Sacred Citadel released a few days ago, on the 17th April, 2013. A friend and I have been long-time fans of the Sacred franchise and jumped on board for some brawling, sacred style!
A Brief History of Ancaria
For those unfamiliar with the Sacred saga, a brief history is in order. The first game, titled simply Sacred, released in 2004 for the PC, was a hack and slash along the lines of Diablo. Set in the fictional fantasy world of Ancaria, players could slay their way across various landscapes, leveling up and acquiring new gear. Opinions were divided, some claiming it to be a blatant rip-off of Diablo, while other’s thoroughly enjoyed it for the fun gaming experience it offered. I was in the second camp, obviously.
Fast forward to November 2008 and Sacred 2: Fallen Angel is released. I truely loved this game, with it’s engaging gameplay and charming sense of humour (how many RPGs have you played where you are tasked with dealing with a group of werewolves, only to find out that they are in need of some shampoo to stop their flea problem?). Blind Guardian even performed a song (titled Sacred, appropriately enough) for it, in one of the most memorable side quests in any RPG. An expansion pack, Ice & Blood was later released for PC, but sadly never made it to the consoles.
Reviews for Sacred 2 were generally positive, but unfortunately the extended development time pushed the developer Ascaron Entertainment into administration, eventually dissolving in July of 2009. The liscence for Sacred passed to Deep Silver, and Sacred 3 is currently in development.
Acting as a prequel to Sacred 3’s story, we now have Sacred Citadel, a side-scrolling beat ’em up developed by SouthEnd Interactive, with up to three player co-operative action.
The gameplay is solid enough. You acquire gold and experience for defeating enemies and occasional weapon drops for upgrading, reminiscent of Castle Crashers. There are 4 classes to choose from, each with different power attacks and weapon styles. I played as the Seraphim Mage, in homage to my Sacred 2 Seraphim statuette currently staring at me from my shelf. My co-op partner chose the Ranger.
The Seraphim Mage dual weilds melee weapons and fires elemental based attacks with the aid of her scroll. She has a particularly useful combo that can freeze enemies mid-air in stasis, allowing for some crowd control when needed. Many of her attacks are area-effects, allowing you to hit and chain combo multiple enemies at once. Her fully charged power attack is amusing, polymorphing enemies on screen into chickens for a short period.
The Ranger proved a good partner for my area-focused Seraphim, with his basic power attack being a focus-fire attack- firing arrows at a rapid pace, perfect for tackling the tougher enemies and chipping away boss health. His ultimate power attack scatters bombs across the screen hitting for massive damage. He managed to knock off nearly two thirds of an end-of-level boss’s HP with it, which was a satisfying moment.
I mentioned previously that there is a sense of familiarity to Castle Crashers. Certainly the weapon upgrade and potion system is similar, however I have to say the gameplay feels pleasantly reminiscent of Golden Axe, a game I sacrificed many hours of my young life to defeating. This is particularly prominent when the game throws mounts your way- super powerful vehicles and creatures you can ride and decimate your foes with!
You can power your character up with consumable crystals and potions, and there are different armor and weapons you can equip. The latter can come with elemental attributes that can add damage over time, freeze effects and the like. There are several different combos and moves you can aquire as you level up, although thankfully it keeps the list relatively small- the last thing you need in a light-hearted beat ’em up is the ‘dial-a-combo’ syndrome you get in more complex fighting games like Devil May Cry or Soul Calibur.
Overall, the combat works well, you feel powerful and it’s satisfying to toss your enemies around and wail on them while they’re helplessly stunned or lying on the ground. It is also fun watching the result of throwing them into the various traps that appear on the levels.
The visual style of the game is one of it’s major strengths. It’s no Crysis boasting over the top technical wizardry at every turn, but it’s simplified, painterly feel lends itself well to the fantasy asthetic it evokes. There is some nice little details found throughout the levels, it’s well worth keeping an eye peeled for the flavour animations that show up along the way; from the poor soul being tickle-tortured in the background, to the orcish-looking Grimmoc’s bathing in a rather unpleasant looking puddle.
Animations are smooth and I particularly like the crisp, clean feel of the level design and particle and hit effects.
The game includes a pointer above the character, which I appreciated as I often found myself losing track of my character’s position in other games of the same genre.
The soundtrack is delightfully old-school, evoking memories of final fantasy boss battles and castlevania blip-bloopery. It’s also the only game I can think of that manages to make Dubstep’s wub-wub noise mix well with the fantasy setting.
The in-game sounds are fine, nothing astounding sticks out. There’s a nice variety of grunts and thwacks to accompany the beating to death of the many, many enemies. The voice acting on the big-bad antagonists are nicely over the top and tongue-in-cheek.
The story is fairly straight-forward. Some big evil brute is created to destroy the Seraphim’s Keep, he needs two magical MacGuffins to do so and so the Grimmoc Mama is sent to retrieve them with her horde of stupid, orcish minions. Our heroes, relaxing in the local tavern after their latest adventure, get caught up in the Grimmoc attack. Apparently they don’t take kindly to having their drinks interrupted by burning and pillaging and cheesy one-liners and so chase the retreating Mama for revenge! Probably. The story matters little, serving mostly to propel us into the action of beating to death of many orcs.
While nothing ground-breaking, Sacred Citadel offers a light-hearted romp through some interesting levels, and the opportunity to beat up many unique looking monsters. If you’re a fan of retro beat ’em ups like Golden Axe, or you want some more Castle Crashers style action, it’s definately worth checking out. The charming visual style and retro-esque music lend themselves well to creating a modern take on a well explored genre.
The game’s story isn’t particularly long, but with optional challenges and four different classes to try, there is some decent replay value to be had. Definately worth it to pick up with a friend or two and have a bash over a weekend.