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With Diablo III some way off, Deep Silver bridges the gap with this prequel story to the original Sacred...
- Huge campaign.
- An even bigger world.
- 16-player online multiplayer.
- There are plenty of bugs.
- Overly demanding specifications.
- "To me!"..."Everyone, to me!"
If there's one country that continues to eat, breath, and sleep PC gaming it's Germany. With a pronounced PC fanbase that continues to thrive, and a series of developers working hard on the increasingly beleaguered looking platform, it does at times seem like the Germans are the last bastions of PC advocates. Take Sacred 2: Fallen Angel, for instance. Developed by Ascaron, the hack 'n' slash RPG arrives in Europe four years after the original, following the studio's obsession with pirates during the intervening years.
Set 2,000 years before the events of the original, Sacred 2 aims to deliver a rich and adventure-filled campaign playable both solo and online. But is it RPG-by-numbers or does it have something new to give us?
The classic good versus evil is at the root of the extensive Sacred 2: Fallen Angel storyline, with the world of Ancaria at a crossroads. It seems that the forces of Light and Shadow are on a collision course towards destruction as both sides vie to control the less-than-magical sounding 'T-Energy' – and of course, players find themselves right at the heart of it. In fact, the very first choice made will decide which path players will follow – the Light or the Shadow.
Epic in their own right, Ascaron has also ensured that the Sacred die-hards that hack their way through the campaign will experience two very different sides to the story, with mission overlaps that see key events from the perspectives of both the Light and the Shadow. So Sacred 2 has in effect two lengthy campaigns – perfect to get through the winter with – and that's without the drop-in/drop-out multiplayer for up to sixteen players. Depth in character development and attributes is another area that Ascaron has been playing particular attention to, beyond the decision of which of the five races to play as. Largely forgoing the traditional Dwarves and generic warriors, Sacred 2's undead Shadow Warriors and renegade 'Dryad' elves is quite refreshing, slightly deviating from the overused Tolkein stalwarts.
Depending on the character race, players will get a particular god to pray to, which gives a powerful spell of protection that comes in handy during Sacred 2's more overwhelming encounters in the dungeons. Combat skill upgrades, runes, and the ability to blacksmith are literally the tip of the iceberg in development, with lists of skills and attributes fully upgradable as the campaign progresses. If anything, there are almost too many options and tweaks to be had, making Sacred 2 perhaps not the most easily accessible action-RPG to get to grips with if you're a newcomer to the genre. However, veterans and obsessives will no doubt gorge themselves on the feast of skill sets and combos presented in the game, making Sacred 2 a decidedly hardcore experience – even if Ascaron has implemented one or two races (namely the Shadow Warrior) designed for RPG newbies.
As a dungeon crawler, Sacred 2 certainly offers what gamers look for. There are plenty of rogue elements to battle against, dropping loot along the way, along with labyrinthine dungeons and regions to get stuck into...there's a reason why it ships on two DVDs. For all its grand scale, and Ancaria is a mammoth place of over twenty square miles, Sacred 2 does at times suffer from not feeling particularly epic at times. At a time where MMOs seem to be going through the gears of PC dominance, where World of Warcraft can sit alongside the free-to-play antics of Archlord, the more traditional action-RPGs (which Sacred 2 undoubtedly falls under) begins to feel rather old hat. Much of what Azeroth veterans revel in, like hundreds of 'FedEx', hunting quests, and dungeons, feature here. But the explosion of MMOs means that the gameplay in the likes of Sacred 2 just feels a little isolationist, especially if the 16-player online multiplayer isn't taken advantage of. But perhaps we're being a tad negative here; Sacred 2 finds itself in a hostile environment. PC gaming is going through a huge transition, and what Sacred 2 does is create a solid and deep experience for fans on the genre – even if it feels like we’ve experienced much of this in the past.
Is Nothing Sacred Any More?
The four year gap has seen Ascaron overhaul the game engine, bringing an 3D isometric game world to Sacred for the first time. OK, so it's not exactly ground-breaking, but Ascaron seem pleased enough. Producing the gameworld in 3D, whilst retaining the isometric heritage of the series, is at least an attempt by the studio to inject some level of advancement into the game. Despite this, a quick glance at the recommended specs (2.0GHz CPU, GeForce 8800) reveals perhaps Sacred 2’s greatest hurdle – itself. To experience Ancaria as Ascaron intended is a big ask, and at a time when demanding specs hurt the performance at retail, the studio really should have either made visual concessions or further refined the engine. Sure, there are a lot of visual punches to be found when the levels are turned to maximum, but when ‘big bang’ titles like Crysis fail despite their marketing clout, it’s difficult not be concerned with the future of the franchise on the platform. It’s something that Ascaron itself must have realised, with two console editions of the game scheduled to arrive in the early part of 2009.
Something else that hasn't been forgotten from the 2004 original is humour, which continues to feel out of place here. Right from the loading screen, when a random quip appears (sometimes based on Monty Python), this 'lighter' side to Sacred II defies its hardcore gameplay. It's actually pretty contrived, with gravestones enjoying such jape-filled epitaphs like 'I'm not going anywhere', enemies going all post-modern with quips such as 'I knew I was only an extra'. Even the protagonist breaks the fourth wall of acting, reassuring players that he's a patient man: 'Sure, go AFK (Away from Keyboard) – I'll wait!' It's not a sweet or mischievous humour like Overlord or Fable, or further back into the annals of time, the Discworld adventures, but what it does succeed in doing is stick out like a sore thumb.
There are bugs to be found, no doubt a specialist team are working feverishly on a patch or two, but the most annoying by far has to be the recurring issue of speech repeating itself. Party members have an all too annoying tic, which for some reason compels them to endlessly issue the same orders again and again. “Come to me!”, “To me!”, “Gather round to me!” are cycled around through the game, becoming a mantra that will infect your dreams at night. Trust me. How on earth this managed to slip through quality assurance is anybody's guess, and its existence becomes all the more ludicrous when you notice the launch version is already 2.0. Additional patches are being made available even as we speak, which should improve the experience for gamers…especially if the raving NPC loon in our party actually shuts his yap.
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