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Sacred 3

22:0811/08/2014Posted by Chris Braithwaite3 Comments

Sacred is nothing.

Sacred 3 is (unsurprisingly) the sequel to the entertainingly average Sacred 2, and once again it chucks players into the stock fantasy realm of Ancaria and gives them the chance to save the world.

The plot is … let’s be generous and go with “classic high fantasy”: Evil Emperor X (Zane) has grabbed Powerful Artifact Y (The Heart of Ancaria) and is using it to achieve Evil Goal Z (Destroying The World). You pick one of Heroes A to D (Archer Dude, Sword Lady, Spear Girl, Hammer Man) to thwart him. Assisting in your quest are Powerful Exposition Woman 1 and Snarky Narrator 2.

Sacred 3 appears to be aware of the potential for an unremarkable plot to descend into dullness, so it spends most of its time snarking away at its own plot and characters. Credit where it’s due, this is an approach which is occasionally funny, mainly due to the dim-witted smashy Hammer Man. On the other hand, as the phrase “dim-witted smashy Hammer Man” should indicate, little to no consideration appears to have been given to taking the more difficult but rewarding route of coming up with an interesting plot or characters. That leaves the player to plough through a series of levels with little awareness of reason or consequence. That approach can work, particularly if the gameplay is strong enough to make the player not require stakes or story to want to continue through the game (hell, that’s the essential premise that the whole sports and racing genres are based on).

To be fair to Sacred 3, the gameplay is entertaining enough, albeit in a limited fashion. It’s tight, fast-paced and responsive, with a good range of minor and major Combat Arts (limited-use recharging special moves) and a nice variety of enemy types (including some satisfyingly challenging bosses early on) and a pretty robust cooperative multiplayer approach. The four different characters, while not particularly customisable, are at least different enough to make for some variety in playing styles. Graphically, it’s a nice looking game too, with good variety in the types of levels on offer, as long as you aren’t looking for anything approaching originality, and are happy with well-rendered archetypes like the sunny fishing village, dark, spider-infested forest and military encampment. All in all, if you give Sacred 3 a couple of hours of your time you’ll probably have a good fun experience. But only for a couple of hours.

The main problem with Sacred 3 isn’t that the simplistic plot detracts from the gameplay. The problem is that the simplistic plot is entirely emblematic of every aspect of the game. The plot is fine, but dull, and you’re likely to stop paying attention to it in fairly short order. The characters are unworthy of the word “character”, owing to the fact that they have none. In fact, the game would be no worse off if the levels were offered entirely devoid of any context. The graphics do many simple things prettily, without trying to do anything particularly interesting or complex.

Gameplay is similarly summarised as “fine, but dull”, and it doesn’t take long until you’ve seen everything that’s on offer. Learn to break the blocks of shielded enemies and interrupt attacks of other guys, and congratulation, you have all the skills required to reach each boss. And the bosses offer little challenge once you realise that the tactics that work for the first mini-boss (hit, dodge behind it, hit it harder, run away from the hugely telegraphed area-of-effect attack) will work for pretty much every boss. The characters offer some difference in gameplay styles, but those styles all effectively boil down to “use the one attack button to hit enemies all until they all fall over”.

Really, the main complaint to be levelled at Sacred 3 isn’t that it’s a bad game, or even that’s it’s an average one. The main complaint is that Sacred 3 never appeared to aspire to be anything other than average. With a format that offers opportunities to try something interesting, whether in terms of plot, character or gameplay, Sacred 3 refuses to even entertain the idea. The plot that could have been compiled from the blurb on the back of three fantasy books in the local Waterstones; the characters are less developed than the archetypes which they represent; and the gameplay is barely more advanced than that of the original hack-and-slashers like Gauntlet. It seems fair to question what Sacred is looking to achieve.

It’s generally accepted that in the current console era, the middle-class of game development is incredibly squeezed – if you aren’t one of the behemoths able to afford top class development staff or, maybe more importantly, top class marketing campaigns, you’re better off being an innovative indie game seeking high rewards at relatively low risk. The only way a game from that squeezed middle of developers is able to emerge into either critical and commercial success is by doing something particularly well (like CD Projekt Red’s Witcher series) or something particularly innovative (like Media Molecule’s LittleBigPlanet).

The full extent of Sacred 3’s ambitions seems to be to attempt to scratch out a little bit of cash from the market for mediocre games; a market which no longer seems to exist. And if such a market does exist, there are likely to be dozens of games this year which make attempts to be something great and fall into mediocrity. Those games are far more deserving of your attention. It’s better to try to be something special and fail, rather than to aim to be nothing and achieve that, which is what Sacred 3 has managed.

Sacred 3 was reviewed on PS3 with a copy provided by the publishers.

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