing some more enemies, gaining more experience… I think you get the idea. As you prove your mettle in combat, you’ll also gain additional hotkeys for potions, spells, and even custom equipment configurations, which is a clever way to disguise the learning curve with character progression.
The only caveat with the leveling system is spell advancement, which is based on how many runes for the spell you can find and activate. Acquiring specific runes isn’t the problem, as you can trade in any runes you don’t need for ones that you do – it’s that leveling up spells doesn’t necessarily make them better overall. Strengthening spells does make them deal more damage, extend the duration of a spell, and just have a larger effect in general, but it also substantially increases the regeneration time of the spell (there is no mana cost or mana in Sacred 2). Would you rather deal 80 damage every 12 seconds for a Level 1 spell or 88 damage every 16 seconds for a Level 2 spell? Frankly, that's a hard bargain.
There will also come a point when you lose your motivation due to quests that don’t really have any real meaning and lack impact, even in the context of the game world. Fetch quests, assassination, and escort missions (involving idiot meat shields who can't heal themselves and who can't be healed by you, and thereby die) run the gamut of your adventures. None of them have much purpose other than gold and experience, which isn’t much given the overpopulation of enemies. Eventually, you’ll just accept every quest that comes your way and complete them as a bonus for exploration.
[image4]Of the various online modes, Open Net is the primary choice, if just for the ability to explore areas you weren’t able to before. An island in multiplayer play acts as a meeting place for players connected online and as a hub to various locals all around the map. As opposed to Multiplayer Co-Op and Closed Net, Open Net lets you whisk your single-player character to other foreign lands that you wouldn’t be able to reach so quickly in single-player mode. Regrettably, you might have to do some “single port forwarding” on your router and if those words in quotes make you tilt your head with question marks floating above you,
you’re an anime character this may not be the game for you.
It needs to be said that Sacred 2 is still rife with minor bugs, but patches are slowly mending the game-crashing bugs and graphical mishaps. This is just one of many clues that point towards an overambitious design document that didn’t have enough time or manpower to execute fully. While Sacred 2 shoots for the works - with a world on a grand scale, leveling on a grand scale, quests on a grand scale - as if it was following the lure of the Holy Grail, it would have been far stronger if it concentrated on perfecting fewer elements. Nonetheless, Sacred 2 remains as enjoyable as its Diablo inspirations, though it likely won’t cause as many sleep-deprived, merrily heinous, gold-laden dreams.