Sacred 2 was a diamond in the rough
Revisiting this old gem is like meeting an old friend: weird at first, but surprisingly nice
There are some games you just can’t play enough, it always makes you want to come back. With the “games as a service” industry we have nowadays (you can read what I think about it here), this is expected, as the game can always morph into something else during its lifetime.
However, there are still games outside of this spectrum that calls for you to play it more, even when there’s nothing new to see.
For me, Sacred 2 is one of those games.
Don’t get me wrong: Sacred 2 is a deeply flawed game, a charming one at the same time. And it doesn’t seem I’m the only one, as the game still has a die-hard community, even though it’s 10 years old, having a Community Patch being (sparsely) updated and posted on the Dark Matters Forum, a place where sometimes nostalgic people, such as myself — a lurker there — go to look for answers, builds and tips, or just to see if there’s any new game that mimics what we love about Sacred.
One of the best things about the game is the soundtrack, which even has a piece of music specially composed by the band Blind Guardian (and the musicians themselves are in the game, have a quest, and if you finish it, you can watch a show and get some instruments that double as weapons as a reward). It’s very nostalgic to start a game, see the bright colors, hear the music, and if you have PhysX installed, see some very cool effects when using magic and walking around.
The game has a high fantasy setting and is unapologetic about it, even making fun of itself and other things — a stark contrast with Sacred 1, which didn’t have this “cheeky” tone to it.
Don’t get me wrong, Sacred 1 is a fine game, way less buggy, and a lot of people prefer it to Sacred 2. However, the carefree nature of the second game makes me want to play it more. I also find the classes and the world way more interesting.
I mean, I like fantasy, but repeating tropes sometimes get tiring. That’s why I found Tyranny to be way more interesting than Pillars of Eternity — both great games from Obsidian — even though most people prefer the latter. This also means that Sacred 2 is not everyone’s cup of tea, which is fine.
One of the biggest problems with the game is that it is buggy and unbalanced. The Community Patch solves some of the problems, but not all of them. Quest markers pointing at the wrong destiny, being stuck in the 3D level, weapon damage not working as it should… the game has problems galore that you have to endure to enjoy it. Being born before the widespread use of high-speed internet, that doesn’t really bother me, but it should be a warning to people expecting a polished experience. If the game is being played on consoles, it’s worse: expect some aspects, like the skill Blacksmith, to be broken and never work.
If you persevere enough — which can be quite hard, as game development advanced and evolved a lot in the past 10 years — you will be rewarded with a unique experience that I, personally, never found equal in any other ARPG.
The story follows a clichê about saving the world from destructive forces, but the player can choose which side they will… side. The Seraphim, the only recurring character from Sacred 1, can only be a part of the Light Path, and the Inquisitor can only play the Shadow Path, but every other character can choose whichever side they want, and that will affect their main quest and the presentation dialogue — a small description about the character’s personality and its view of the world.
After selecting a character, the game starts with a cutscene contextualizing (poorly) the story, which centers around something called T-Energy, some sort of liquid energy, being (poorly) used by the world’s inhabitants and causing trouble, mutations and such (hello, Final Fantasy VII fans). After the cutscene, the player already starts the game with an introductory quest for their character, which places them in a unique point according to their class. Then, my friend, the world is your oyster. And what a big oyster it is.
The highlighted parts on the map above are the places my character has been. In this specific saved game, I played for 22 hours and focused on the main quest, but the game is full of side activities for the player, which can lead to all sorts of places, bosses and enemies. You explore from sandy deserts to lush forests, from an elven metropolis to human settlements. The world of Ancaria puts no barrier to stop you.
It should be noted that the game doesn’t really play like other ARPGs. Whereas you would have an ability bar that can be activated using shortcuts, here the shortcuts just select the ability — to use it, you have to click with the right mouse button. The left mouse button is used to move around and do a basic attack. However, the skill system in the game is somewhat… overwhelming, and the game doesn’t explain anything. It also doesn’t have any respec system, which can be tiring for players wanting to test new builds or characters, as the game only really “begins” after level 10 — at least in my opinion — since before that every character plays more or less the same: holding left-click on enemies until they die, using abilities sometimes to kill them faster, chugging health potions to avoid dying.
Leveling up in this game is also different from the usual. I mean, you receive EXP for exploring, finishing quests and killing enemies, and every level up gives you a few points to invest in attributes and skills. After a certain number of non-linear levels, the player can get a new skill. After 75 points in any given skill, the character unlocks another effect for it, usually boosting its properties.
However, if you want to kill things faster, it’s necessary to invest in abilities, also called “combat arts”, and that’s when things get confusing: you don’t actually get points from the level up for them, but from reading “runes”, which are random drops from enemies or sold by merchants. There are special merchant NPCs that trade random runes, plus some money, for one specific rune that you might want, but it can be kind of expensive at the start.
The chosen character in question always starts with one ability and one buff, which are always the same, and finding runes unlocks the rest. Reading the rune for an unlocked ability will level it up, making it more powerful. But reading too many runes and leveling the ability up beyond the character’s level will raise its cooldown a lot, so it’s not desirable. Since the game doesn’t have mana — it’s all based around cooldowns — the player has to be careful. The ideal situation is to save runes and read them as the character itself levels up.
Talking about runes and abilities, each character has three different ability trees with different focuses, each one with five combat arts. Each tree has its own set of skills, which the player invests points after leveling up. I won’t go into much detail, but I believe it’s already possible to see that every one thing in this game relates to another in some manner that’s not explained anywhere within the game itself. The Sacred 2 wiki really helps to understand some of the obscure elements.
Besides unique ability trees, each character has unique slots made for exclusive equipment, so a Dryad helmet can’t be used in an Inquisitor, for example, the same way that only the Seraphim can equip wings and only the Temple Guardian has a battery slot. Each piece of equipment can also have unique properties that affect abilities, skills, and attributes. They can also affect movement speed, attack speed, various damage types, have an extra bonus for a complete set, and can be modified by blacksmiths — or with the Blacksmith skill — to give even more bonuses. Equipment with higher defense usually makes the abilities cooldown longer, but not always.
However, new players shouldn’t be afraid, as even without respec, almost any build will work from start to finish. This is just part of the enthralling experience this game offers: an almost infinite combination of stats and a humongous map to explore at your own pace. It is a pure carefree joy to explore new places, as the game can be enjoyed without the story. You never know what you might find just walking around. It could be the Easter Bunny while exploring a garden…
…or someone who unsuccessfully tried to summon an ancient horror…
…or just some joke lying around in an unexpected place.
I remember once finding someplace with sayings from a lot of famous people, including Bruce Lee. That’s part of the joy this game brings me: it doesn’t take itself seriously, so why should I?
It should also be noted that Sacred 2 has a multiplayer mode, where 16 people (on the PC version) can play together. The official servers have been shut down — which is expected, as the developer went bankrupt — , but the player still can create their own and invite friends. This really is an experience I recommend to everyone.
Sacred 2 is a flawed game, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s also unique among its peers. If ARPG and exploration are things that you like, this game should serve you right up, just try to endure its buggy nature.