Salt and Sanctuary Preview

Have you ever wondered what Dark Souls would be like as a 2D game? Let me introduce you to Salt and Sanctuary.

On paper, 2D Dark Souls sounds like a brilliant idea. The Souls formula hasn't been used to the point of saturation (yet), and few games have attempted to emulate the popular RPG series on a 2D plane. Ska Studios' Salt and Sanctuary attempts to be the first, and it's hard to ignore the similarities to FromSoftware's popular series. Salt and Sanctuary creates its own tone and identity through its art style though, and the result is one of the best games I played at E3 this year.

Salt and Sanctuary sports a distinct presentation in which black and white dominate much of the landscape. Indoor areas show light shades of red and brown, but it's all dark and bleak in the world of Salt and Sanctuary. The hand-drawn visuals compliment the dour tone well, and it raises the tension on a minute-to-minute basis. The character designs don't always fit with the rest of the art style, but Salt and Sanctuary still showcases beauty in the face of hopelessness.

Much of that hopelessness comes from the near-constant threat of death. Salt and Sanctuary clearly provides a challenge, and it features familiar mechanics such as animation-heavy attacks, stamina management, and checkpoints in the form of shrines. The combat is the star of the show in Salt and Sanctuary, as there's real purpose behind each strike and dodge. This isn't a game in which players can simply spam buttons to win—caution and strategy are the keys to success. It also pays to explore thoroughly and read items descriptions, which should sound familiar to Souls fans. In my brief chat with lead designer James Silva, he explained that the Souls games are a clear influence, and he doesn't mind the comparisons because they speak to the design goals of the game.

My time with Salt and Sanctuary also hinted at some of the ancillary mechanics, such as leveling and equipment management. Killing enemies provides salt, which functions as the game's version of XP. Players can also pick up salt items to use at opportune times, and it all goes towards leveling up. The skill tree in Salt and Sanctuary is ridiculously huge, so there's plenty of freedom when it comes to building a unique character. The game also features different sets of equipment that influence weight and roll speed. I picked up the thief's set when I played, and I though it slowed me down, I looked badass with it on.

Naturally the E3 demo ends with a tough boss fight, and I was one of the few people to complete it on day one. Dodging was vital, and after a few attempts I familiarized myself with the invincibility frames to better avoid devastating attacks. Pattern recognition also comes into play, as the giant knight I fought mixed up attacks about halfway through the fight. When I finally defeated the formidable foe on my fourth attempt, joy and elation washed over me like a wave. Silva even commented on how my hands were shaking. I only spent about 20-30 minutes with Salt and Sanctuary, and yet the rush of victory hit me like few games do over the span of several hours.

Although I played Salt and Sanctuary on day one of E3, I still thought about it for the next few days. It truly does feel like a 2D Souls game, and I mean that in the best possible way. It appears to have the depth, challenge, and mystery of the series, and I can't wait to play more of it when it gets a full release. Salt and Sanctuary is scheduled to come out later this year on PlayStation 4, Vita, and PC.