Developed by Keen Games. Published by Deep Silver. Released August 5, 2014. Available on PC (reviewed), PS3, Xbox 360.


01

Despite it not being a particularly outstanding series of games, I have a lot of love for those titles falling under the Sacred umbrella. Mechanically standard, narratively odd little games, there’s nonetheless a fun energy and a sense of camp humor that makes the series thoroughly appealing. Sacred 2 was a particular favorite of mine, a vast hack n’ slash RPG that was engrossing and shamelessly stupid in equal measure.

Unfortunately, Sacred 3 is a different beast from its predecessor, appearing to be more of a missing link between it and the beat ’em up spinoff Sacred Citadel. The open environments are replaced with stages selected on a world map, the traditional dungeon crawling action has a distinct brawler vibe to it, and the idea of sprawling character progression and loot has been replaced with a streamlined and linear leveling system. The result is a game that’s still quite enjoyable to play, but far more repetitive, restrictive, and ultimately exhausting.

Propelled with a strict commitment to “wacky” humor, the ludicrous story revolves around Ancaria’s last heroes banding together to fight the evil Zane and his hammy collection of scene-chewing henchmen. Played by voice actors who have absolutely no fear, the over-the-top performances make decidedly lame jokes somewhat amusing, and while the story itself is fairly uninteresting, it’s pulled off with enough enthusiasm to keep one at least tangentially invested.

A hack and slash action game with more in common than Castle Crashers or Gauntlet than familiar Sacred games, this third main installment in the series will likely disappoint fans who wanted a return to The Old Ways. The point-and-click combat that put Sacred in the same box as Diablo is nowhere to be seen, and it’s quite clear that this chapter is more at home on console controllers than mouse and keyboard.

Each of the four playable characters get a melee attack, a shield-breaking bash attack, and two powerful special attacks selected between levels. Using a special attack drains energy, which can be replenished from random drops and is very quickly regenerated, while bashing is an essential way of exploiting weak points, interrupting enemy assaults, and disarming traps. Dodging around the map and learning when to bash enemies to make them prone for instant-kill executions helps make the game feel a little more tactical, but ultimately Sacred 3 is as button-mashy as they come, relying mostly on mindlessly hacking at dogpile after dogpile of monsters.

There’s nothing wrong with that, but the limited selection of characters and abilities, not to mention the rather formulaic maps and enemies, makes for a game that gets incredibly tiring after too long. After a while, each stage bleeds into the next one and one feels like they’re going through the motions. Even the boss encounters at the end of each stage, large and impressive as they are, become a case of sussing out a fairly obvious pattern and then repeating a limited process until all the things are dead.

It doesn’t help that so many opponents and obstacles behave in identical ways. If you’ve seen one area-of-effect attack, you’ve seen them all. Once you’ve broken the shield of one heavily armored enemy, the others won’t be much different. The same “avoid shadows of falling boulder” trick is played to a nauseating degree. Once this game does something once, you can expect to see it dozens of times, and chances are you’ll have seen it done in dozens of other games.

Characters get to level up their special attacks, as well as weapons and armor, but all the leveling is predetermined with no real room for customization. Weapons and attacks have the odd branching path on their skill trees, but only a mere handful, and none of them really impact gameplay to a remarkable degree. You never pick up new gear in the field, with a tiny arsenal instead drip-fed to you when the game decides, and there’s only one piece of armor per character, similarly improved at a fixed rate.

02

Players are showered with gold at every opportunity, but the accumulation of wealth feels hollow. Before long there’s no real joy in undertaking non-story missions or finding hidden chests full of treasure. Gold is spent to unlock the handful of gated-by-level extra attributes available to equipment and special attacks, while an “item shop” between stages is accessed only for consumable items like health potions. The thrill of tackling a major boss to get showered with items and equipment has been taken out, replaced with rewards that feel ultimately pointless. It’s not like you can even spend the gold without the game allowing you, since equipment and ability purchases are all locked by the same, “have fun when WE say so” attitude employed across the entire game.

The most interesting aspect of customization comes in the form of weapon spirits – equippable characters that grant bonuses and handicaps on characters. Equipping the Dark Elf, for example, makes a charged bash attack far more potent, at the cost of charged bashes reducing your health by 15%. Meanwhile, the Vampire grants health regeneration every time you hit an enemy, but health orbs dropped in combat are only 50% effective. Playing with weapon spirits is quite fun, though once again, the way they level and the rate at which they are unlocked is all determined by the game, with no control allowed to the player.

With such little agency, Sacred 3 players are really just left to hack and slash their way through stage after stage of grimmocs and and zombies. At the very least, combat itself can be fairly satisfying, with each fight feeling fast and responsive, and waves of enemies falling to one’s blade with the kind of relaxing violence one expects from the Dynasty Warriors series.

When you find the combination of special attacks that work best for you and couple them with your favorite weapon spirit, there’s a lot of dumb gratification that can be had. Most of the stages are a little easy, but one can switch difficulties on the world map, and any stage can be tackled out of order – though if you go for stages designed for higher levels, you may face very stiff resistance.

Drop-in co-op works quite well, and the more players you have, the tougher the monsters get. You can sort matches by players of equivalent level, or you could be a level 4 character and just jump into a level 20 player’s game – if you don’t mind having to be constantly revived. Co-op play is really the way to go, as it adds a bit more energy and oomph to proceedings.

Sadly, with a game so stripped bare of player input, Sacred 3‘s biggest problem becomes an overwhelming sense of repetition. Once you find those aforementioned skills and spirits that work best for you, there’s no reason to change things up, and since each skill is leveled up at different, predetermined parts, there isn’t really anything to work towards for vast periods of time. As if that wasn’t enough, weapon spirits themselves keep spouting out stock phrases from a limited pool, in annoying voices, driving home the sense that you’re doing the same things over and over again.

It’s sad, because Sacred 3 can be a lot of fun, and there’s plenty of content – even if the world map has locked stages that exist simply to keep trying to sell you downloadable content (seriously, it’s gauche as hell). It’s just that, for as much content as there is, there’s not enough gameplay to keep it exhilarating. Games like Castle Crashers and Dynasty Warriors at least have a lot of characters, leveling options, and unlockables to offer. By comparison, Sacred 3 feels minimalist to a disappointing degree. It’s just tiring to keep doing the same thing over and over again, and this is coming from a button mashing fan who generally doesn’t mind repetitive combat, provided it does something to keep me energized.

I’ll give it one thing though. I’ve not seen a cast of heroes and villains this diverse in the big-budget gaming sphere in a long, long time. At least there’s some variety somewhere in this thing!

Bottom Line: Sacred 3 is a mildly fulfilling hack and slash game that, while fun in limited doses, isn’t a patch on previous entries, and does very little to stand out within the genre in which it wishes to now be housed.

Recommendation: Fans of the original Sacred games may well be let down, while fans of hack and slash action games have better options already. It’s fine enough, but don’t rush to get it.

[rating=3]

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