It's been just over five years since we last took a trip to Ancaria, with Sacred 2: Fallen Angel
, to try and break up the power struggle between the races over the power of the T-Energy. Finally, Sacred 3
takes us back to Ancaria. This time, you don't have a choice between light and shadow; you are the goodie and that's that, but there's another artifact that needs saving and you're the one to do it. Deep Silver promised us "a game built around the central concept of co-op gameplay...expanding the series to new audiences", but have they delivered on these promises?
The Heart of Ancaria, the most sacred and powerful of all the artifacts (and one which is as big as Marak's head apparently), is under threat of attack from Emperor Zane, leader of the Ashen empire. He aims to take over Ancaria on his way to the Heart, covering the world in his evil, and if he succeeds in doing so, any resistance against him will be useless. Cue a group of heroes from different races, bound together by their shared hatred of Zane, accompanied by a telepathic guide, and you've got your game.
You have a choice of four heroes (five if you pre-ordered the game and received the "First Edition" DLC which includes Kython the Malakhim as a playable character) with which to take your journey: Claire the Seraphim, Marak the Safiri, Alithea the Ancarian and Vajra the Khukuri. Each character comes with their own unique weapon style and magic arts. New weapons are no longer dropped, but are unlocked as you progress through the mission levels. These, along with skills, arts and armour, can be upgraded and improved with gold which is collected or earned through the story.
You are eased into the game with a tutorial-like first mission, which makes it easy for anyone having never played a Sacred game
or similar games of this style. Apart from the simple attack, roll, grab and bash, there are combat arts assigned to either bumper button, with RT being saved for the battle prayer and co-op abilities. The controls are very easy to grasp, and it does feel like most levels can be completed with a mixture of button bashing your normal attack and your arts. Combat flows very well and and it's easy to shift from move to move, especially on the lower difficulties. Each character has three or four different arts that can be assigned to each bumper. These arts can then be upgraded to last longer/do more damage and so on. Some arts may be suited to you better than others, and while one may do more damage, another may last longer, and another may have a wider range, so it is up to you to use the one that works best for your style.
The open world style of Sacred 2: Fallen Angel
is gone, and instead we are left with a linear mission to mission map with the recognised top down view. Level design varies from arena style wave levels, to "kill all enemies" levels with a big chest reward at the end. Each mission has a recommended experience level that you should strive for before attempting it, and for the most part you will be at this appropriate level if you play every mission and side mission as you go along. The game can't be properly paused, as it is continually online even if you are on solo, but contrary to previous rumours, if you play solo you are on your own; there are no AI characters following you around. In terms of solo play, this is a major plus as you can explore the levels at your own free will. The levels, while fairly straightforward, have hidden chests and mini bosses that reward extra gold and points, so it is worthwhile to explore every corner of a mission location.
The grimmoc enemies of the game vary greatly in size and ability, with the little ones being killed in one hit. Some of the bigger ones may need to be bashed first to lower a shield, or could be grabbed and thrown at other enemies. The environment can get in the way, but enemies still show up with a reddish glow when behind a pillar, which allows for the inclusion of extravagant locations without them interfering with the fighting. There's health and power boxes a plenty to refill your health and arts power (which can also be used for power moves on bosses, and unlocking certain doors) and even a prompt when you're about to die to allow for the use of a health potion, which is handy if you aren't paying attention to your life bar. These quick use items also have unlocks (extra capacity, etc) that are received similarly to the weapons as you proceed through the levels. Failure and death result in a 20% gold loss from any collected on that mission, and a warp back to your last checkpoint passed, which most of the time isn't too much of a setback.
After defeating some enemies, you will unlock a "Soul Shard". These soul shards are weapon spirit characters, which will enhance your power moves and also have both good and bad abilities to bring to your character. For example, the elf spirit will grant your other party members an extra 10% health every time they pick up a health orb, but every time you pick one up you get 10% less, which is handy for your teammates but a disadvantage for you, so it is a case of figuring out which of the spirit's benefits outweigh its negatives. The spirits themselves each have a unique personality which injects some humour into the title. Whether it's the possessed human demanding, "You may keep me if you keep me beautiful," or the battlemage shouting, "Threesome!" during a power move.
The game is broken up by drawing-based cutscenes, which are basically still pictures with audio playing over the top. These cutscenes have a unique drawing style that the game sticks with, and the comedy aspect is clear and emphasised throughout. This is a group of people that don't take themselves too seriously whilst trying to save the world, and I think the game is better for it. If you feel the combat starting to get a bit repetitive, or the level starts to get a bit dry, you know your guide Aria, your own character, or the boss of the level, will pipe up with something funny to say. The comedy may be what keeps you playing through this game, when you feel the rest of it is not delivering like it was when you first started.
Obviously, it's impossible to talk about a co-op based game without talking about the online and cooperative experiences. You have two choices when it comes to co-op, with both offline and online available. Offline co-op can be done via couch co-op with one other person, annoying if you don't have gaming friends or family. Online co-op can be played with up to three other people and is a simple drop-in experience where you can join someone at the beginning, middle or end of their mission. This works really well rather than waiting to get a group together and starting a new mission. You can also pick your online co-op partners by the difficulty they are playing. Both offline and online work similarly and equally well, with characters able to work together to beat bosses and use the battle prayer and revive abilities to help teammates in trouble. This is definitely a game that is made for co-op and is definitely more fun to play with three other people hacking and slashing their way through the groups of enemies with you, but the single player still holds its own if you're short on friends.
The achievements for various difficulties, getting a character to level 50 and unlocking each character's respective abilities will keep you playing for many hours, but there is nothing in the achievement list that should scare off completionists. The achievements fit well with the game, encouraging you to explore all levels, try all difficulties and use all characters, whilst playing both online and offline co-op. Unfortunately, the "Underworld Story" DLC achievements were not unlocking for me, but this may be something that sorts itself out on release. Sacred 3
will always be compared to its predecessor; that fact can't be avoided. The open world and looting system from Sacred 2: Fallen Angel
has gone, but Sacred 3
stands as a very good game in its own right. The humour of the story and the characters, the variety of abilities and the simplicity of the combat all make it an easy and enjoyable game to get into. There are bugs that need ironing out, which will hopefully come in time, but Sacred 3
is a game that fans of the genre, both new and old, will enjoy.
The reviewer spent approximately eleven hours hacking and slashing their way through Ancaria on their mission to save the Heart and defeat Zane, unlocking 20 of the 37 achievements available but 0 of the 4 DLC achievements. A copy of the game was provided courtesy of the publisher.