Action RPGs are difficult to get right. At their core, they’re just games about killing tons and tons of enemies and looting the bodies, all the while perfecting that ultimate character build. Most are highly derivative, allowing players to almost mindlessly boot up and dive right in. And while Sacred 2 looks on the surface much like many other action RPGs I’ve come across, the tweaks to the formula set this in a category a little off-center to the rest of the genre. Some players may find this off-putting, especially at first, but after a while Sacred 2 grew on me, and I could see some shine beneath the admittedly tarnished surface.
I never played the original Sacred, so the storyline makes even less sense to me than it would to veterans of the franchise. However, plot is seldom a strong point in these games, so I was able to easily forgive and dive into the game play. Sacred 2 starts out with a choice of character type, this time with a selection of fantasy and techno-fantasy options. Regardless of the trappings, these characters represented the typical mix, from melee to magic and all points in between. Characters also get a few more choices at this point, picking a “Good” or “Evil” path, and picking a patron god. Patron gods grant a special ability throughout the game, while the path choice slightly alters the quests and overall motivation for the characters.
Once the game starts, players can start to see how Sacred 2 differs from the typical action RPG. While basic attacks function just like every other game, the special abilities and spells are a bit different. There is no “mana” or magic power to charge these attacks—everything works on a recharge timer. Finding the optimum recharge rate is probably the most important part of character development throughout the game. Each character has a set of about a dozen Character Arts, special triggered abilities and always-on buffs. These can be spells, special attacks, healing abilities, and the like. These abilities are not learned through level-ups as in other games, but through the reading of various runes dropped as loot. Reading additional copies of the same rune increases the power of a given Combat Art, but it also greatly increases the recharge rate on that power. Buffs, having no recharge rate themselves, instill penalties to other Combat Arts recharges when they’re active, with greater penalties imparted for higher-level buffs.
This leads to some interesting play. Theoretically, players can have each and every power available to their character after an hour or so of play, at very low levels. In most action RPGs, many levels need to be gained in order to unlock that special ability or spell, often requiring special emphasis and careful placement of advancements to achieve these upper-tier abilities. While Sacred 2 players can learn early on which Character Arts best fit their style of play, the “carrot on a stick” is no longer dangling in place, drawing players to reach for that special ability goal. Characters do learn skills during level advancement, some of which help to augment Character Arts, while others grant various bonuses. Characters are limited to 10 skills (from a pool of about 20), so careful decisions must be made about which path to take. Basically, Sacred 2 gives players all their non-equipment toys up front, and the rest of the game is spent tweaking these to perfection.
The rest of Sacred 2 is extremely typical action RPG. Quests are handed out from just about every town and hamlet in the world, and players will find themselves taking time out from saving (or conquering) the world to find a lost teddy bear, gather herbs, and rescue and escort hapless peasants to safety. A rather nice map system is in place, which highlights all open quests as a series of rings on the map, color-coded depending on type of quest. In addition, arrows on the mini-map quickly indicate the active quest for even greater ease. The quests themselves are quite typical for the genre, although there were a great deal more escort missions than I really like. My charges, controlled by a curiously strange AI, often wandered right into danger at every opportunity.
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