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Sacred 2: Fallen Angel
Score: 82%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: CDV
Developer: Ascaron
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1 - 2, 2 - 4 (Online)
Genre: Adventure/ RPG

Graphics & Sound:
Ascaron's Sacred 2, a prequel to the 2004 release Sacred, emerged on PCs in the Fall of 2008, to mediocre reviews. After several lengthy delays, Sacred 2 has now successfully jumped the gap and entered the console realm. For fans of Diablo-esque hank-n-slash gameplay, this release was a welcome addition.

There was hope in the gaming community that the delays between the PC and console releases would give the developers time to iron out a few of the bugs and glitches that plagued the PC version. Graphically, while beautifully rendered and full of gorgeous particle effects, there seems to be a lack of textural detail on both the terrain and the character. Without question the landscape is beautiful, with rippling water and multiple types of terrain, yet it leaves one to wonder what it could have looked like had the developers been a bit more liberal with the use of texturing. That being said, the spell effects and particle emanations from boosted weapons are nicely done and character movement, while occasionally a bit amusing, is generally smooth and fluid. The sound quality of Sacred 2 is very good. The music is fitting, if nothing special and the sound effects of battle are well suited to their graphical counterparts. Occasional quips by the character are often amusing, if a bit repetitive. Odd sound bytes from locals in populated areas, presented as if overhearing a conversation that has nothing to do with gameplay, provide a bit of amusement as well, both from a content standpoint and in regards to just how poor the voice-acting is carried out.

Gameplay is nothing new for those familiar with the traditional isometric hack-n-slash, kill-n-carry style made famous by Diablo and the subsequent clones during the latter 1990s. After choosing from one of six playable characters (most of which offer very little in the way of early customization) and a campaign, the player is spawned in the world at a predetermined spot, differing for each character, and gameplay begins immediately. There are two campaigns to choose from, light and shadow, although in truth, the storyline and campaigns really make little difference in games such as this, and Sacred 2 is no exception, offering a very weak and uninspired over-arcing story. Still, to push the story and progress the game, the player is presented with a quest chain which consists of 100+ core quests. These are great for advancing the character, as completing the quests reward the players with gold and items. Should the player deviate from the main quests, a myriad of side quests are available, numbering well over 600.

The sheer size of the explorable map is impressive, offering many hours of gameplay, especially for those completionist-minded players like myself that like to explore every nook and cranny. This voluminous scale may be the reason for the aforementioned lack of texturing, as from a performance standpoint, it may have proved difficult to provide the texturing while maintaining decent performance. As the player wanders the world, exploring and killing the hordes of foes, they will inevitably gather loads of loot as well as experience, allowing for the very familiar RPG style leveling up, offering some customization of the character. Leveling up, as with most games of the genre, provides benefits such as increased health and magic power as well as offering new skills or abilities for the player to choose from. From the documentation, it appears that the character can eventually reach a level of 200, though players will likely have to play through some of the harder difficulties (mentioned below) in order to attain these lofty heights.

Sacred 2 is not an RPG in the traditional sense, nor does it aspire to be. This game is about killing monsters and collecting loot, commonly referred to as hack-n-slash. As such, there are no real puzzles to solve or moral choices to make. Although there are a few quests that do offer differing outcomes depending on which action you take, this really only affects the rewards received and has no real consequence on longterm gameplay. There are four "difficulties" for players to choose from when starting a game. First time players will only be able to choose from Bronze or Silver, with the higher difficulties becoming available only after finishing the lower tiers. Bronze is truly for first-timers who want little in the way of a challenge. Players exploring on this difficulty will find that they wade through the hordes of monsters like the proverbial hot knife through butter. There are benefits to starting on Silver, including more experience per kill and better item drops. The monsters (really little more than walking loot bags on Bronze), offer a bit more challenge, with boss fights being significantly more difficult. Competent players will still have very little difficulty with this level of play, the only difference is they will actually need to use their healing potions on occasion.

While not truly associated with the difficulty of the game itself, there are some minor annoyances that make enjoying the game more difficult. As mentioned above, the map is mammoth. This is great for those who really enjoy a lot of game content. However, the map, while easily enough accessible, is not very descriptive, and on such a large map, wandering along a cliffside while wading through innumerous creatures with evil intent only to find yourself at a dead-end where a clear path is indicated proves extremely frustrating. I will give some praise to the fact that, even with such a large map, loading of information is generally seamless. However, in towns especially, there are times where a "spinning disk" will appear and gameplay will freeze as the machine loads the next segment of terrain. This was especially bad on the XBox 360 version and I had hoped that, with an installation size of over 5 GB on the PS3 version, the problem might have been eliminated. While it is noticeably better on the PS3, the problem does in fact persist across platforms. The final annoyance that I will mention here is a problem that is endemic to almost every game that includes "escort" quests, that being the suicidal NPC. If a character is asked to escort little Johnny back home to Mom or safely bring Professor Tibbles back from his mission to discover some strange new species of plant, then Johnny or the Professor need to be sticking to the characters backside, quite literally hiding in his shadow. They should NEVER charge out on the screen and run directly to every monster in sight, moving from one to the next until they have garnered the attention of every possible enemy within shouting distance, which happens almost every time one of these missions is accepted. This poor A.I. is extremely frustrating and is far worse in Sacred 2 than in many other game of this ilk.

Game Mechanics:
PC to console transitions can, and often do, prove difficult in the realms of tradition mouse and keyboard genres such as real-time strategy (RTS) and hack-n-slash. In this regard, Sacred 2 is ahead of the curve. The control scheme is well thought out and fairly intuitive. The ability to hotkey skills, spells and items to the control pad in such a way as to be readily accessible is something that has long been needed, but rarely achieved before now. Using the D-pad, players can quickly use one of three selected types of potions on the fly. The four face buttons can all be assigned to different skills or spells and, when used in conjunction with the (R2) and (L2) buttons, combine for a total of twelve possible hotkeyed skills.

In addition to the single player Campaign mode, Sacred 2 also includes multiplayer, with support for 2 players on a single console and up to 4 players online. As with similar games that supported this type of play, this is truly the best way to enjoy questing and hunting. This also allows for players to exchange items that are not useful to them with other players. However, although I have heard that this is not true on the XBox 360 version, the PS3 version does not allow two players on the same console to exchange items, which I find very difficult to understand. It makes no sense to me that if my son and I are playing together and an item drops for him that his character cannot use but that would benefit me immensely, there is no way for us to exchange them. This is a huge oversight in my opinion, one that really dampens the 2-player offline experience.

In the end, Sacred 2, even with all of its flaws, is a fun game that will offer many hours of enjoyable adventuring to fans of the genre. It is far from perfect, but it is currently the best of type on consoles and for those that have been salivating for some good hack-n-slash fun, this game is worth the investment.

-The Mung Bard, GameVortex Communications
AKA Buddy Ethridge

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