Call the Gaming Police--we have a case of corpse desecration on our hands. Publisher Deep Silver has dug up Sacred, a deceased action RPG series with a small but devoted cult following, and allowed a new developer to play Dr. Frankenstein. The result is Sacred 3, a game that will have series fans digging out their pitchforks and everyone else playing an utterly forgettable co-op monster-smasher.
It will be immediately obvious to Sacred fans that this isn’t the game they're looking for. The first two games are known for their extensive open worlds, Diablo-style looting with even more customization options, and complex skill systems that have players carefully balancing power with flexibility. Start up Sacred 3 and you'll be thrown into a gauntlet of linear levels, discover that you can't loot weapons or armor, and find a watered-down skill system that only pays lip service to customization. It's a barebones action RPG with little on offer outside the realm of easy-access co-op play.
It's a shame, because Sacred 3 generally makes a good first impression. The gameplay is simple but initially satisfying: pick a paladin, warrior, lancer, or archer to play, hop right into a co-op session with friends or strangers, and start mindlessly hacking away at hordes of monsters. Uncomplicated controls, simple character customization, and an easy-to-use multiplayer interface makes jumping into the action painless.
It's quite pretty, too. Environments are big, bold, and varied, replacing the genre's usual drab dungeons with seething swamps, grand temples, and perilous volcanic mountain ranges. Visual effects, especially lighting, are also quite well-done. That autumnal forest looks refreshingly shady, green gas wafts up from poisonous plants, and damp rocks have a wet gleam to them. Similar action RPGs don't always pay attention to visual variety and detail like Sacred 3 does.
Once you start playing, you'll find movement and combat to be responsive and somewhat enjoyable (as long as you're using a controller--the keyboard and mouse controls on the PC version are very awkward). The game does a good job introducing players to the basics over the first five or so levels, so you'll soon be tossing foes and bombs around, performing shield breaks, and unleashing powerful special attacks with ease. Devious traps add difficulty and interest to gameplay as well. For a time, at least.
Sadly, after those early stages, the shine begins to wear off as repetition sets in. You'll discover that there are only three basic enemy types in the entire game: small shock troops, medium-sized enemies that require you to press the shield break/interrupt button, and large boss monsters that have far too many hit points. After a few hours of killing the same things, battles lose even their basic appeal. Similarly, the traps and the various activities you'll have to perform in the levels start repeating until no new surprises remain. You've pretty much seen it all during the first hour or two of gameplay, and what starts as a fairly entertaining experience quickly becomes an exercise in tedium.
Depending on your sense of humor and tolerance for terrible writing, you might quit the game in annoyance before you succumb to boredom. I don't know if there was a failed sitcom writer on staff, or if somebody decided to cover up the game's bog-standard “save the world from an evil villain” plot by making it a comedy RPG, but the dialogue is bad enough to sink the game all on its own. It feels like attending Amateur Night at the Fantasy Improv, with characters exhibiting poor comedic timing, mouthing decade-old MMO slang, explaining their own jokes, or sporting vocal performances that fly over the line of funny-bad into just plain-bad.
Even if you can stomach the low-grade attempts at humor, several balance issues round out Sacred 3's problems. It focuses heavily on co-op play, but artificially makes life difficult for solo players in the process. Often, you have to stay rooted in one place while performing mundane busywork, like spinning a wheel or charging up a magic shrine while mobs of monsters attack at you. That's not fun either for the solo player or the co-op participant who ends up on wheel-spinning duty.
The game's difficulty levels are also a bit unbalanced, with no happy medium between cakewalk and two-shot-by-the-boss-monster territory. Because the monsters and challenges are essentially the same throughout, it also suffers from being at its most difficult at the very beginning, when players don't yet have access to their most useful offensive and defensive skills. Later on, the tedium of repetition is compounded by a feeling of lessening challenge. Fights become more mindless but last much longer because monster hit points scale with your growing power.
Fans of the Sacred series should definitely give this one a pass unless they're prepared for massive disappointment. People looking for a co-op time waster can wring a bit of fun out of Sacred 3, but will probably get annoyed by the bad comedy or bored of the repetitive gameplay long before it's over. If this is the best that Dr. Frankenstein could do for Sacred, the poor dead franchise should have been allowed to rest in peace.
This game was reviewed on PC.