The angelic Seraphim have lost interest in Ancaria. The world, once a beacon of civilization and technology, has fallen into the hands of the embattled High Elves. As war rages, there is no one left to manage the people and the magical substance known as t-energy. This is where you come in. As a warrior representing one of several factions, your character seeks to throw in their lot and vie for power in this opportune time.
Heavy metal, weird enemies, thousands of kills, laser guns, inadequate explanations, flaming swords, mounted combat, bad jokes, Bruce Lee references, Sacred 2: Fallen Angel has a little of everything. And all of it, technical hang-ups included, has made it to the PlayStation 3 version.
In describing Sacred 2 to fellow Depoter Nick, I could only say, “I have one of those staff-blaster things from Stargate that I use with this triple-shot ability and a spell that detonates corpses,” and that’s about a valid description as any. For those who had skipped the original Sacred and its expansion, such as myself, the broadest and simplest explanation is that it is an open-world Diablo.
To play Sacred 2 as Diablo, however, would drive you insane. Beyond the isometric angle, slicing through hordes of enemies, gulping potions, and upgrade trees, you find a game that offers its own, sometimes strange, perspective on the genre. The game is packed with an abundance of modifiers, numerous rune enhancements, deity blessings, combat, and weapons that tie into a confusing web of skills, abilities, and buffs. The PlayStation 3 version makes some concessions to the abundance of information by using a star rating system for items (the more the better), simplified menus, and the on-screen hotkey icons help to keep things orderly. It’s still daunting for a while, but the tweaks help a little exploring will have you
Getting the hang of the abilities (combat arts) is your first step in really getting the most out of the game. Each class - Seraphim, High Elf, Dryad, Temple Guardian, Shadow Warrior, and Inquisitor – has its own set of combat arts. Runes can be used to either upgrade a like ability or traded to a rune master to decrease the exorbitant price of a rune that is more to your liking. The abilities offer a variety of classes as well. My Inquisitor had Gruesome Inquisition, Astute Supremacy, and Nefarious Netherworld. The Inquisitor’s combat arts range from standard attack upgrades (hitting multiple opponents at once) to more exotic abilities, such as creating a vortex that sucks in nearby enemies and causes them to slam into one another. One of the more innovative features is the ability to sacrifice one of your three main combat art slots for a combo: a handful of combo icons are available for you to drag and drop arts into, which are then performed in sequence once the combo is activated. The combos become truly impressive after a while, with scorched body parts flying all over the place.
Coping with the quests will also take some time. Unlike most role-playing games, you do not go through the pattern of receive quest, adventure, return for reward; if you did, you would go nuts at having to backtrack the lengthy distance of such a massive world, even on a mount. Instead, quests are to be treated as an adventurer should treat them: do what you can, when you can, and move on. There are so many side quests to partake in, as well as a somewhat meandering faction- and class-specific storyline, that you will always be near tasks to accept and enemies to slaughter. There are a few gems within the quest catalog, but many of them, as well as the convoluted story, are simply a vehicle for you to crush and conquer.
The lure of quick experience is a necessary bait in the beginning, because the game is incredibly easy on bronze, the suggested difficulty for newcomers. I, however, found that silver provides the right challenge, offering the same experience as, say, Diablo. Hardcore, on the other hand, is the ironman mode: once your character dies, they’re dead. Of course, for those who want a bit more of a challenge from silver but not waste time with a character that cannot be resurrected, you’re out of luck.
A significant barrier to entry is that Sacred 2 has a lot to take in. Making things worse are the numerous glitches and strange design decisions. A generous map is a necessity for a game with a world so large, but the map here isn’t as good as the one found in the PC version. The world map suffers from a limited zoom function that stops well before the local view, which was immensely helpful in the PC version. As bothersome as a limited map view is, the biggest problems with the PlayStation 3 version are, without a doubt, the loading and framerate. In smaller towns and the countryside, the loading is acceptable. Problems arise whenever you are in one of the larger cities, because traversing them involves ridiculous loading spurts that can occur mere feet apart. Being on a mount makes the problem worse, because you can actually outrun the loading so that you’re walking into a dead area with buildings and streets that are still waiting to be populated. The framerate also dips at the slightest hint of combat, which just happens to be what you do 99.9% of the time. The problems aren’t deal-breakers, but they certainly speak to a disappointing lack of optimization.
Some of the more frustrating holdouts from the PC version are the numerous invisible walls and dead-end paths. Even though the world is open there are only specific navigable paths to travel on and there is often little reward for adventuring to the edges. And heaven help you if you are traveling with AI companions, because they are absolutely worthless: running in circles, attacking with the vigor of a sloth, and being little more than mobile meat shields. At least you don’t have to worry about waiting up for them, because leaving them behind simply teleports them to your location – thank goodness – and I found it best to just ignore them. The console setup does get a bonus regards to controls, thanks to the numerous hotkeys, three full sets thanks to L2 and R2, that make travel and combat a bit less painful and a bit more exciting. While the scheme takes some getting used to, Ascaron did a great job with the transition from keyboard to controller.
Also retained from the PC version are some random oddities that won’t suit some out there. In the endless amounts of recorded dialogue are lines that aren’t just random but downright nonsensical. Some characters will also have strange voices, such as the goblin-like creature that sounded like a sidekick from a gangster movie from the 1930s; and your avatar will crack wise about the poor rewards for completed quests and boring non-playable characters. Sprawled throughout the game are tombstones and statues that sport everything from bad jokes – ‘Marathon runners with bad shoes suffer the agony of de feet’ – to pop culture and religious references – quotes from Bruce Lee, Confucianism, and nods to the hardcore that fell while playing the original Sacred and its expansion. This sort of skewed material is literally everywhere in Ancaria.
The strangeness actually lends to a feeling of detachment with the world. Despite all of the spoken dialogue and numerous merchants, rune masters, horse peddlers, and random townsfolk, I rarely found myself a part of their world. To be honest, I didn’t really mind that or much of the game’s quirkiness. The main story is so sprawling and weak that I never felt pulled into the world to begin with. There are nice touches throughout, though, like random chatter and music in town squares, quests involving bickering NPCs (shopkeepers arguing about stuffed toys), and lamps lighting cobble stone walkways. A particularly awesome, if not completely jarring, touch is the heavy metal that randomly plays during combat, as if Dio is playing the Bard.
Folks more inclined to a traditional approach will no doubt find all of the quirks chafing to their sensibilities. I admit that it got to be a bit too much for me at times as well, but more often than not I simply found it to be in good humor. The traditionalists will certainly appreciate the healthy tech tree and leveling system, though, as well as conveniences sprawled throughout the lands. Traveling the world is made easier by both a handful of portals and your mount, the latter of which not only has combat abilities but will also appear when called – handy. The controller also has a helpful grab-all button makes loot easy to snatch and keeps things moving briskly, though having the same button open chests and talk to NPCs is a bit of a goof, but in all the console port actually refines and enhances the original system.
Death is also easy to brush off. Dying is more of a minor setback than a serious problem, really – loot stays put, and abilities and status stay the same. The only minor annoyance is a one-save limit, but that was rarely a problem. The monoliths are also used whenever a save is loaded, teleporting your character there rather than the actual location where you exited the game. Magic is handled differently as well, with no mana to speak of but regeneration times. A trade-off exists in that using runes to power a spell, however, as making it more potent also lengthens its regeneration time – a serious problem towards the end. The lack of mana means that the only gulping necessary is for health, which is also nice, and I found even that relatively lacking when compared to similar titles.
The leveling system offers numerous avenues for optimization. The set classes vary by their allegiance to the light or shadow, their chosen god, and their special combat arts. Experience gains points for both attributes (strength, stamina, vitality, dexterity, intelligence and willpower) and skills. New skills are unlocked after a few levels, which include the ability to increase toughness, use of dual weapons, proficiency with pole arms, increased tactics lore (overall performance), and the class-specific combat arts. Points allocated to a combat art increase a category of arts, which upgrade all of the arts within, but also lead to modifiers when a category is leveled up. The modifiers are a three-branch system that allows for one of two choices for each modifier – typically greater damage dealt or adverse affect – for each art. The PlayStation 3 version has simplified menus for all of this, which helps to break an otherwise complex system down into more easily digestible bits.
For those who find themselves hooked, there is a great deal of replay value. Out of the six characters, only two are forced into either the campaign of light or the campaign of shadows, while the other four have either campaign selectable; not a great difference, but it still shakes things up a bit. The replay value might be reduced for those who enjoy female avatars, unfortunately, as the women characters tend to be ridiculously disproportioned. Maybe one day. But the real reason to play through the game again is just to experience all of the different combat arts. For my third go around – two for the PC version and one for the PlayStation 3 – I chose a Shadow Warrior, and had just as good of a time as I did my first time around. The controller turned out to be excellent for the game, and once I catch my rhythm I’m summoning arrow-shooting skull towers and leaping all over the map.
The console version wasn’t always changed for the better. There aren’t many cases where the mechanics were changed for the worst, but one that constantly nagged me was a useless ‘compare’ feature for armor and weapons that replaced the superior side-by-side approach of the PC version. The tweaks for the console version largely make the game easier to understand while better integrating multiplayer and adding the option for downloadable content, but the persistent technical problems are a constant reminder that all is not quite right.
Sacred 2: Fallen Angel isn’t the easiest game to understand. There is a lot to digest, but stick with it, because you will find a game whose strange characters, sense of humor, and awesome combat arts are hard to ignore. It will be too goofy for some, so be sure you go into it fully aware that plenty of the gags and references are hokey and have no place in a game set in high fantasy. For PlayStation 3 owners wanting a little something different, and with the patience to put up with some annoying technical and design hiccups, jump on in. Sacred 2 may be strange, silly, and not quite polished, but it’s also a whole lot of fun.