August 5, 2008 – Ever been playing Grand Theft Auto IV and thought, “Man, this world is too small, and there just isn’t enough to do?” If so, Ascaron Entertainment has an action-RPG title worth looking into: Sacred 2: Fallen Angel features more than 20 square miles of terrain, which players traverse in the guise of six different character classes, over the course of 100 core campaign quests.
In four of the classes, both “light” and “shadow” missions are available. Not to mention the 650-plus side quests (which add to the 150 hours it will take to finish the game with all six classes). This entire experience – 32 level designers and three years’ worth of work, with environments ranging from dungeons to houses to deserts to rain forests to caves – is impeccably detailed, and presented without any load times. All the animations are hand-crafted. In short, the sheer hugeness here is a marvel.
Story-wise, the game is actually a prequel, beginning two millennia before the original Sacred. It features a remarkably detailed plot, but to summarize, Ancaria is a world racked by war. The Seraphim (a race of, what else, sexy, half-naked angels) give the secrets of “T-Energy,” the force that flows through all life, to the High Elves, their favorite faction. It’s a big mistake – the Elves set about lording it over the other factions, war amongst themselves over how to use the energy, and soon face credible challenges from the other races – and the Seraphim are sent down to gain control of the energy and return it to the gods. Meanwhile, the chaos corrupts T-Energy itself into a destructive force.
One may play as a Seraphim, High Elf, Temple Guardian, Inquisitor, Shadow Warrior, or Dryad as events unfold. The “light” campaign works toward returning T-Energy to the gods, while the “shadow” campaign entails controlling the energy and ruling Ancaria. Either way, plan to fight countless monsters with reportedly inventive A.I., and an enormous boss in each region, to a soundtrack provided by heavy-metal act Blind Guardian.
Considering that action-RPG classic Diablo and most of its successors have been PC-only, there’s been a lot of discussion about how a console game in this genre should approach control. Sacred 2: Fallen Angelis a good title to start with in this regard; even on the PC version, the folks at Ascaron have shied away from the ridiculously complex combat systems some of their competitors employ. This still leaves console gamers with an elaborate (if probably manageable) scheme to keep track of: The left joystick will control the character, the right, the camera; players can assign up to three functions to each of the four actions buttons, and scroll through the configurations with the shoulder triggers; the D-pad controls magic potions.
Also, in contrast to Diablo, there will be no need to endlessly arrange one’s inventory to make everything fit; a “sort” function does that immediately. Sacred 2: Fallen Angelwill feature a variety of mounts, consisting mainly of horses but including a dragon, as well as numerous “combat arts” to learn. There are three skill areas in which to “level up” one’s character, and a plethora of adjustable character attributes.
Over the ‘net, up to four players can play the game cooperatively, and two can play on the same console. The developers are emphasizing Internet play, but this restriction puts the console versions far behind the PC one, which allows worlds with up to 16 players at once. The servers will allow “drop-in” or “hot-swapping,” however, meaning that players can join and leave games at will and bring their loot and experience points from server to server. The enemies’ strength adjusts to the number of players there are, and there’s also a competitive mode.
The action-RPG genre itself is already the best of both worlds, combining the hack-and-slash action of the Zelda franchise with the character development of an RPG. To this, Sacred 2: Fallen Angel promises to add the interactive experience of World of Warcraft, not to mention an absurd amount of content. If there’s a downside, it might be that Ascaron has bitten off more than it can chew – or more than gamers are willing to. But for now, it’s looking like a hit.