Sacred Review

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Publisher: Encore
Developer: Ascaron

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium III 800 MHz, 256 MB RAM, 16 MB video card, 4x CD-ROM, 2.5 GB HD space, Windows 98 or more recent operating system

Sacred is a fantasy-themed action/RPG (you know what comes next) like Diablo. Not content to be a clone, Sacred tries to put a little more emphasis on the "RPG" than its famous predecessor. You'll have six characters to choose from as you journey out into a world that, according to developer Ascaron, is 70% open to exploration the moment you load up your character. Pick up quests, fight bad guys by the horde, hope for good item drops and purchase a trusty steed as you seek fame and glory. Play solo or choose from a couple of multiplayer modes including a co-operative campaign mode.

Rob de los Reyes

After a certain number of references, oughtn't a game title just be used as the genre title? Oh sure, the industry prefers to refer to games like Diablo as action/RPGs. But I believe the industry forfeited its right to name stuff when it decided that games like EverQuest are to be called MMORPGSUVASAPs. So when your friends ask, "What kind of game is Sacred? Is it a shooter?" You can cock a sneer at the industry and tell your buddy, "No, it's a Diabloer." And it seems fitting when discussing Sacred to think of Diablo as a genre because "Diablo clone" doesn't quite do Sacred justice. Ascaron has taken certain guiding principles that define Diabloers and attempted to inject some fresh ones of its own. Unlike most Diablo clones you've played, whose chief innovation rests on external trappings ("It's Diablo, but it's sci-fi/Chinese/Mary Kate and Ashley."), Ascaron seems to have given some thought to contributing to the development of the genre.

To be sure, we're not talking about anything radical here. This is not the leap from turn-based to real-time strategy. But in place of Diablo's tightly defined play areas and minimal NPC/questing elements, Sacred attempts to keep the action intense in a sprawling, open game world with oodles of (mostly simple) quests to be had by chatting with NPCs. The good news is that, for the most part, it works. Though Sacred's execution is often clumsy (something a debut price tag of $35 would seem tacitly to acknowledge), the underlying notions seem workable. And if Ascaron wasn't able in this particular outing to walk through all the doors it opened, perhaps it or someone else will do so later.

The problem for Sacred is that while "modest innovation in the genre" is enough to pique the interest of those who live and breathe the game industry, it's not quite enough to have the crowds lined up at midnight at EB Games. Yet that's true of many good and pretty good games all of which, like Sacred, have some fun to offer even if they don't quite cross the full distance they wanted to go. Sacred's playable characters, for example, are charming to look at and genuinely different from one another in play style. Owing to a non-configurable, straight-up point-and-click interface, however, those characters are difficult to play to their fullest capacity. Sacred's action is fast even in wide open spaces, but it's difficult to pick and stay with a combat target – frustrating in itself but also something that tends to force otherwise distinct characters into homogenous styles of play. And while it's true that the attractive and visually varied world of Sacred is a mile wide, it's not more than a few feet deep, and is more decorative than functional. Add to all of this a general unpolished feeling the comes from the collective weight of otherwise minor flaws and bugs, and it's hard to avoid the "coulda been a contender" feeling. The foundation is there along with some genuine highlights. Now we're just looking for that, as the French call it, certain “I don't know what.”

But none of this is a searing indictment of a game that has some nice things working for it. Given the variety of characters, you're bound to find at least one whose play style is entertaining enough to justify riding out the rough spots. And the Vampiress, who plays differently depending on whether it's night or day in the game world, is worth loading up just for the novelty. Sacred is the sort of game that plays best when merely focusing your eyesight is all the stress you can handle in an evening. We've all had those nights when it's just time to give the brain a rest, but watching the episode of Friends where Chandler says something sarcastic is too numbing to consider. Here, in this zone of inebriation or sleep deprivation, is where Sacred offers real satisfaction. At some point, Sacred will cross your "impulse purchase" threshold. When it does, let yourself get roped in, especially if you drag at least one other friend into the multiplayer co-op mode.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on June 28, 2004 7:27 PM.

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