For nearly a decade, the Sacred series has chased Diablo’s tail, yet never quite reached the towering heights of Blizzard’s beloved action RPG. The newest game in the franchise, Sacred Citadel, demonstrates how refreshing it can be to break free from chains of the past. It retains the series’ world, fantasy aesthetic, and loot lust, but it condenses the Sacred experience into an accessible side-scrolling action game that’s best when enjoyed with friends.
You’ve already seen dozens of variants on the tale Sacred Citadel tells. An ancient evil awakens and assaults a fantastical land. The Gatebreaker plans to (you guessed it) break down the gates of the Citadel, home of the territory’s defenders. The story comes complete with a twist so predictable that the game explicitly calls itself out, as if that gesture could excuse its unoriginality. You’ll also sit through several cringe inducing high-fantasy lines like “I… I am born again… Again!” which are delivered with no discernible nuance. Yes, there's a button to skip cutscenes, and you'll probably want to use it.
The four playable classes are all recognizable fantasy archetypes, but each is enjoyable to play for the unique way it handles in combat. Rounding up a group of foes as a hulking warrior and punishing them with devastating hammer swings always satisfies. The archer, shaman, and mage also have their own specialties that make them potent fighters in different situations. However, to really see the best of what Sacred Citadel has to offer, you’ll need to find a few friends. Different classes’ skills are clearly meant to complement each other, so playing alone can feel like an incomplete experience.
You're awarded new combo moves at an intelligent pace--quickly at first so you can experiment with the game’s systems, and slowly at high levels to add flexibility to the playstyle you’ve already started to master. These abilities become more powerful as you earn better loot on the battlefield, which is a strong motivator to keep playing.
Environmental hazards introduce a welcome and unnerving variable to combat. A swinging log, for example, becomes a deadly pendulum that dictates which parts of the battlefield are safe to stand in. While these obstacles serve to make combat more tense and difficult, intelligent players can use them to pummel enemies in satisfying ways. Unfortunately, toxic goo pits, which are the least dynamic of the hazards, are overused in the back half of the game. Knocking an enemy into an acidic puddle only remains fun for so long.
Halfway through Sacred Citadel, you’ll probably have an effective way to deal with whatever it throws your way. The game recognizes your complacency and frantically introduces novel things, hoping to recapture a sense of newness. Some enemies, such as the type that teleport behind you or lob bombs from afar, add welcome complexity. Others, like the dart-shooting birds or the walking, chomping fish monsters, are difficult to kill without relying on repetitive skills. They exist to artificially boost the game’s difficulty, which kills the wonderful combat pacing that the game works so hard to achieve.
Sacred Citadel does too fine a job of ensuring you have the right tools for the task at hand. Health and power potions, which can be hoarded and activated using the D-pad, sap some of the difficulty from even the most prolonged late-game battles. They drop often, and can be purchased cheaply from the marketplace in an emergency. To make things even easier, you have access to bogus super moves that make most of the bosses a joke. The archer’s best special ability routinely leaves only a third of their health bars intact.
Some games leave you wondering why they shipped with half-baked multiplayer modes. Sacred Citadel’s obvious finale will leave you wondering why it shipped with a half-baked story. Thankfully, the enjoyable combat steals the spotlight, though it doesn’t come away unblemished. One of the greatest compliments a game can pay its players is to trust them with handling challenging, dynamic scenarios, and this one delivers on that front more often than not. Despite some frustrating enemies and ludicrously overpowered player abilities, Sacred Citadel is an excellent choice for gamers looking for a fun multiplayer romp.
This review was conducted using the Xbox 360 version of the game.