Developer: Shiny Entertainment
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium II 300 MHz, 64 MB RAM, 8 MB 3D video card, 650 MB HD space, 4x CD-ROM
Eldred had devoted himself to the study of the arcane in the world that birthed him, becoming a wizard of exceptional power. Experimenting in all manner of mystical arts, recent inquiries into the art of conjuration had ensnared him the Imp Zyzyx. Unfortunately, Eldred's magical exploits resulted in the destruction of his world, and left Eldred in the debt of an otherworldly power with less than the best of intentions. With the guidance of Zyzyx's the imp, Eldred was able to flee the carnage and transport himself to a new home.
Upon arrival, Eldred discovered a world in strife – torn apart by conflict between five warring gods, each with its own realm, worshipers, and styles of magic. Long ago, a portal to demonic realms splintered the land into a loosely packed set of floating islands, and fragmented the land's one divinity into five divine aspects. Persephone is a goddess whose claims to sponsoring peace and mercy are underlain by a vengeful style of justice. Her magic supports archetypes of nature and healing, and her minions are often woodland folk. James is deity of the earth, in favor of a safe and simple life. His magic, as well as the inhabitants of his realm, tend to be thick-skinned, with a penchant for flinging rocks. Stratos is god of the air and is possessed of an intellect only surpassed by his lack of humility. Pyro is god of fire, and not only claims the spheres of destruction and chaos as his own, but sees himself as a harbinger of progress and industry. Charnel is the god of strife, slaughter and death. His followers exhibit varying stages of decay, and he is quick to point out that without his existence as a counterpoint, joy and life would be meaningless.
Initially, Eldred sees the opportunity to tip the delicate balance between the gods in his own favor, but as the conflict progresses, it becomes clear that both old friends and old enemies have followed him. Eldred is not the only party manipulating the divine conflict that rages around him, and someone may be looking to collect on old debts.
Sacrifice may be difficult to categorize or pin neatly into a genre, but without question personifies style. Sacrifice is a real-time strategy (RTS) game that pushes the boundaries of the genre by playing like a three-dimensional action game from a third-person perspective and taking a novel approach to resource management. Like any RTS game, Sacrifice gameplay is the art of gathering resources and managing troops. Unlike games that send weak units to gather tangible goods such as wood, gas, ore or the like from fixed locations, resources in Sacrifice are limited but renewable, and pervade space in the forms of mana and souls. Mana powers wizard spells and the special abilities of troops. It is generated at fixed fountains of raw power and is expended by casting spells or summoning minions. These fountains provide magical energy to everyone unless harnessed for a wizard's selfish use by the construction of a manalith. Mana is regenerated by standing near a manalith or summoning creatures that transmit mana over long distances. Mana rarely seems in short supply, so the limiting resource is really a wizard's access to souls.
Summoning a creature requires a soul, and while the weakest combatants might only require one soul, more powerful creatures require as many as five. Mana is used to incarnate those souls in the form of a creature, and when the creature perishes, its soul or souls will float above the corpse until collected. While it is simple to collect the souls of one's own fallen minions, collecting the souls of an enemy's creatures requires a special and sometimes lengthy incantation. As a result, one can typically only collect additional souls after an overwhelming victory, or through careful skirmishing. As the number of souls on an island is finite, battles tend toward a stalemate until one side gains numerical superiority in souls, at which point the other side is quickly overpowered. Once a wizard takes the lead, victory is quick, and often inevitable. An unscrupulous wizard can sometimes gain an advantage by sacrificing local villagers to free their souls for his own, nefarious purposes.
The pace of the game is very fast, and as such, sophisticated strategy is challenging to execute. Because the player's view of the terrain is closely tied to his or her wizard's location, it is difficult to keep track of any units that are outside the immediate area. A small, radar-like view tracks units and locations outside the wizard's immediate view (provided by Zyzyx the imp, of course), but anyone attempting to execute strategies involving multiple groups in different map locations will spend a great deal of time focusing on a small fraction of the overall play screen. Fortunately, in most scenarios where a wizard's force is large enough the split into two regions, that wizard has enough souls to emerge victorious. The fast pace of the game makes it difficult to target specific creatures (particularly a fast-moving enemy wizard) to give them orders or to cast spells. Against computer opponents in the campaign mode, persistence and a modicum of skill are enough to ensure success. Against a human, all bets are off. Sacrifice offers a multiplayer mode, but you may find more satisfaction competing against equally skilled friends than battling the small group of players that have been honing their skills for over a year since the release of Sacrifice.
The action and strategy embodied in the battle for each and every floating island is entertaining, but it is the depth and quality of detail that make Sacrifice an enjoyable experience. The quality of the story that binds each scenario together is a cut above many RTS games on the market, simultaneously providing a set of motivations that impel Eldred forward in a world filled with vivid personalities and allowing the player to explore a campaign with many paths and varied scenarios. Each of the gods has a personality expressed through clever animations, good dialogue and impressive voice acting that will plea for or demand assistance from the player, and become threatening if the player chooses the path of a competitor. More importantly, choices matter, and result in very different single player campaigns with replay value. Supporting a specific deity not only grants you the ability to summon creatures and cast spells from that god's sphere, but will affect other divinity's opinion of you, opening or closing later branches of the campaign to Eldred. Sacrifice is narrated by Eldred, and even the mundane functions of loading old games are incorporated into the story. Should you load a saved game Eldred intones, "Where was I... Oh... Yes." If a mission was too difficult and must be restarted he explains, "Of course, that's not what really happened... let me start again."
While the graphics may not have appeared cutting edge when the game was released, they are lush and adhere to a unique aesthetic that makes the world of Sacrifice a joy to inhabit and conquer. Landscapes range from the barren earth of James' realm to Pyro's fiery plains, to the icy lands over which Stratos holds sway. All the missions use a rich array of color that keep the landscape visually interesting while remaining on the pleasant side of cartoonish. Although the monsters that serve as the pawns of wizards in these great battles are somewhat blocky, the tremendous attention that went into crafting the physicality and voice of each creature is very satisfying. These bizarre beasts even have logical methods of attack and locomotion that testify to the forethought with which the game was designed. Spell effects, particularly at the higher levels, are creative, attractive, and occasionally lighthearted. Just as this apocalyptic world suffering beneath the conflict of gods seemed too heavy to bear, the Bovine Intervention spell was introduced – a devastating attack that manifests itself as a giant cow, flung high into the air, only to swan dive gracefully to devastating effect, leaving a dead target and a crater in the landscape. The sound is equally well executed – especially for the cow. Every wizard uses a different voice to utter incantations. The music sets the tone of the environment without becoming intrusive. Every aspect of the world of Sacrifice appears to have been given careful consideration.
Sacrifice offers a rich environment with novel, fun RTS gameplay, a story that is as deep as the genre will allow, and a thorough attention to detail that makes for a well-rounded experience. Although Sacrifice contains both a single player campaign and multiplayer capability, at bargain bin prices there is no question the single player campaign alone is a worthwhile investment.