Way back in 2004 Ascaron release a game called Sacred that made gamers feel like it was 1997 all over again and they were playing a high-resolution version of the classic Diablo. However, when it was released the game was a complete mess, and there was a general sense of negativity regarding this game in specific and the state of PC gaming in general. Then something amazing happened – Ascaron worked tirelessly to patch the game to the point where it became a favorite online hack & slash experience. They also released the ‘Plus Pack’ that was planned as a for-sale add-on for free – earning more good-will along the way.
Fast-forward four years and it feels like history is repeating itself: Ascaron releases Sacred 2 in Europe in the Fall to a general feeling that there is a good game hidden somewhere in all of the bugs. The reviews fell in the range of mediocre to average, and there was a general sense of disappointment that we were going through it all again. Two patches have arrived since that release – massive patches totalling more than a gigabyte in size! Patching problems have also been reported far and wide, particularly related to security / DRM changes that block the patch if they detect certain file changes in an attempt to prevent piracy … but as is the case so many times, they simply end up penalizing legal customers.
The DRM & patch issues warrant further examination: the game has a ‘one install active at a time’ policy. That seems strict, but in reality it is more reasonable than the ’5 and done’ system used by EA. First off, if you install the game and don’t activate it, you are essentially getting a 24-hour full-featured demo. This is a great compromise, since it lets you have a full feel for the game, and since you cannot nearly complete the campaign in 24 hours anyway it really does work as a demo. Once you choose to activate, the game is locked to that particular PC, meaning that you need to uninstall to ‘revoke’ the activation before installing on another PC or selling/trading the game. Patching the game has proven interesting – I pretty much lost a weekend of potential gaming to the process. After downloading ~1.2GB of files, I had to wait hours while they authenticated everything, then a while longer for the actual patching process to complete. Then I had to repeat it for the second patch. So after installing the game on a Friday and downloading the patches on Saturday morning, I would visit my PC occasionally on Saturday and Sunday until I got everything patched up before finally starting. I can only imagine how I would feel if there had been problems!
At this point you are probably wondering how I manage to start things this way and end up with a ‘Buy It’ recommendation! Well, read on and see …
Sacred 2 tells the story of Ancaria two millennia prior to the events of the original Sacred. There is a power struggle at hand based on the mysterious T-energy that is the source of all life and magic. Originally the Seraphim controlled the energy and used it for good, but over time they allowed a share of that power to go to the High Elves … who in time used it to become the dominant race in Ancaria. Of course, the High Elves begin to quarrel amongst themselves over the use of the T-energy, allowing other races to join the struggle for control of the T-energy and therefore become the dominant force. As this is going on, something happens that causes the T-energy flow to become increasingly destructive, mutating creatures and causing hostility and chaos to spread across the realms. Being this is a fantasy RPG, that is the point at which you get to enter the story!
There are two campaigns – Light and Shadow – and you choose which one to pursue from the beginning. Well, that is only partly true – you choose from a cast of six potential characters, one of whom represent ‘good’ and therefore take you down the Light path (Seraphim) and another who represents ‘evil’ and forces you on the Shadow path (Inquisitor). With the other four you can choose Light or Shadow, depending on whether you want to heal the land or further the forces of chaos. Either way you’ll engage in a constant stream of killing loads of things interrupted by occasionally talking to folks to get new reasons to kill specific things. You also get to specify your deity, but not much else.
Let me be clear – Sacred 2 won’t be winning any originality contests. It is a straight action-RPG in the grand tradition of Diablo, whose lineage includes games such as Diablo II, the original Sacred, and Titan Quest. Sacred 2 has taken elements from all of those games and improved upon its predecessor in nearly every way. The game is still played from an isometric perspective, but the engine is fully 3D and as such you get much more control over the view. You can zoom in and out, rotate, tilt and so on.
Sacred 2 is a huge game – in terms of content as well as size. The world is open and you can go anywhere — just like in the original — and the size is estimated at 22 square miles. The main quest reportedly contains over a hundred quests, with hundreds of side-quests available to any character, as well as character-specific quests and quests related to the chosen deity. While I did not go through and count them all, the sheer volume of quests listed in my log gave me no reason to debate these numbers. Generally the quests are simple and straight-forward – go there, get this, kill that – but occasionally there are multi-stage quests. The range of types and difficulty of quests is also very satisfying. I can’t over-state that, because in a game that is all about the kill-loot-quest-advance cycle, it is easy to slide into boredom. Fortunately the quests and the NPCs handing them out are varied and keep you engaged.
Character development is also done much as it was in the original, but the interface has been streamlined – but in a good way. Skills are spelled out more completely and the skill tree works very nicely. Weapons are slotted in the same way as the original, which allows you to improve them with items you find along the way. New skills and spells are learned using runes you will find as you adventure, and finding multiples will allow you to gain more levels. Everything is specific to your character – so if you are playing a Seraphim and find a rune for an Inquisitor, you can simply sell it off. This sets a fairly tight box around the way you gain active skills, but given the limitations to how you can advance and learn passive skills it actually works quite well.
As I said, the core elements of the game are very similar to the original – you have a left-click attack and a right-click skill which can also be an attack. As you advance in levels you gain more active slot areas to swap between, making it easier to access different ways to defeat enemies – which will be needed as you progress! You will learn which enemies are resistant to certain types of attacks and learn what works. As you progress your enemies will also advance – but this is done in the ‘right’ way, unlike Oblivion.
Of course, for many fans of the action-RPG genre, the single player mode is like a tutorial, while the multiplayer is what will keep them going for years. The original game is still actively played by many (as is Diablo 2 for that matter!), and Ascaron has delivered an excellent online experience that will keep folks playing for quite a while. There were some initial issues with the lobby system, ping and matchmaking, but the patches seem to have worked most of those out. Featuring up to 16 players, the online mode allows you to gather up with a bunch of people to complete quests – it is not on the scale of MMO’s, but it definitely delivers a fun time for a group of like-minded gamers.
I cannot stress enough just how much fun this game is – so long as you enter with your eyes open. This is not The Witcher – don’t be looking for writing or dialogue or a plot of epic scope. There is plenty of stuff to do, humor throughout, some interesting things to uncover, but mostly it is about taking on a huge amount of quests with nearly unlimited freedom as to how you approach them, and killing all sorts of enemies along the way. It is a blast, and I highly recommend it!
+ Looks great
+ Huge area to explore
+ An absolute blast to play
+ 16-player multiplayer is huge
- Not enough playable characters / customization
- Patching process is extremely frustrating
- Still too much bugginess
Publisher: cdv Software Entertainment USA
Developer: Ascaron Entertainment
Release Date: 11/11/08
ESRB Rating: Mature