I’ve pretty much resigned myself to the fact that my CD-RW drive is screwed, despite what I do to try and remedy the situation. After reinstalling Windows XP and getting more or less the same results – the drive refuses to recognize media of any kind, nevermind those of the copy-protected variety – I’ve written the hardware off until I can get a decent response from Plextor.
I installed the demo a couple of weeks ago for Sacred, a new action RPG from Ascaron Entertainment. I was fairly unimpressed to say the least – I mean it didn’t really strike me as being especially original or captivating beyond the skills combo system and horseback riding. After picking up the latest PC Gamer, I read Greg Vederman’s playtest review of a beta build of the game, and he seemed to be impressed. The only reason I mention this is because The Vede is usually on the mark when it comes to judging a good Diablo clone. So, I figured I may have missed something on my initial playthrough and begrudgingly installed it again. I wanted to like it this time, too, because playing Divine Divinity almost non-stop for the past week has just invigorated my appetite for the next big PC action RPG. Sadly, though, playing Sacred‘s demo again has just allowed me to articulate my thoughts on the game more deeply.
Starting with the graphics – the first thing you see in the game, of course – I would say they are pedestrian at best. Ascaron has taken the same approach as Larian with Beyond Divinity: put 3D character models on a 2D backdrop. But when you zoom in, the backgrounds expose themselves for what they are – a low resolution, pixelated mess. Beyond Divinity handled this a lot more cleanly.
To try and get myself to look upon the game with fresh eyes, I used a different class, the “Seraphim”, as opposed to my original choice of the Gladiator. The Seraphim is a warrior angel of sorts, but did not show any real aptitude for magic or combat. I suppose fanboys will get a kick out of her Heavy Metal-style outfit, though.
The horse – although a nice gimmick – does not offer any significant advantage in battle, especially when your weapon combos are mostly useless unless you’re on foot. In theory it should also offer a significant boost in land travel times, but I found none; I was able to “run” just as fast (and even then, running is more of a steady trot).
I said initially that the interface is pretty self explanatory – and it is – but there are some definite improvements that could be made. The automap is cumbersome, and the quest log, although useful, is not as nice as Divine Divinity‘s when trying to sort active quests. I like how you can wield more than one weapon, and you can switch them up by clicking their respective slot at the bottom of the screen. Taking a hint from Lord of Destruction, no doubt, but still appreciated. What I don’t like is how I must repeatedly click on enemy targets to attack. I thought we were moving forwards, here?
Other little things, like non-interactive, ugly dialog windows, and a fairly non-existent storyline make Sacred a very disappointing experience. When the majority of the game world is open to exploration when you first start, a pre-determined path to gently nudge you where you are supposed to go would be useful. There will be six classes in the final game, and each class starts in a different portion of the world, which is a unique approach. What would have been even more interesting is if each class would have a story to tell, and have each story intersect with each other at different points of the game. I’m of course referring to Sword of Mana, which surprised me with this aspect and makes the game more enjoyable to play through a second time.
Sacred may offer co-operative and competitive multiplayer game modes as well, but it has failed to grip me like that game from 2002 I love to keep mentioning. There’s something to be said about simplicity, and sticking to the basic stuff that is known to work well. I think it also says a lot when a game tries to replicate the experience of one that is four years old, and still manages to fail.