June 24, 2009
Video game addiction is a touchy subject in the media, academia, and the gaming community. With a variety of often contradicting opinions out there about its prevalence and severity, we're left to read the news stories of lives ruined by excessive play of games like World of Warcraft, or of kids who run away when their parents take away Call of Duty 4, and wonder what went wrong, and how common some form of addiction may be. Sacred 2, the latest action-RPG from German developer Ascaron, provides such a massive world, and such a staggering amount of content, that for many Xbox 360 gamers this game could become a new addiction. Just remember to eat, shower, sleep, and go outside every once in a while, okay?
Upon loading up the game, players will be tasked with creating a character, choosing from one of the six available classes, which each offer a distinct playing style. Some characters are better at close combat hack-and-slash, while others are better suited to standing back and dropping spells on enemy heads. Players will have the ability to choose the character's alignment (good or evil), and choose a patron god, with each providing a different bonus. Unfortunately, there is little available customization for a character's appearance beyond one or two hairstyles and a few hair color options, which is disappointing considering you could be spending hundreds of hours of time with these characters. Sacred 2 allows players to have up to eight characters at a time on a single account, so it's quite easy to play around with the different classes.
With a character created, it's time to embark on an epic quest for justice or destruction, which is kicked off by an excellent cut scene that is loud, intense, and makes a hell of a good first impression, which the game itself can't quite live up to. The story on offer is so hard to keep track of and remember, it isn't even worth trying. In my initial playthrough, I did nothing BUT the main storyline, and even without other distractions, I couldn't follow what was going on. Sacred 2's main quest does a good job getting players to explore the various areas of the world, and provides for some massive boss fights, but has little else to distinguish it from the rest of the game.
For those willing to forgive a mediocre main quest line, Sacred 2 provides an absolutely staggering amount of content. The world of Ancaria is massive, and saturated with places to go, enemies to kill, and side-quests to undertake. With roughly 500 sidequests on offer, and miscellaneous dungeons to explore just for the fun of it, Sacred 2 provides enough content to keep the game fresh for months, and only the most fanatical completionists will ever see everything the game has to offer. Incredibly high enemy density means combat is frequent and intense, which keeps play moving along at a nice tempo. Quantity over quality seems to be the theme with the sidequests unfortunately, as they all tend to fall into one of a few types, including escort missions, collection quests, or killing X number of monsters.
While the main quest is forgettable and there isn't huge variety in the nature of the sidequests, Sacred 2's brand of humor keeps the world of Ancaria from being a soulless, boring realm. Ascaron wasn't afraid to break the fourth wall and poke fun at themselves, Sacred 2 itself, gaming culture, and pop culture in general. It's always a joy to run into one of the game's graveyards and stop to read the epitaphs, which are frequently hilarious, as are some of the cries of slain enemies. The inclusion of power metal band Blind Guardian into the game could be one of the most bizarre cross-overs ever, but I loved it anyway. Sacred 2 features an in-game concert by the band, plus their appearance in the game as NPCs, which simply has to be seen to be believed. It's these unexpected moments and the general humor that give Ancaria much of its lasting appeal.
If killing hordes of brainless mobs for experience and loot sounds like your idea of a good time, you'll be happy to know that Sacred 2's controls feel very intuitive and easy to use. The game allows users to map up to 12 abilities to the face buttons of their choice. Each of the four face buttons make up the first set, while holding the left or right trigger will bring up other sets of options. Selecting through abilities is a breeze, allowing players to focus on slaying the opposition, and not looking for that fireball spell. The leveling system, however, isn't as easy to figure out. Since the game features little in the way of direct in-game tutorials, it's up to the game's instruction manual and careful reading by players to figure everything out. It represents an initial barrier to full enjoyment of the game, but after messing around for a while and leveling up a few times, players should feel confident in their ability to manage their characters.
Slaughtering enemies with a friend is much more fun than doing so alone, which is why Sacred 2 allows two players to slay together on the same Xbox, or up to four together on Xbox Live. Players have the option of working through the campaign together; while both players get experience equally, only the host gets credit for story progression. Free World mode allows players to explore the world without a campaign, but it doesn't feel as well-tuned as co-op play, as only the person who finishes a kill gets experience, instead of everyone. There's also Free World PvP (player vs. player) which allows friends to duke it out and find out whose hero is stronger. It's a neat feature, though I can't see it as much more than a passing distraction. Although only one player will get credit for story advancement, playing in a campaign seems to be the best online co-op experience available. All online sessions feature drop-in/drop-out play, with players free to come and go, as long as the session host remains.
Sacred 2 is an addictive and long-lasting experience, though players will have to put up with a cornucopia of small technical issues. Let me run you through a few ... Players may teleport into solid objects, and be unable to move until they teleport again. Some quest-related NPCs that players must escort have a habit of running at every enemy they can and getting themselves killed, or continue following players even after their quests have been completed. The mist enemies in the swamp region, which spawn undead soldiers that must be defeated in order to also kill the mist, have occasionally refused to spawn anything. Lacking the ability to pause the game, players must run to a safe area if they need to step away from the game for any amount of time. Roaming around Ancaria is virtually load-free though, except in towns, where the camera likes to pull back every ten paces and the game has to load for a second, which is inexplicable and annoying, and this surely isn't the whole list of issues. While none of the problems are game-breaking, they are quite annoying, and show Sacred 2 could have used some more polishing.
The need for more polish can also been seen in Sacred 2's inferior graphics. I can understand the concept of lower graphical fidelity as a sacrifice for the ability to move around a vast world without load times, but games like GTA 4 or Fallout 3 have clearly shown that the 360 is capable of handling much higher quality graphics without load times. Add in periodic and ugly screen tearing issues, unsightly pop up after teleporting anywhere, and slight frame rate declines during extremely large encounters, and you have yourself genuinely inferior visuals.
It also feels like 90% of the game's budget for music went to Blind Guardian. While the song they wrote for the game is awesome, much more music is needed to spice up the combat and the general gameplay experience. The limited music here grows tiresome in a hurry, so I expect most people to be playing custom soundtracks within the first few hours. Why not play a Blind Guardian album? Something tells me Ascaron wouldn't mind. Some character classes, like the Shadow Warrior, have decent voice acting, but the voice work in general is of pretty poor quality, with the Seraphim and High Elves sounding practically bored.
Sacred 2's achievement list is very well-rounded, though incredibly time consuming. Taking well over 100 hours to complete, Sacred's list asks players to get a character of each class to level 15, which is enough time to get a feel for the play style of each class. Other achievements reward players for exploring and completing side-quests, experimenting with the game's online features, and a few kill related achievements that will come naturally with play. Spicing up the list are a few gems, like reading 100 epitaphs (which are hilarious), or finding the secret halls of Ascaron (the game's developer). Having to complete the main quest multiple times with the same character may be a test of patience for those who don't enjoy the game, but it provides motivation to keep grinding out those levels for fans of the game, and push their characters to the limit. The full 1000 takes true dedication, but all the achievements feel like satisfying accomplishments, making the work worthwhile.
Ultimately, gamers may find they have a love/hate relationship with Sacred 2. The incredible amount of content, vast replayability, addictive class customization, and ability to co-op with up to four friends makes for a fun experience that is worth every penny of the $60 full retail price. It's regrettable that the graphics and audio are so sub-standard, and many minor technical problems can get in the way of enjoying the game. For fans of Diablo-style RPG gaming, Sacred 2 is a must-own, as there's nothing like it on the 360. The rest of the gaming public is advised to rent it first to see if the fun-factor overshadows Sacred 2's faults.
Blind Guardian rocks, but the voice actors sound bored, and the limited amount of in-game music grows tiresome in a hurry.
Low quality visuals, coupled with screen tearing, pop-up, and periodic frame rate dips make Sacred 2 one of the uglier 360 games out there.
Being able to map controls is awesome, and the inventory and character upgrading systems are very user-friendly. A little more direct in-game tutorial would have been nice.
There's a mind-blowing amount of content here, and vast replayability, but all this fun is sullied by multiple minor technical issues that show more polish was needed.
Sacred 2's list is very well rounded, rewarding players for a variety of different objectives, including a few achievements that bank on the game's brand of humor. It is an extremely time-intensive 1000, but all of the points feel like satisfying accomplishments.
Sacred 2 provides an incredible amount of content, and a replay value that will keep fans busy for hundreds of hours. Unfortunately, getting full enjoyment from the game requires looking past multiple minor technical problems, and poor graphics and audio.