Sacred 3 PC Review

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It has been almost six years since I reviewed Sacred 2: Fallen Angel back in 2008 on the PC. This was a time when Diablo III was still in development, and while the series never had a chance against the dominating Diablo games, taking the Deep Silver published title on its own, it was a rather solid action RPG that back then had good graphics, addictive loot gameplay and put a smile on your face with its stupid, goofy, if appalling, story. After taking a stint in the 2D side scrolling brawler genre, Deep Silver has let a new developer take over the reins of the Sacred franchise, Keen Games, a studio that probably isn’t all that well known to most, but I am sure they are about to make a mark for all the wrong reasons with Sacred 3, because Keen Games has made big changes to the formula – this isn’t what you expect from a mainline entry in the Sacred franchise.

A quick glance at screenshots of Sacred 3 would lead you to think this is the same good old isometric view Sacred, only looking prettier than the last incarnation. Well, if you’re a huge fan of this genre, especially if you enjoyed Sacred 2, then prepare to be hugely disappointed, because Sacred 3 is no longer the loot-focused, action RPG that you were most likely thinking (or hoping) it was going to be. Instead, Sacred 3 has been stripped of complexity and streamlined into a more action experience, coming across like a mixture of a hack and slash combined with a scrolling beat-em-up. There is no world map or open world – levels are just picked from coloured destinations on a map. Why this was done is anyone’s guess. Maybe the developers wanted more people to get into the series by making it stray from its PC roots and become friendlier for console gamers. Whatever the reason, the point is that this isn’t what fans were expecting. But stop right there, because even though it’s no longer a Diablo clone, Sacred 3 still remains rather fun to play if you look at it on its own terms.Sacred301

The story in Sacred 3 is one that’s so throwaway that I feel even the dialogue is making fun of itself. It features a group of heroes who have come together to stop the evil Lord Zane, the ruler of the Ashen Empire. He’s a nasty piece of work, as he has allied himself with all sorts of demonic (and somehow cheesy stereotypical) beings and bosses, as he seeks to take the Heart of Ancaria and become the ruler of the land. As one of four heroes (five if you buy the DLC character), it’s your job to make your way through the game’s action packed levels and put a stop to Lord Zane’s domination attempts. Even though there is a lot of voice acting included, along with some nicely drawn cutscenes, the story is just thoughtless nonsense that goes in one ear and comes out of the other. This is nothing more than noise and banter to make you go through various themed stages across the land of Ancaria.

On the topic of story and voice acting – it’s all rather bizarre and so farfetched in its delivery. I don’t think I have played a game in such a long time which has a script that is so random and pointless to the point where you wonder if the writer was serious about making this the plot, or was just doing it for some cheap laughs and hoping all the people playing would follow along with this wacky dialogue. The Sacred games have always included a sense of silliness to them, but nothing that comes close the crazy amount of puns, strange speeches and jokes the characters love to say in Sacred 3.

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Aria, a non-player character who acts as a mission leader, seems to always pop up every couple of minutes to “progress” the plot or comment on what just happened after certain scripted scenarios finish with a bad joke or two. Occasionally, you’ll have a chuckle, but more often than not you’ll be shaking your head at the stupid humour. It doesn’t help that weapon spirits, special characters that you equip to gain a buff in one stat in exchange for a weakened stat (more damage, less health for example) like to comment on the battle. The first weapon spirit you unlock is a character, dubbed Battle Mage, which loves to speak with a focus on turning everything into a sexual innuendo. Which I’m okay with for the first few times, but it becomes so dry and monotonous when it’s repeated every three minutes.

Each of the game’s four characters transition into what would normally be a class in an RPG, but here there is zero customisation – pick a character and off you go. The selection involves a Seraphim, a spiritual winged female who attacks with sword and uses divine powers, a Safiri, who is a big hulking black dude wielding a hammer, An Ancarian, who is a spear wielding redhead,  and lastly the Khukuri, an male archer who comes from the cold northern snowy peaks. While these characters might look vastly different and hold different weapons, due to the simplicity of the combat, you often find yourself doing a lot of the same thing with the three melee characters, and even though the archer can stand further back to attack, it doesn’t require any skill to fire the bow, as his arrows lock on, making him a button masher, just like the rest of the cast.

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The shallow combat means that your main attack is locked to one button, a simple few presses will string together a combo, which remains mostly identical throughout the whole game. Another button is used for charging up a weapon blast, which allows you to break through opponents who are defending with shields before you follow up with the basic combo. A dodge button activates a roll, which can be changed to a blocking move once unlocked, but the issue is that everyone plays like this, so you’re not really gaining a difference in gameplay if you pick another character. It’s not like, for example, Dynasty Warriors, where you can change the combo strings and every character feels different, thanks to their unique weapons and combos. In Sacred 3, all it feels you are doing is hacking and rolling. However, each character does have a special selection of skills (two equipped at once from a small variety), and this is what is used to add some diversity between the cast.

Loot is something that no longer exists in Sacred 3. Instead, either gold or one of the various potions that replenishes either health or magic will drop. Gold is used to buy items, such as health potions, healing totems or protection auras from the shop, but the shiny yellow coins are also used to unlock skills or buy a skill upgrade once unlocked past the required level.  The skill choice is very small (8), fitting with the nature of simplicity, and you eventually gain a choice of three weapons to use that are unlocked during the progress of the story. These can also have their stats increased through spending gold, but again, to do so you must meet that required level.

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Everything is behind a level wall, including armour, which isn’t changeable – it changes slightly when it levels up during the progression of the story, but the skills that come with the armour remain the same. The last skills and buffs require characters to hit levels in the mid-30s to unlock. It’s a shame that the design of the game was created like this, because this way of unlocking is restrictive, sometimes you unlock the ability to buy buffs for weapons or skills you don’t even use, which can be rather annoying.

Level design suffers from being formulaic, straight-forward and using the same tricks repeatedly. There is no freedom to explore, as you are sent down linear paths that may occasional have a fork split to a chest, then back on the linear path it is to continue on towards the end of the level. You can always count on each mission having a blocked path that requires the death of the enemies to open, some sort of falling hazard you have to dodge, traps that need shutting down with the charge attack and finally plenty of repetitive enemies that mostly require zero skill to beat. It’s really only the bosses that ask that you keep an eye on them and dodge their attacks, retaliating with a few spells and quick combos to rain in the damage. The level design could do with spicing up, because the locations themselves are great, with plenty of variety in the themes. It’s just that any of these levels could be skinned with these various themes and you wouldn’t know the difference, they follow the structure across each other to a T, which causes repetition to settle in. I needed a few rests during my completion of this eight hour game.

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Despite all that is stripped away in Sacred 3, the game remains mindless fun, especially if you have a friend, or two, or three (online or locally), to play with. Sure, you can play it on your own, but a part of me believes that this game was made with coop in mind, simply for the fact that there are skills purposely designed to buff team members. Plus, anyone can pick this up and play, due to the lack of depth in the gameplay. The normal difficulty isn’t that challenging either, with my first death coming two thirds into the game, and even then, the only punishment is a return to a checkpoint with a deduction of 20% gold. Simply put, if you can dodge, you can easily beat this game, so I would recommend starting on hard, then moving on to the unlockable deity difficulty on any repeated plays. To be honest, after one playthrough I felt I had my share of Sacred 3, and I think a lot of people will feel the same way, since nothing changes on the second time through.

If there is one thing that Sacred 3 does right, it’s the graphics. This is a great looking isometric game, with some fantastic lighting and detailed texture work. Running on PC means the game is sharp and has amazing image quality, with no jaggies in sight. I never had any performance issues on max settings with my 6990 graphics card at 1080p, and throughout my time with the game it never crashed or caused an issue during gameplay. However, there is clearly something wrong with the game on initial load up, as any graphical settings you pick seem to reset the next time the game starts, and sometimes the game would simply crash to desktop after loading the splash screens. This was solved by deleting a config file and starting the game again. How this issue passed through QA is another story, but once you’re in the game things go smoothly.

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Sacred 3, as you can establish from this review, is a game that has moved away from its predecessor’s roots to become more of a brawler with light RPG elements. This will upset fans of the franchise, but for people who have no relation to the series and are looking for a game they can settle down with for some quick dirty action, then Sacred 3 is a mildly fun, good looking game that is enjoyable in small bursts for anyone who likes straightforward beat-em-ups. A word of advice, you might want to wait for a sale to hit before jumping in, as Sacred 3 is a fairly standard brawler that’s not worth the £39.99 it’s asking for.

6/10

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Version tested: PC

Also available on: PS3, Xbox 360

Developer: Keen Games

Publisher: Deep Silver

Genre: Hack and Slash