Sacred 2: Fallen Angel PC

You’ve probably already noticed this, but man, it’s so easy to make a rubbish RPG these days. It’s one of the oldest genres going, helped in no small amount by the fact that it has its roots in good old pen-and-paper role playing, and as a result of that there’s a lot of traditions in the genre that people assume they can blindly stick to and come up with something half-decent. Sadly, this isn’t really the case, and in a genre that should see more refinement than any other, we just seem to get endless waves of generic crap. Still, we do get the occasional title that dares to shake things up a little, and Sacred 2: Fallen Angel, currently in development for the PC and Xbox 360, is looking like it’s got enough of its own ideas to sit in that category rather happily. Luckly, the nice chaps at Ascaron invited us over to have a quick go on it and see what we thought.

Put simply, it’s shaping up to be the lovechild of Diablo II and Oblivion. While it’s still clearly in the pre-alpha stages (it’s not due out for a while yet, so they’ve got plenty of time to get it finished), it’s pretty clear where the game is headed. It takes Diablo II’s perspective and playing style, and combines it with Oblivion’s knack of encouraging exploration – not just progressing along a set path or between a few select locations, but being given an entire world to roam around as you see fit. And in order to further encourage this, the developers are taking care to make sure the world is full of places you’ll actually want to visit – not necessarily because the game demands it for whatever reason, but purely because the places look nice. In this way, exploration becomes its own reward – and the harder it is to reach a certain place, the more satisfied you’ll feel when you get there, knowing that only handful of people might ever see it. Unless you invite your friends to come and check it out, of course – and this is where things get a little more interesting.

Sacred 2 is being coded as a multiplayer game from the ground up. You can still play on your own, of course – but you can, at any point, invite your online friends into the game, whether it’s just to show them an interesting location you’ve found, or to get help with a part of the game you’re stuck on, or whatever. And once they’re done, they’re instantly taken back to wherever they were in the game before they joined you. It’s this laid-back approach to co-operative multiplayer that sets it apart from a lot of its peers, and we’re looking forward to seeing how it turns out.

Of course, there’s also player-versus-player combat – and it was this part of the game that we were allowed to try out for ourselves. Instead of being instantly thrown into an arena to kill your best friends as many times as possible, the game is split into two segments. First up, you get five minutes of co-operative play, where you and the other players have to lay into a horde of monsters. Thing is, the goal is to try and kill more enemies than your peers, and thus pick up more items – so while it’s co-operative, it’s also competitive. And you certainly don’t get any time to rest, nor do you need any – all the equipment you pick up is automatically used or discarded depending on how good it is (so if you’re wielding a pen-knife and come across a giant war hammer, you’ll ditch the knife and start using the hammer), so you don’t need to mess around with inventory screens, or wonder which weapon you should use. Then, when the five minutes are up, you’re taken into the arena with all the items and equipment you managed to gather, and you get to use them against the other players. This structure, while perhaps cutting out the more strategic elements of the game, does make things pretty frantic, and a more than fair amount of fun.

Concerns? Yeah, we had a couple. Mainly the fact that the developers seem to be adamant that the main format for Sacred 2 is the PC, rather than the 360. It seemed to us that the fast-paced, action-orientated nature of the game lent itself more readily to joypad controls, rather than endless mouse-clicking, and it goes without saying that the Xbox Live architecture would be perfect for the game’s approach to multiplayer gaming.

Still, while it’s obviously too soon to say how the finished game is going to turn out, if the developers can fully realise their ambitions then we should have a real winner on our hands.

Oh, and there’s a quest where you have to help Blind Guardian – as in, the actual band – find their instruments, that have been stolen by Orcs. So the entire game is pretty much above criticism, really.

Sacred 2: Fallen Angel is currently slated for release in the first quarter of 2008, on PC and Xbox 360.