How anything gets done in the magical land of Ancaria is anyone’s guess. There are these nice little farmhouses, camps and taverns set in the midst of idyllic countryside, and then as soon as you get five metres out of the main gates, the whole land is completely overrun with hideous, evil and occasionally-wealthy beasties. Not the odd highwayman, waylaying travellers for their gold, mind you. There are legions of monsters absolutely everywhere, a tsunami of creatures filling every square inch of the entire world. Presumably, the post only gets through if the postman is a level 40 barbarian.
This is the world of Sacred 2 – presumably the follow up to Sacred 1 (I pride myself on my deductive reasoning, if not always on my journalistic research) and 2008’s addition to the book of Diablo clones. All of the necessary elements are there: multiple character classes with customisable special abilities (known as combat arts), heaps of items (magical or otherwise) with which to equip your character, and of course zillions of enemies to try it all out on. In fact, there are so many customisable options that it’s really unlikely any two people will play the game in the precisely same way.
Note the word ‘precisely’. Because, actually, everyone who plays the game will play it in roughly the same way: equip yourself as best you can; venture into the wilds and hit things with weapons, take their stuff, and trade the vast majority of it for cash. This, dear friends, is the eternal cycle of the Diablo clone.
Ask any true gaming nerd, though, and they’ll tell you that watching the numbers going up is its own thrill. Advancing your puny little level 1 nobody into a steaming juggernaut of arcane destruction through the medium of constantly escalating numbers is the essence of the videogame RPG. Sure, there are quests and what-have-you, but the ‘fluff’ of rescuing the missing child or clearing out the monsters from the inkeeper’s utility room is really just window dressing for the phat lewt that inevitably ensues.
This really seems to be the design philosophy that underpins Sacred 2’s entire development, though. The plot is… well, where is it? There is no real storyline to give a backbone to the whole thing, and from the off you’re nothing more than a glorified local deliveryman, bringing the ten whatevers to the bloke down the road in exchange for 100 experience points and a mithril chuftie badge. The side quests give a two-line description of what you’re actually doing, then a paragraph of woolly fluff text, then a description of the reward available. The implication seems to be that the actual story is optional, and that only the top and bottom sections are really worth reading. And another thing. Even if you choose the PATH OF EVIL, you’ll still spend the great majority of your time doing things as ridiculously saccharin-sweet as recovering a small child’s teddy bear for her, albeit with a slightly reluctant comment.
The suspension of disbelief is further bulldozed by the things people actually say to one another. They’re not afraid of piling in to modern-day movie references, or embarrassingly-poor gags. Early on in the game you’re exploring an ancient temple and there’s a crumbing statue in a courtyard. The inscription reads something like “Long-distance runners with bad shoes will feel the pain of de feet”. Whose idea was that? Some 3D modeller somewhere spent ages creating that statue to be evocative and mood-setting, then some half-brained script-monkey thought this would be a good place to splash some graffiti from Every Boy’s Book of Worst Jokes Volume Six. What possible purpose is this supposed to be serving, other than the complete undoing of the graphic artists’ hard work?
Not that the graphics are particularly good. I mean, it’s nothing really terrible or game-ruining, but there are some pretty jagged corners here and there which look a little out of date, and there is no really stand-out impressive lighting. That said, the system requirements are pretty gentle by today’s standards, so we shouldn’t really grumble.
I know that a lot of my criticisms for Sacred 2 could just as easily be aimed at many other RPGs and MMORPGs. Sacred 2 is a bit like white cider or cheap speed. If it’s your kind of thing, you’re probably going to be able to look past all of the things that make saner people screw up their faces in disgust. If the constant drive for better skills, powers and weapons is enough to spur you on through the masses of hideous, poorly-translated guff that passes for plot and dialogue, and the eagerness and curiosity to see what the next band of monsters drops when they’re eviscerated blots out the stultifying sameyness of the whole thing, you’ll love it. It knows what it wants to be and it does it just fine.