Roleplaying games are really a dime a dozen with a thousand different stories and a hundred different worlds, there are many similarities that exist across this genre however as games such as Baldur's Gate and it's sequels prove - set in the 'big game' RPG worlds such as the Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk (Oerth).
I've seen a lot of RPGs in my time; I work in the Pen and Paper industry and have a number of sourcebooks to my name in the PDF field. Without sounding overly beardy I could say I'm somewhat of an expert on the subject (If that's anything to be proud of - you can stop sneering at the back.)
You might remember I put myself in for a lot of stick over the game: Divine Divinity on this very site, it goes down on record as having the most number of comments ever that stretched into the hundreds by the time it was finished - I seem to be a champion of the underdog of the RPG world and I am more than willing to pick up the sword in respect to this game which knocks spots off the competition.
I'm always interested to see what the non-generic fantasy world games throw into the mix; this brings me to the subject of my review. A mixed bag of M&M's known as Sacred.
The story in Sacred is pretty generic fantasy stuff, cue the evil wizard who summons a demon, fails to make sure that his binding is secure and releases said evil upon the world.
There's backstabbing, murder, death and enough mighty 'muscled' Barbarian action to make the ghost of Robert.E.Howard salivate.
The meat and bones of any good RPG are the variety of characters you can play and their uniqueness in the world. In Ancaria's (The world of Sacred) case there are six playable characters that come from diverse backgrounds and each one has a particular starting story.
Players can choose from:
Gladiator: Surely nothing to crow about (excuse the pun there folks) but this is your 'tank' class in the game, this guy hits harder than a fistful of freight trains and can take more punishment than a whole room full of people into BDSM.
Seraphim: Heavenly magic using types that claim to be the direct descendants of a mystical army of angels. They supposedly fought the good fight on the side of the Gods a long time ago and kicked much evil ass. They're not as physical as the Gladiator so it's wise to make sure you use magic first then switch to close in fighting.
Wood Elf: A tip of the hat and a big nod to Mr. Tolkien, without whom we wouldn't have so many elves, dwarves and wizards with big hats and staves. These creatures of the forest have pointed ears, like to use Moon Magic and bows in combat. Keep at range if you can and make sure you use the special skills and abilities of this class.
Dark Elf: These are just evil elves; they don't have black skin or white hair like the typical Dark Elves (Drow) of the generic fantasy worlds. Nor do these guys worship spiders. There are some similarities however, the dark elf priestesses are the ones that use magic and the males are Battle Drones that can use unarmed combat and poisoned blade weapons.
Battle Mage: Powerful magic users that have a nasty line in offensive and defensive spells, not too bad in close quarters combat but they tend to prefer to lock their foes in with the 'Circle of Fear' spell and then pummel them with more magic. Very useful to have in a tight spot as the same spell can impede the path of monsters as well as seal them in.
Vampiress: Take one spoilt noble aristocratic knight and add the bite of a dangerous vampire to the mix. The result is this particular lady found herself cursed with the usual blood drinking and murderous intent that goes with the generic vampire package (See most movies). She however bit one of the Seraphim and the blood infused her with power, gave her back her soul and helped put her back on the right path.
So there you have it, the six classes (with various races) that are part of the world of Sacred.
Pick a class, a name and you're all set - badda-boom-badda-bing!
Get used to the mouse if you're not used to it already, the mouse is your friend. Even better if you have one with a mouse-wheel as Sacred employs a zoom function that allows you to get a better look at your surroundings.
Left click often interacts with the world in some way, attacking a monster, opening a door or chest. Right click is used for certain special abilities and powers such as the Vampiress' ability to turn into a proper 'Vampire' for a limited amount of time.
Most of the time you're on your own in this vast world ripe with quests and sub-quests, sometimes you have a companion who'll tag along for the ride and you can give them various weapons and items - when they leave your little adventure they'll gratefully drop anything you gave them and leave it for you.
Movement is done via the left button as well, click on a place on the ground and you'll walk over to it. It doesn't get simpler than this.
As with most RPGs solving quests and killing enemies will net you experience points (XP), once you have enough of these you'll gain a level where you can spend some more points to up skills and abilities. Again, pretty standard fare for the genre. People with question marks above their heads are ripe for information or ready to give you a quest.
There are various traders in Sacred that will give you better items in exchange for the good old 'gold pieces'. There are numerous kinds of items of all shapes and sizes and as you progress through the game there are even better magical ones to be found.
The blacksmith can improve your weapons (If you have the right ones) by putting gems and other such attachments onto them, you'll pay for the service and have an even better (if not magic) sword, axe or bow for your character.
The game also allows you to press the A key to automatically gather everything within range after a particularly gruelling battle. The type of things you can gather can be set in the options menu, along with the level of animation for the gathering (If you just like to kill things and pick them up without the game showing your character bending down you can).
You can even buy a horse (yep you can fight from the back of it too) for the longer journeys you'll have to undertake (Ancaria is a large world and there are plenty of secrets). If you lose track of your mount, you can simply click on the icon of a horseshoe to call it back to you.
With Combo Masters to find and various combat arts, skills and other powers to garner the gameplay of Sacred is similar enough to the other games in the genre to be instantly accessible, it's a true joy to play. There are some problems with the combat system, left clicking on a target can be a bit tricky - but once you get used to it, it does become second nature to zoom in so you can get a better view of the battle.
The TAB key brings up a small map of the area you're in which is very useful for finding your way around, you can change the transparency of this in the options to suit your tastes. The GUI itself is non-cluttered and leaves a good portion of the play window open for all the lovely graphics and action. You can switch weapons and abilities pretty quickly and the gameplay isn't spoilt with a complex set of icons.
The quest compass points you to the right location with a giant arrow, this always points to your main quest, as you gather new sub-quests there are smaller blue arrows that appear to indicate the location of these side stories. These are simple but usually a good source of XP and can lead to some interesting places in the game.
Sacred is a mixture of 2d landscape graphics and buildings, mixed with 3d monster and character models. The synthesis of these two particular elements works really well and doesn't require an 'Uber' card to run the game, or an 'Uber' PC for that matter.
As mentioned before you can zoom right up close to the main character and this can cause a few jaggies in the game's 2d graphics, but when a game is this fun to play - you don't care about having the best graphics in the world. Or I don't.
The game also features day/night/weather cycles and the transition between them all is subtle and effective.
Weapons, armour and other equipment appear on the character model and the design of the various items and characters is eye pleasing and well done.
Overall Sacred looks nice and the graphics are atmospheric. The whole play area moves around in a highly seamless fashion and gives the impression that it's actually like the map that comes with the game in the box.
The animations of all the characters in Sacred is very good, there's enough variety in the battle animations and the movement to bring the characters to life. Special animations such as the transformations vary between understated and quite flashy.
I particularly like the fact that the designers have included mount/dismount animations for the horse and the animal looks pretty realistic as you ride it. That gets bonus plus points from me.
The models in Sacred are pretty good, there's nothing that stands out to me as really great but they get the job done. Monsters look well, monstrous and the characters look fairly heroic. There's a nice variety in the designs and another bonus on the score for me is that the game features equipment and weapon models that appear on the character.
There's nothing better than being able to show off that new sword or piece of armour in the game and there's nothing worse than wearing +10 Armour of the Horny Devils and not being able to see it.
I could go into detail about the amount of polys and the exact specifications behind the models et al. But I hate that kind of thing and so; you're stuck with my usual overview.
Graphics are good and I have no complaints, they run smoothly and they run with no slow down on my 1.8 Athlon packed with its 128 MB GF4 card.
Sound, Music and Voice
Good ambient sounds as the world moves around you, night into day and day into night, driven by the incessant chirps and twitters. The clash of steel and the gurgle of the dying - the clip-clop of your horses' hooves, it's all good fantasy faire and topped off with a pretty nice soundtrack, not too intrusive and not too weak.
The voice acting is the typical kind that you'd expect from a game of this genre, it's not going to win any awards in this department but it's not the worst thing I've heard.
Yes! Now this is what I've been waiting for. A good MP game that you can play with 4 people co-operatively across the whole game's story, or 2-16 people in a monster-infested hack and slash mode. You can even play Player Vs Player if that's what floats your boat.
Sacred supports online and LAN connectivity and the accompanying manual details the multiplayer aspect of the game, how to set one up and the 3 available modes of play with enough depth to get you started.
In hack and slash the main game story is negated and the whole of Ancaria is open for exploration, you may team up and explore.
In PvP it's the same as hack and slash, but this time you can battle other players or have teams of players competing across Ancaria.
It's not a genre busting game and it's not the best thing since sliced bread, or bread that slices itself. What it is however is a damn good game with a solid slice of gameplay and a good chunk of heroic fantasy - it's got a clichéd story and the feel of it is very generic in places, linear and contrived.
This works in Sacred's favour as you can explore the world, build up your character the way you want to and not have to worry about which rule system the game adheres to. It's a refreshing break from the slew of D&D derived games that are here or on the way and I for one love the game to bits.