renahzor's Sacred 2: Fallen Angel (Xbox 360) review

A Hack'n'slash with some lasting appeal.

Sacred 2: Fallen Angel is a Hack and Slash/action type RPG, having gameplay style mimicking Diablo 2, Too Human, and many other games of the genre.  Where it departs from those titles is its vast open world style, feeling as much like an MMO (right down to exclimation points and question marks as quest markers) as an action RPG in many cases. 

Choosing from one of Sacred's 6 classes and wether you'll campaign on the side of Light or Shadow, you enter the world of Ancaria and begin your quest.  You can choose to follow the main storyline(10-15 hours your first time), a class story quest unique to each class, an increible assortment of sidequests, or ignore the whole thing and start crackin' some kobold skulls.  The combat is the typical fare, wandering packs of monsters that can come in some variety based on your location and level.  It starts out relatively tame on the two lowest difficulty settings, gradually ramping up as your level and your difficulty setting increases.  To start you may face 2-4 enemies, few of which have any magic or special abilities at all.  By the hardest setting it is not uncommon to get mobs of dozens of enemies trailing you ready for slaughtering. 

And slaughter you will.  Each class has 15 'Combat Arts' from which to choose: Spells, unique melee attacks, and buffs depending on your specific class.  They can range fro mundane special swings that do more damage, to spectacular walls of fire mowing down everything in your path.  You learn each of these abilities, and subsequently improve them, by reading special 'runes' that are dropped by enemies as loot.  This is where Sacred starts to become somewhat covoluted in its upgrade scheme.  Each damage ability does a specific ammount of damage, but also has a regeneration(cooldown) time.  Improving a spell with a rune causes both the damage and the cooldown to increase, many times resulting in a net loss in damage.  There is not enough time in a review to explain how all of the skills, spells, regeneration times, gear, etc interact.  Suffice it to say it can be a very complicated system and anyone wishing to dig further into character optimizaion will likely need to browse the wiki for quite a long while before it all sinks in.  The game could definately do with some more explanation into the hows and whys of this entire system.

Enemies and locations are diverse enough to keep things interesting.  Locales in which you will be mercilessly wiping out entire populations of monsters include lush forrests, desserts, swamps, jungles, unground volcano lairs and a few others each infested with their own particular types of baddies.  Exploration will uncover a multitude of dungeons and caves to poke your head into, though many were short and without purpose beyond a change of scenery for a few minutes.  Noteable exceptions include several 'world' bosses who may be encountered inside of special caves or simpy wandering about a specific area of the map.  Quests, especially ones off the beaten path, tend to have a unique sense of humor about them, as do many of the interactable objects in the world.  This adds a nice bit of comic relief now and then to break up the combat, and is a welcome side diversion.  The land area to explore is extremely large, and theres plenty of hidden gems to find along the way.

As with many other action RPGs, loot is a main focus of the game, and Sacred delivers on a very large scale.  Including several sets for every class, unique and legendary items, a socekting system, and a startling number of modifiers that can come on any given armor peice, this is likely one of the most complex loot systems in any game I have played.  This is also one area I feel Sacred lost a little in the port from PC.  Colored name tags for special items are no longer present, replaced with a 'stars' system for grading.  While functional, I feel it takes a little out of the experience when you have to sift through the several dozen drops you got over the last hour only to find that at some point you looted a really good item. 

Sacred's complexity is not only a virtue, but will be a downfall for many players.  The game does a poor job explaining what effect many of the skills, abilities, etc will have.  Add to that a relatively un-intuitive menu driven system (which does not pause the game in single or multiplayer) and the game seems to add complex decisions where they arent needed.  On top of all of the confusing wording for abilities, the unclear way in which Combat Arts can be modified and what exactly it does, and any number of other added nuances, there is no ability to change a decision you've made, the only things that can be changed are gear and sockets.  This means a skill choice at level 1 may be less than ideal at level 100(and beyond).  This is an intentional decision by the developers, assumingly to make people more aware of the choices they are making in character development.  However, with the extreme ammount of customization that can be done and many times a lack of explanation, it can be very easy to mess up one small thing which will nag at you for many hours of gameplay to come. 

Multiplayer is simple via Xbox Live, allowing 2-4 adventurers (within 10 levels of one another) to quest, kill monsters, loot, trade etc in the same game world.  This is one of the most enjoyable portions of the game for me, hooking up with a couple friends for an hour or two of killing monsters and bragging about loot.  All players can share on the quests etc of the server host.  One minor complaint here is that completing the storyline as a connected player does not unlock the next difficulty.  In my case, this meant playing through every difficulty twice to unlock the next for both my friend and myself to be able to host the next session.

I cannot begin to list the depth of character development through skills, gear, etc that is availible in Sacred.  It is one of the main things that keeps me coming back for more.  It will also be a stumbling block for anyone not familiar with the genre, and possibly anyone not willing to spend alot of time reading outside sources for exactly how things work.   If  you're not a fan of the genre already, it ceartainly wont be changing any hearts and minds, and its nuanced complex character development is very likely to scare away all but the most steadfast of newcomers.   If however, you are the type of person (as I am) who loves the hack'n'slash, lootfest, action RPG style and you can stand a little bit of a learning curve, Sacred 2: Fallen Angel will satisfy for many many hours and I highly recommend it to you. 

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