When the third Sacred game was released and maligned by fans almost immediately for departing from the series’ formula, I immediately took notice. After all, I had the first two games, but never realistically considered giving them a shot because I remembered hearing that they were fairly mediocre. However, the backlash to the third game’s changes was so severe that I thought it’d be interesting to play through all three games back-to-back-to-back to see how the series evolved without the shackles of nostalgia weighing me down. Sacred Gold may be a bit rough around the edges, but it’s also one of the most entertaining hack and slash games I’ve ever played.
Who needs a story?
It’s adorable how hard Sacred tries to back up its gameplay with a meaningful story, but the developers are quite possibly the worst storytellers in all of gaming. Characters pop in and out without any development, random magical twists happen without any warning or explanation, and the cartoonishly bad delivery of the rare voice acting speaks volumes about the game’s priorities. This is a game where the story can be adequately summed up as “blah blah kill the thousands of little squishy things in your path blah blah.”
The characters are hit-and-miss
While the characters like Prince Valor (seriously, that’s his name) and Shareefa are completely forgettable cardboard cutouts who exist mainly to ramble on about meaningless story stuff and hand out some of the most boring main quests in gaming history, my playable character was legitimately memorable. I played as the vampiress class, which is exactly what it sounds like—a she-vampire.
Keep in mind that this was before vampires were rendered sparkly love interests for emo teenagers to fawn over, back when they were still viewed as deadly creatures of the night. She lives up to that deadly reputation, too, having both a powerful melee knight form and an even-more-deadly vampire form. Little touches make this class a blast to play, such as taking small bits of damage when she transforms into her vampire form during the day. She also has some of the best voice acting in the game, and listening to the offhand comments she makes about terrorizing villages when she was younger and full of rage (or how she loves cities because no one misses one or two missing people) made playing a real joy. Her dialogue always has a demented kind of humor about it that easily allows it to tower above the throwaway dialogue that populates the rest of the game.
Keep it classy
There are a few different classes of characters you can play as, such as the angelic Seraphim or my vampiress, and all classes begin the game in a different place and with a different starting quest much what like Dragon Age: Origins did several years later. While you’re not able to customize these characters before playing, you’re eventually able to greatly influence their stats and preferred fighting style over several level-ups. However, those looking for in-depth character customization will likely be disappointed.
Fighting is straightforward, but fun
Like pretty much all hack and slash games, fighting is as easy as holding down the left mouse button on the enemy until they’re dead. If your health goes down too far, a red flash will indicate that you’re near death, at which point you can press the space bar to drink a “lesser healing potion.” I played on the default bronze difficulty, which is definitely perfect for someone as inept at this type of gameplay as I am, and this meant that lesser healing potions healed my character by 100% of her HP. From what I could tell, they heal less and less the higher you set the difficulty.
Health potions aren’t always necessary, though. Characters have their health slowly restore between combat, so simply standing in place (as long as no enemies are around you) is sufficient to heal your character if you have the patience for it. The other potions often prove to be more important, most notably the “potion of the mentor” and “potion of undead death.” The mentor potions increase the experience gained from enemies, and this is important because smart usage of them (say, toward the end of a dragon fight) can save you a lot of time by reducing the need to fight mobs for experience. The undead death potion is arguably even more important because skeletons will often come back to life 2-3 times after being defeated unless you drink the potion before fighting them.
Combat is an art
“Combat arts” are a fancy name for special moves that you can activate with a right-click. The vampiress’ temporary switch into vampire form is one of these skills, as is her ability to drain life from enemies while in vampire form. New combat arts are learned from runes, which are expendable items you pick up from slain enemies and as quest rewards, and using a rune for a skill you’ve already learned levels it up. However, it’s not always advisable to level up your combat arts because doing so often (perhaps always?) increases the time it takes for said skill to become available again after usage. Combat arts work on a cooldown timer rather than relying on a mana system, and while they can often be helpful in combat, I stuck with the one that changed me into my vampire form throughout 99% of the game without any issues. It’s nice that they’re there as an added dimension for those who wish to explore extra combat possibilities, though.
Also completely optional are “combos,” which are combat arts that you can pay to have chained together so that they activate one after the other with a single right-click. I’ve heard of some incredibly powerful applications for this (including the possibility of keeping the vampiress in her vampire form permanently), but again, it’s mostly there for those who want to explore that added dimension.
As you beat down on the endless hordes of enemies who are always between you and your goal, you’re constantly leveling up. I wound up beating the game at something like level 34, though it’d definitely be possible at a lower level (again, on the easier “bronze” difficulty), so there’s a nice sense of progression. When you level up, you gain a point to put into your attributes such as strength, charisma, regeneration rate, and others. You also gain multiple points to put into your skills such as your ability with weapons, agility, and more.
Even more interesting than that is how equipment can be used to increase these attributes; you’re constantly finding new loot to replace the old, some of which confers boosts to certain skills while worn. This can give you a huge leg up on your opposition, especially early in the game. I was lucky to find a sword early on that not only did a huge amount of damage, but increased the amount of experience I got from enemies. This is a sword I kept equipped for at least half of the game, but barring a lucky find like that, you can easily wind up with entirely different every couple of levels. This constant stream of new and exciting equipment also helps the game to have an incredibly pleasing sense of progression as you play.
The worst quests on planet earth
Whoever designed the quests for this game deserves to be fired out of a cannon into the sun, because they’re so painfully dull that I often found myself looking forward to hacking my way through waves of enemies more than actually finishing the quests. For one, the writing is pedestrian in the worst of ways, with even the main quest’s tasks being mediocre and poorly designed by sidequest standards. Sidequests, on the other hand, are so mind-numbingly tedious that they’re almost universally of the of the “go fetch me something I forgot at home” variety.
The game is perfectly aware of how eye-roll-worthy its quests are, too. I know this because whenever you receive a quest, you get a quick snippet of text that seems like a non sequitur because of how completely detached it is from the text following it. I quickly realized that the first bit of text was a quick summary of what I had to do, while everything following that was the long-winded version of the story. It’s kind of amusing that the developers recognized that the quests were pointless enough to add in what amounts to a “TL;DR” feature.
There’s such a thing as too big
The game’s size makes the tediousness of the quests even worse; Sacred’s map is surprisingly expansive, and while many may see this as a good thing, the game sees it as an opportunity to put every new main quest objective clear across the map. Thankfully, sidequests are often more localized, but the main quest often forces you to spend 10-20 minutes riding across the map on a horse (and it’s worth mentioning that I had a ridiculously fast horse). If you don’t have a horse, it could easily take twice as long just to reach the next quest location, which makes it all the more frustrating when you’re met, unsurprisingly, with an all-new quest objective that requires you to run across the map yet again.
Compounding this is the horrible area design. While you have a marker that indicates the general direction you should be going in, you’ll often run into huge mountain ranges that can only be bypassed by going through a single cave. Naturally, each mountain range has multiple cave openings that have to be explored before you find the “right” one that actually leads to the other side, and this makes actually getting from point A to point B unnecessarily frustrating. It should be mentioned that there are portals that can teleport you to other portals and save you some time, but the method of activating them proved elusive enough that I only ended up having three or four of them working by the end.
Horses horses horses
I didn’t quite understand the purpose of horses in the game at first. Not only did they slow down my attacks, but my first horse was so slow that I was often better off walking. That’s when I stumbled on a horse with a speed of over 200. It was the only horse I found in the entire game that was so fast, and I was suddenly blazing across the map at a ridiculous rate of speed. It’s worth mentioning that the horse did slow down my attack speed somewhat, but it was still a great choice for when I didn’t feel like engaging the endless swarm of enemies around me. Sadly, horses aren’t capable of going into the often-mandatory caves and underground areas for whatever reason, but you have the ability to call your horse whenever you find your way outside again, minimizing the frustration of sudden horselessness.
Enemy “stop” spells are the devil
I’m convinced that the last 1/4th of Sacred was designed to be as irritating as possible. Where before you were able to run past enemies and get to your destination in 10-20 minutes, they’re suddenly all capable of freezing your movement for several seconds with spells, all but forcing you to engage them. This is my single biggest problem with the game, and it’s so maddening that it made me consider quitting the game before I had reached the end.
The teleport cheat is your friend
I wish I had looked up Sacred’s cheats before I started playing, because one wound up being especially useful: the teleport cheat. While “god mode” and other such cheats cheapen the experience somewhat, the teleport cheat enables you to open the map, hold down the alt key, then click to where you want to teleport to. It’s as simple and helpful as that. This review would likely be negative because of the irritating frequency of enemy “stop” spells if not for the teleport cheat making travel that much easier toward the end. Personally, I recommend playing without it until you find traveling from poing A to point B absolutely unbearable, at which point it makes the game so much more enjoyable.
High contrast sprite stuff
I really like sprites, and the time period that Sacred was released in saw some of the best sprite work out there. The sprite animations in this game are top-notch to the point where I’m not even 100% convinced that they are sprites. Whether they’re sprites or 3D models that mimic sprites like those found in the Baldur’s Gate games, they’re excellent. Backgrounds, on the other hand, are kind of same-ish looking. There are some really nice touches like footprints that your characters make in the sand, and there are definitely more distinct areas than you’ll find in, say, Divine Divinity, but the actual areas tend to be difficult to navigate thanks to an overall absence of notable landmarks. The game is also locked to a permanent 1024×768 resolution, which is less than ideal on non-4:3 monitors.
Something that really stood out for me was the surprisingly high quality of the cutscenes. I don’t mean in terms of graphics or anything, though the prerendered cutscenes were certainly more detailed than I expected of an older game, but rather, how consistently interesting they were. In fact, the opening cutscene for Sacred’s Underworld expansion is reminiscent of Squaresoft’s in-game videos produced during the PS1 era, and that’s a very good thing.
This game has music! I think!
Sadly, the music got lost in the endless mindless violence my vampiress inflicted upon the hordes of villains across the country. Listening to the soundtrack outside of the game, there seem to have been some interesting drum tracks mixed in with otherwise forgettable orchestral stuff, but I can’t honestly say that any of it stuck in my head. There aren’t many melodies to be found in the tracks, and even those that are present aren’t anywhere near catchy enough to make you want to stop and listen during gameplay. However, while the soundtrack as a whole fails to add in any significant additional atmosphere, the drums you half-hear during combat do succeed at creating a tiny bit of tension.
Here’s what you should do: