It's good to see that Ascaron appreciate their customers and reward loyalty. Sacred Plus, an extension to the original Sacred game (not quite an add-on), is available for download free from the Sacred web site - if you already own the original that is. (Sacred Site) If you don't, and want to try this great game, then you can now buy both original and Plus as one package.

Sacred, set in the world of Ancaria, was an addictive action-based RPG that got my friends excited when it came out earlier this year. It looked great, and was full of things to do. I was hooked almost immediately on it. As the original has already been reviewed on this site, if you're new to the game, please read that review first. (Wolf's Sacred Review). I don't want to have to repeat everything for experienced players. After all, they just want to know what's new. In writing this, I'll assume all readers have already played Sacred.

Sacred Plus is a customer pleaser, designed to satisfy all those impatiently awaiting the proper add-on, Sacred Underworld, which is due out next year. What we have here in Plus is another tweaked version of the original, with the added bonus of new features and, best of all, two new areas to explore on the already huge game map.

Sacred was rather buggy when it first came out, which led to the developers rapidly producing a few patches to fix everything. These were of varying levels of success, and even after the last patch, a few of the subquests were still broken, and players reported various other nuisances. Happily, it appears that Plus has sorted all these issues out. I've play tested it to about halfway through the game before writing this, and so far haven't had any problems. It isn't radically different from the original, but there are some nice new touches.

Ascaron claim that Plus incorporates all (yes, all!) feedback from the player community - which has been pretty vocal since the initial release of Sacred. Plus also includes improvements in the multi-player mode.

The listed new features are:

• Two new regions

• Two extensive main quests

• Five new adversaries

• One new enemy boss

• Six new armor sets

• Fifteen new types of weapons

• Includes all previous updates to date

New Weapons and Weapon Sets

I began playing with a Dark Elf character imported from the original game, and to be honest I didn't find anything for him that was worth keeping, since he's quite high level and pretty well kitted out to begin with. So, I went back to the beginning and started again with a fledgling character, in this case the Gladiator, who I haven't played with much before. He's increased his levels fairly quickly and has found and bought some good pieces of equipment which have beefed him up nicely. Defeated enemies drop combat skills and spells regularly, which means you can trade frequently for skills relevant to your own character.

New Regions and Quests

Both of these are found well into the game, but I won't say exactly where, as it's more fun to hunt around and find them. I was still playing with my Dark Elf when I discovered the first, which was fortunate because the creatures encountered are hard little beasties, and would make mincemeat of my Gladiator at this stage. Even the level 70 DE had problems taking out the big guys. Basically you run across new quests, separate to the main story line. They are in parts of the map that was previously dense forest, or some other impenetrable area, so the map itself hasn't changed; some areas have simply been cleared out and filled with monsters and quests. There would have been room to create quite a few more new areas really, because a lot of the existing map is fairly 'empty', i.e. open land, with monsters roaming about to kill, but not much in the way of encounters with NPCs, villages to visit or quests to undertake. Still, two new places are better than none.

I've not yet reached the second new region, but the first one involves Ice Elves, who are similar to the Dark Elves, but somewhat harder. Some of them wield glowing whips, and their leaders can dole out astonishing amounts of damage to your character. You'll encounter twin Ice Dragons in this area, which are really hard to take out.

Screenshots I've seen of the second new region show creatures such as Medusas. I presume these will be as tough as the Ice Elves. Can't wait to get to them.

One of the things I liked most about Sacred was that although it's an RPG with a strong story line, the plot moves along niftily and you don't have to spend a lot of time reading or listening to dialogue between characters. The problem with 'chat heavy' RPGs is that the charm of getting this information wears off very quickly on repeated playing of the game. I know the story, yeah, yeah, get on with it! Sacred achieves that neat balance of providing enough story to keep it interesting, making it more than just hack and slash, without it becoming tedious once you've finished the game on Bronze, the easiest level, and want to do it again, either at a harder level or with a different type of character. The six categories of characters all play very differently, so you have to develop strategies during the Bronze level that you can then wield with more effectiveness on Silver level or higher.

I thought the weakest character in the original was the Vampiress, which was a shame, because she's got some cool attributes. The problem is that she can only be a vampire in the dark, so she's half as strong during the day or on the surface of the world, and isn't as much fun to play in her human form. I thought that maybe Ascaron would address this, since I noticed that other players had complained about it in the Sacred Forum, and thought her daylight form should be more effective as a fighter. However, it doesn't appear this character has been changed significantly. I've yet to play her myself in Plus, but reports from other players indicate she's still the same. Bizarrely enough, one of the toughest characters was the ultra feminine Wood Elf. If you concentrated on her archery skills, she could stand beyond reach taking out the strongest of dragons with nary a scratch! Some players complained that she was too tough and effective, but in order for her to get that good, you had to play her in the right way. So I saw her effectiveness as a just reward for building her up selectively. But strengths and weaknesses of the existing character types aside, if you want to play new characters, you'll have to wait for Sacred Underworld to come out, as that will include two new categories - the Dwarf and the Succubus.

One cool addition in Plus is that at night everyone in the villages and towns now carries flaming torches. I've also noticed some random 'special effects' in the landscape, such as eerie lights floating around. From screen shots and threads in the Sacred Forum, I gather your character can also acquire 'flaming footprints' in some way. I've yet to come across that feature. The game seems to run more smoothly, except for one thing: my Dark Elf has a well developed riding skill, and has acquired a very fast horse. When he's riding it, the game becomes very jerky. That's no doubt down to the capabilities of my computer rather than any fault with the game.

Thinking about it, it's only fair that this extension to Sacred is free for existing players, since there isn't really enough of a difference to the original to warrant shelling out to buy it. If you already love Sacred, you'll simply want this to expand your playing experience. For newcomers it's a slightly bigger version than the original, but plays in exactly the same way. I'll give it a high mark, because Sacred is a great game, and really Plus should simply be seen as a re-release. But we'll have to wait for Sacred Underworld to have some significantly different stuff to get our teeth into!