Sacred is undoubtedly one of the superior RPGs. Since its appearance last year, it has garnered a wide following, despite the fact that the game was rather buggy in its first incarnations. People stuck with it as the developers fixed everything, simply because it was so good. The characters you play were well thought out, requiring practice and strategy to play them at their best, the music was top notch and atmospheric, the artwork beautifully done. Although there was some criticism of the plot, in that it involved the generic good guys versus evil nutter scenario, it wasn't too much of a downside. In an RPG, players just want to wield the skills of their characters against a variety of challenging adversaries and situations in a good setting. And Sacred won on all points there.
Sacred Underworld is, I imagine, the last expansion before the developers get to work on Sacred 2. You can now play two new characters, the Dwarf and the Daemon, in addition to the existing six of Dark Elf, Wood Elf, Gladiator, Vampiress, Battle Mage and Seraphim. New areas have been opened up in the existing map - and there was lots of room to do that - and new creatures and equipment added.
The total list of new features are:
Two new characters (Dwarf, Daemon)
Two new stories
World expansion of approx. 30 to 40%
Completely new monsters and NPCs
New items and armour sets
Horses can be equipped
Special final opponents
At the end of Sacred, (Plus didn't add any plot, only creatures and areas), Prince Valor bit the dust and it was up to you to slay his killer, the deranged Shaddar. In this sequel campaign, Valor's love, Baroness Vilya, is kidnapped and Valor's ghost implores you to rescue her. The start of the game, when a gigantic demon type creature stomps out and picks up Vilya with one hand like a kitten, so that she dangles from his fist, is quite amusing!
You have two choices to begin playing the new characters. You can either start from scratch, with the original Ancaria campaign, building up your Daemon or Dwarf from nothing, or else go straight into the Underworld campaign, with either imported characters you've built up already, or else a pre-created level 29 Daemon or Dwarf. I imagine that most players will want to get straight into the new areas, as I did, and I must admit there are downsides to that if you want to play one of the new characters. If you use an existing character of your own, you will have built them up selectively through probably more than one foray into the original campaign. You know their strengths and weaknesses and how best to deploy them. The problem with playing with pre-created characters is that you've had no say in how they've developed. They come equipped with magnificent armour, weapons and nearly all their combat skills and arts, so you get none of that excitement of discovering a nice new piece of kit or a powerful new art. Existing players: remember the time in the original game when your character achieved a level where new slots opened up for weapons and arts? That was fun. It's missing in pre-created characters. They can lay into everything that attacks them without getting much damage. I found this a tad boring. I wanted to build up a new character myself, but to do that I had to play the whole original campaign again, or at least most of it. Doing this means that it obviously takes some time (since there are so many hours of game play in Sacred) to get to the new stuff. Of course, I appreciate there are few ways round this. The new campaign is more challenging than the original, so to start from scratch in there would no doubt be unfeasibly difficult. I really think that to get the best out of the new characters, you need to play them through the first campaign and export them, but as some players will no doubt enjoy simply hacking away at monsters with a fairly high level character, that advice simply reflects my personal preference. However, I found it much more interesting to start at the beginning and get to know the characters gradually.
One thing I have noticed in the Ancaria campaign is a lot of new quests have appeared, alongside all the originals, so playing it again won't be exactly the same as before. I haven't got that far into it yet, but it's good to know that some surprises are in store, even though I've played the game with all six existing characters, some of them several times. One word of warning. In one of the early quests, the merchant you have to escort from Silvercreek to the next town used to avoid damage and scurry about on the sidelines of combat while your character and the merchant's henchman laid into the goblin hordes. Now, the silly useless merchant tries to fight as well, so you have to be nimble with the healing potions to keep him alive. As you can imagine, this is difficult while you're trying to fight at the same time. Neither the Dwarf nor the Daemon have healing capabilities for themselves or allies that I've yet come across, so I've had to adapt my usual strategy of blazing into the enemies at this point to one of careful edging forward. I expect that other quests in the game have been similarly tweaked to make them more challenging. There have also been a few minor changes to the interface to improve it.
I'll talk about the new campaign later, but first, one of the things that existing players will really want to know about are some details of the new characters:
The Daemon has some neat skills and abilities. As you can imagine from her title she has various abysmal assistance to help her wreak havoc. Her combat arts don't follow the usual lines of permutations of multi-hit, hard hit and so on. They each allow her to transform in some way, so that she can become, for example, an assault demon, which ups her close combat abilities, a flying demon, who can... no prizes for guessing... fly, a fire demon who converts all damage to fire damage and has greater resistance to fire, and so on. I must admit that so far I haven't tended to make much use of these abilities, apart from flying and assault, since the magic arts are so useful. My favourite is the Tentacles spell, which causes all enemies to explode upon death and creates from the messy remains a black mass of tentacles that damages other enemies in the area. You can imagine that in a big melee situation, such as against hordes of goblins and orcs, who tend to attack en masse, the result is absolute carnage. Blood and bones everywhere! Not much use against lone enemies though. For them, you have Abysmal Choir, some sweet singing voices that create a murky cloud and cause damage for a certain length of time, and Blazing Disk, a fire ball that hangs over the Daemon's head and shoots out flames at assailants. The Daemon also has use of the Dread skill, which is a chilling war cry that diminishes enemies' attack and defence capabilities. And there are more besides. I like the way that the Daemon's arts have been well thought out and aren't too similar to those of the other characters. From what I've gathered so far, she has the option to specialise in a variety of weapons, including sword (with dual wielding), axe and staff.
As a player, I generally opt for the more sexy characters in a game, but have to admit I did enjoy playing the Dwarf in Sacred Underworld. The way he bustles along is endearing! As you'd expect, his ability to inflict physical damage packs quite a punch, and the majority of his combat arts centre around those abilities, but there are also others that set him apart from other combat-oriented characters, such as the Gladiator. I especially liked the Greed art. If you activate this, for a few seconds the Dwarf concentrates on looking for better treasure, thus I suppose enhancing the drops made by slain enemies, but at the expense of his defensive capabilities.
His main weapon does naturally seem to be the axe, but he's capable of using both swords and bows, should you wish to customise his skills in those directions. He can also learned Dwarven Lore and Weapon Lore, which improve his arts recovery, damage done, and so on. Whereas other characters can wear shoulder armour, additionally the dwarf carries a cannon. This isn't a weapon per se, but gives various bonuses and protection. As with all other equipment, you'll find cannons of different levels of usefulness through enemy drops and at merchants. The Dwarf also has combat arts involving weapons with firepower. You will pick up firearms in the game - not modern ones, don't worry, but rather archaic muskets etc that are in keeping with the world of Ancaria. Combat arts allow your character to fire missiles of various types or use a flame-thrower.
Sacred Underworld Campaign
The story takes place in a landscape that while part of the Ancaria map is separate from it. I've played for quite a few hours and there's no indication yet that you'll be able to cross into familiar territory from the new areas. You begin in an underground chamber with Baroness Vilya and one of her mages. Vilya is lamenting the fact her lover, Valor, is dead and clearly still feels unsafe. With good reason. Without warning, a huge demon stomps out of a nearby portal and carries her off. The mage is killed in the process. Your only option is to follow through the portal, which leads to the upper land. At once, Valor's ghost appears and asks you to rescue Vilya. And off you go.
The new landscape is dark and crammed with immense toadstools and twisted trees. Its residents are decidedly gobliny. As with the original campaign, you talk to various NPCs who direct you upon the main quest. As you travel about the countryside and towns, you'll encounter other characters who will offer side quests, so that you can gain experience and perhaps gold. One quest I undertook rewarded me with a skill point, which is new. Sometimes you'll have to protect one or more NPCs to complete a quest, which is difficult unless your own character is fairly high level, because the new area is teeming with hostile creatures, and I mean teeming. All of them are new and in the early areas distinctly insectoid. You'll encounter aggressive lice, a variety of dangerous flies, spiders, flocks of bizarre dragon-like beasts, evil worms and killer centipedes, and lots more. I particularly like the immense mantis-like creatures who run round with their bums in the air! Some will poison you, and will concentrate their efforts on any weaker NPCs you happen to be guarding or escorting. I decided upon playing the new campaign with my level 70 Wood Elf, since I knew that with her I'd be able to rip through a few hours' play and get enough information to write a comprehensive review. I won't go into the storyline, as it would spoil any surprises, but can say you come up against some interesting assailants, in particular demon bosses who challenge even a level 70 character. There's plenty to explore in the landscape, and creatures constantly respawn, so when you're retracing your steps for any reason, there will be a host of new enemies to take out. In fact, this can get rather tedious when you've completed a quest and are returning to get your reward. The creatures are easy enough to kill, but there are a great many of them, which slows down play when you just want to get on to the next bit. This happens also in the Ancaria campaign, but it does seem to me that there are at least twice as many hostiles in Underworld, making quick navigation impossible. Presumably, though, this does mean that if you play with a lower level imported character, it will level up fairly quickly.
Sacred Underworld doesn't offer anything greatly different from its predecessors, although there are some nice new touches and tweaks to polish the game. If you enjoyed the previous offerings, you'll enjoy Underworld too. The only complaint I have is that it's a bit repetitive, and I'm not sure why I feel this. I certainly didn't when I played Sacred Plus, which had fewer new things to offer than this release. There is definitely something which leaves me less satisfied, and I can't quite put my finger on it. Perhaps it's because in comparison to other RPGs that have come out recently, Sacred Underworld feels a little simplistic. When you've become used to a full 3D landscape with total camera control, the linear aspect of Sacred feels restrictive. The environment and the creatures and characters are all beautifully designed, but I suppose the world doesn't feel as real as one in which you are completely engaged, where perspective plays a big part. In Sacred, you have an omniscient view of the world, in that you look down upon it, but you're not right in it, able to turn left, right or fully around. You can zoom in on the action, and that's it. But I wonder if when Sacred II appears the developers will have addressed this. In order to compete in the market place, the game should be on a par with the most popular titles.
Despite these minor gripes, I do think Sacred is one of the best RPGs around, and let's face it, RPG is a genre of hundreds of titles, many of which leave a lot to be desired. Any Sacred fan should acquire this title to complete their collection. It offers a great many hours of game play, especially if you include playing the original campaign to discover all the new quests and to try out the new characters from square one. You can also play Sacred free as multi-player online.