I was going to preface this review of Sacred 3 with a gag about nothing being sacred anymore, but I can’t. The game itself has maxed out the global quota for shit jokes, and I’m not laughing. It’s a crude cooperative fantasy brawler that’s completely without charm. Instead, it’s laden with mindless combat and a banal premise involving an evil empire and a plucky resistance.
And it’s important to note that it’s Sacred in setting only. The core elements of the series, the open world ripe for exploration, the day and night cycles and changing weather, the quests - all gone. Now it’s a linear hack and slash game that has more in common with the less popular spin-off, Sacred Citadel.
Keen Games, the developer that’s taken the Sacred mantle from the previous team, Ascaron, shouldn’t be condemned for trying to make their own mark on the series. Changing genres and stripping most of the meat out might seem like an odd approach, but it’s one that could have worked if there was anything there to replace it.
Sacred 3 is a game defined and crippled by its limitations. There are the four heroes, with their inane banter and shallow customisation options; the levels, with their single paths peppered with arenas where waves of foes must be defeated before moving on; the recycled, gormless enemies that spam telegraphed attacks; and a narrative that jumps between bland epic fantasy and forced irreverent gags.
An hour in Sacred 3 is enough so that one can witness everything the game has to offer, and after a few more it becomes an exhausting slog that offers few reasons to push forward.
Obnoxious; that’s what this brawler is. It begins immediately with the gathering of heroes needed to save Ancaria from the extremely silly but never funny Ashen Empire. These heroes are nothing more than walking half-arsed one liners, guided by a telepathic woman who utters such wonderful phrases as “amazeballs”.
Their mission to save the realm takes them from one level made up of walkways and paths connecting arenas where they are locked into tiresome battles to the next, tied together through a mission select screen. Entering an arena invariably means the heroes are unable to move forward until they kill the waves of uninspired, mainly orc, enemies that pour in from every direction. Imagine Devil May Cry’s fights, but absent the imaginative level design, challenging foes, deep combat mechanics or narrative reason for being locked in an arena.
The maps are ancient ruins, a forest with ancient ruins, a crypt that looks like an ancient ruin, a city that also looks a lot like the previous ruins and the occasional countryside path. Sometimes they cruelly tease junctions and alternative routes, but most of the time it’s just window dressing. A big door with a welcoming light beckons heroes inside can’t be entered just because. The mouth of a cave suggests activity, something’s in there, but what is it? We’ll never know, because the cave ends at the entrance.
These maps are, however, often quite pretty, and Keen Games clearly knows when to draw one’s eye. When running across bridges, the camera usually pulls out, revealing some rather stunning vistas with battles going on below or gargantuan crumbling statues keeping watch.
It’s a world I think I would enjoy delving into. But exploration is out of the question. It wouldn’t serve Sacred 3’s purpose, anyway. This is not a game about uncovering loot and myriad secrets; it’s about hitting a few buttons and killing things.
But it’s a hack and slash brawler, so of course fighting is the focus. It’s a shame, then, that this focus doesn't lead to more entertaining action. It looks like it does, though. Charge into a mass of enemies and they’ll go flying, landing in crumpled heaps on the ground. Unleash a whirlwind attack and you become a deadly tornado, trapping enemies within the weapon arc who can do nothing but die unless you run out of stamina. Flames erupt out of the ground, explosions fling villains and heroes into the air, and the screen is constantly devolving into satisfying chaos.
Actually making those things happen? Not so satisfying.
I ended up putting my mouse and keyboard to rest and tagging in my gamepad. I wasn’t particularly keen on wearing both my finger and my mouse down to dust through manic clicking. Not for movement, though, that’s WSAD, bizarrely. The game seems to be designed for a gamepad anyway, as is clear from the very limited number of abilities heroes can bring with them into battle.
These heroes, which include a bulky, topless man that wields big hammers and axes and a half-naked woman who favours spears, all come with unique combat arts. Special attacks, essentially. They can be unlocked through levelling up and spending gold - besides buying potions, upgrading weapons, armour and combat arts are the only uses for currency - but only two can actually be brought into battle.
It’s one of the most grievous limitations. The visually impressive attacks that at first make the heroes seem like gods are worn down by repetition. The lack of diversity makes each battle feel much like the last.
Encounters involve spamming the same very small number of moves over and over again until everything is dead. Combat arts require stamina, which drops in orb form (along with health) when enemies are killed or resource chests are smashed. Here’s how most fights pan out: spam the basic attack until enough stamina is generated, then spam combat arts until either everything is dead or all stamina is drained. Rinse, repeat, wonder how it came to this.
Most enemies are happy to just throw themselves on swords, under hammers and in front of arrows. Sometimes they’ll even be so kind as to turn their backs. But there are a few that have special abilities. Warriors that become spinning, sword-wielding dervishes, goons hiding behind shields and mages that charge up powerful, life draining magic. All of these abilities can be interrupted or broken with the tap of a button. The bash button, specifically.